The tunnels in Othello, a popular tourist destination in British Columbia, were significantly damaged after a series of storms poured huge volumes of water into Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park.
BC Parks area supervisor Rob Wilson told Glacier Media the damage to the park was “quite extensive” and “a lot” of the tunnel access road had been lost.
“There were a number of large trees that fell from the slopes above, indicating that there was likely a landslide in the area which dragged the trees onto the trail,” he says. .
The tunnels also suffered significant destruction, Wilson adds, noting that staff are unsure when one of the rocky cliffs surrounding the tunnels can drop another boulder.
“Even a small rock the size of a baseball could kill you if it falls on you,” he says.
The tunnels – hailed by some as a technical feat – were built in the early 1900s by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP).
At the time, CPR wanted to connect the Kootenay region to the coast of British Columbia by rail. Chief Engineer Andrew McCulloch was commissioned to build the railroad over three major mountain ranges. The Othello Tunnels, near Hope, became part of the Kettle Valley Railway.
Unfortunately, the line was plagued by snow and landslides. On November 23, 1959, a 400-foot washout occurred just north of the tunnels. The crews closed the line and never reopened it.
Wilson says the tunnels also suffered significant damage in 1994, but the damage from this storm cycle is “considerably worse.”
Today, the tunnels and the surrounding area are part of the provincial park.
The tourist attraction is closed every winter. Wilson says the safety prevention methods that are normally in place have been destroyed or have been compromised by the recent flooding. Slips and debris made the site unsafe and unsafe, he says.
A formal assessment to determine the integrity of the tunnels cannot yet be done.
“I can tell you that the first two tunnels were crossed by a river [them]… much of the gravel that formed the base people walked on was washed away, ”he says, noting that the granite structures of the tunnels are still intact.
“This means that over time we can probably put the gravel back on the tunnel floor and we can probably resize the area and make it safe for the public, but we’re still in that damage assessment phase.”
Once it is secure, the geotechnical engineers will access the site.
A couple who were helping people leave their flooded homes on Othello Road captured some of the damage.
“We came down and were quite shocked at what we saw,” said Adam Szakall.
He told Glacier Media that the path to the tunnels was covered with six inches of mud and that there was traffic jam and debris everywhere.
“The water levels at one point were as high as the trestle. “
BC Parks asks the public to stay away from damaged areas. Anyone attempting to enter a closed provincial park can be fined up to $ 1,000,000 under the Park Act. Costs may be advanced.
Wilson hopes people will do the “right thing” and not tap into the resources that focus on storm-damaged roads, homes and highways.
“We’ll figure out what it takes to get the tunnels back in place and bring our amazing guests from British Columbia and around the world back to the park,” Wilson said.
The park normally reopens in May, but Wilson says it’s unclear whether that will be the case in 2022.