The Kaoham Shuttle – 040302
All aboard the Kaoham Shuttle!
Described as one of the most spectacular rail trips in the world, this ‘Little Engine That Could’ first travels from Lillooet through the narrow Seton River canyon. It then proceeds along the scenic northwest shoreline of 24.3 kilometre-long Seton Lake, a long, fjord-like finger of glacial jade-green water. The lake is walled in by near-vertical cliffs and towering mountains soaring to heights of over 2,000 metres. Bighorn sheep, bears, deer and eagles are often seen along the route and the train will stop to allow photographers to capture those special glimpses of the local wildlife.
The Kaoham Shuttle links Lillooet with the remote lakeside communities of Seton Portage and Shalalth. The shuttle is an economical and green alternative to the only other link between Lillooet and Seton Portage or Shalalth, a steep gravel road over Mission Mountain that concludes with a dramatic 1,300 metre descent to Seton Lake.
Shalalth is the site of B.C. Hydro’s Bridge River hydro-electric complex, completed in stages from 1931 to 1960. Water is diverted from Terzaghi Dam at the foot of Carpenter Lake, and through Mission Mountain, plunging down the mountainside through giant penstocks to powerhouses #1 and #2.
Seton Portage is the site of the first railway in British Columbia. During the Cariboo Gold Rush, a tramway was built in 1861 to transport gold-seekers’ supplies across the “short portage” between Seton and Anderson Lakes. Completed at a cost of $9,000, the tramway consisted of a narrow track of wooden rails, which guided the wagons along; later, mule-drawn wagons resembling ore carts were employed on iron rails. Seton Portage was also once known for its apple orchards, and for many years the tiny community produced the annual Christmas gift box of McIntosh apples given by Canada to the Queen.
The Kaoham Shuttle rail bus is operated in partnership between Canadian National Rail and the Seton Lake Indian Band. Its first run was November 1, 2002 and it was established to provide a vital passenger service after the cancellation of the regular Budd car service that operated daily between North Vancouver and Lillooet.
The train runs along a line constructed in 1915. Hugging the shore as it does, the track above Seton Lake features some extremely tight curves, with one forming an 18-degree arc. The hour-long jaunt also includes one very long, very dark tunnel. At 1,201 metres, the Seton Tunnel is the third-longest tunnel on the former Pacific Great Eastern or B.C. Rail line.
In the St’at’imc language, the word “Shalalth” means “the lake.” And “Kaoham” means “to meet the train.”