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Rocky Mountain Express

The Empress (CPR 2816), a steam locomotive image. A dark blue and purple light on a steaming train

Steam clouds surround The Empress (CPR 2816) headed right on a field of yellow green and brown leaving a billowing trail of smoke

The Empress (CPR 2816) steams past a river towards the right side of the frame through a window green and red forest with mountains in the background

Closer look at the locomotive's Wheels spinning quickly on a track

All aboard! Rocky Mountain Express will propel you on a steam train journey through the breathtaking vistas of the Canadian Rockies, highlighting the adventure of building the nation’s first transcontinental railway. Retracing the original route aboard the majestic steam engine 2816, you’ll be transported back to the age of steam to re-live this incredible engineering feat. The film weaves together spectacular IMAX aerial cinematography and archival images to immerse you in an era of remarkable ingenuity amidst a region of stunning natural beauty. 

  • Jump on the restored Empress locomotive on a journey through the Canadian Rockies.
  • Discover the heroic human drama and epic engineering involved in shaping a nearly impossible transcontinental railway link.
  • Travel on an exhilarating journey deep into the Rockies … along steep cliff edges, spiraling tunnels and through the most beautiful and rugged landscapes on Earth.

More About the Film

Rocky Mountain Express weaves together spectacular IMAX aerial cinematography, archival photographs and maps and the potent energy and rhythms of a live steam locomotive to immerse audiences in this remarkable story from the age of steam. As the film unfolds, the kinetic train journey is punctuated with richly animated 3D maps and lovingly restored historic images that give audiences deep insights into the dramatic story of shaping a transcontinental railway through some of the most beautiful but forbidding terrain on Earth.

The Canadian Pacific Railway: A Historic Engineering Feat

The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1885 ranks among the greatest engineering feats in history. The project drew on the labor and expertise of thousands from around the world, including a young American railway superintendent named William Cornelius Van Horne. Born and raised in the Chicago area, Van Horne supervised the building of the CPR—the longest and most challenging railway on earth—and later rose to become president of the company and one of the greatest figures in Canadian history. The launch of Rocky Mountain Express brings new life to a remarkable North American railway legend.

Spanning thousands of miles and some of the world’s greatest natural barriers, the CPR’s grand transcontinental project and its wandering ribbon of steel drew together far-flung communities isolated in the wilderness, shaped a new nation and changed the face of the North American continent forever. The success or failure of the venture was decided deep in the mountains. Retracing the original route aboard the majestic steam engine 2816, Rocky Mountain Express transports audiences back to the age of steam to re-live this alpine nation-building odyssey. 


The film received top honors for Best Film in a first-ever tie with To the Arctic (currently playing at the Fleet) and was awarded Best Film Short Subject and Best Cinematography by the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA). These awards are voted on by giant screen theaters from around the world and were presented at the GSCA 2012 annual conference in Sacramento, California.

About the Empress

Locomotive 2816 is a class H1b Hudson-type locomotive built by Montreal Locomotive Works in December 1930. (Montreal Locomotive Works was owned by American Locomotive Company). The 2816 worked with the top passenger trains of the 1930s between Winnipeg and Calgary and subsequently in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. The locomotive regularly operated at speeds in excess of 70 miles an hour. After logging more than two million miles in active service, the 2816 made its final revenue run on May 26, 1960.

After a complete three-year rebuild, the resurrected locomotive 2816 re-entered active service in 2001 as the Empress, a roving ambassador for Canadian Pacific Railway. CPR Empress is now the only surviving H1b Hudson and one of only a handful of preserved and operating CPR steam locomotives in North America.

Behind the Scenes

The film itself was in production for five years, as the production team worked to schedule perfect shooting opportunities with the star of the project, the Empress (CPR 2816), a steam locomotive built in 1930 and now restored and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Director Stephen Low filmed extensively from the air using a helicopter and gyro-stabilized camera mount to capture the train’s journey and the great diversity of the western landscape. “Ultimately, we mounted IMAX cameras all over the train as well,” says Low. “We wanted to give audiences an intimate ’being there’ experience of steam power and this magic place that even train engineers don’t get to experience.”

The production was filmed with full 15/70 negative—world’s largest film format, guaranteeing spectacular image fidelity on the giant screen. Sound, too, is a vital part of the experience, and the team has carefully and faithfully captured and rendered in six-channel sound the remarkable symphony of sonic moods produced by a locomotive, matching this with an original musical score by celebrated composer Michel Cusson.

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