As AMC’s Western series Hell on Wheels is bringing attention to the history of the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the US, a recent IMAX film is currently doing the same for the building of the westward railway in Canada. Rocky Mountain Express, directed by Stephen Low, is a 47-minute film that both recounts the history of the Canadian transcontinental railroad – completed in British Columbia in 1885 – and provides an IMAX-level view of that railway itself.

Viewers travel along with an 80 year-old refurbished steam locomotive, the Canadian Pacific Empress, through the Canadian Rockies. Cameras positioned at the front of the train give an immediate view of its travel and that perspective is augmented with various helicopter shots of the Empress against its powerful and majestic backdrop.

In United States, the westward Union Pacific Railroad – the company of the real-life Thomas Durant in Hell on Wheels – met the eastward Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869. On that day, the “last spike” was driven to connect east and west.  That connection would be echoed for Canadians sixteen years later with the last spike to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway on November 7th, 1885 at Craigellachie, BC. Here is a trailer for Rocky Mountain Express:

The Rocky Mountains stretch from western Canada through to the southwestern United States. That continental landscape – as featured in Rocky Mountain Express – reminds us of the west as a region that transcends arbitrary lines on a paper map. Such a film also provides an opportunity to remember the cost in human life that it took to traverse the backbone of the shared continent in order to create a form of transportation that some today dismiss as “too slow”.

Rocky Mountain Express launched in the Fall of 2011 and is continuing to be shown across the United States, Canada and Europe. Further information about the film can be found at: – and this specific link –  – gives dates and IMAX locations for the film.       

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)


  1. Thanks for the comment….check the link to venues & dates and hopefully there is a screening close to you!

    Take care,

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