North America's longest rail tunnel, a nine-mile stretch under Glacier National Park, has opened to link Canada's coal and mineral-producing hinterland with the West Coast and the Pacific Rim countries.

The tunnel was inaugurated Thursday in a ceremony accented by the sound of bagpipes and attended by rail executives, industrialists, politicians and some of the 1,100 railway workers who worked on the $422 million project.The new route, completed ahead of schedule and $84 million under budget, ends the cumbersome practice of adding extra locomotives to trains that had to negotiate 4,000-foot Rogers Pass and should increase westbound capacity by as much as 60 percent, authorities say.

Major improvements, including the Mount Macdonald Tunnel, reduced the steepness so that pushers are no longer needed on the southeastern British Columbia route.

"This is the biggest thing the railway has done since the building of the transcontinental," said Barry Scott, chairman and chief executive officer of CP Rail.

CP Rail, a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Ltd., can now run four-locomotive freight trains from Calgary to Vancouver and, without the aid of the pusher trains, increase the number of freights through Rogers Pass daily from 15 to 24.

"After nearly 104 years of railroading in these Selkirk Mountains, we have finally tamed the geography - or at least as much as man is ever likely to do," said Scott.

The project involved double-tracking the CP Rail main line through Rogers Pass. It was the last of four double-tracking and grade-reduction projects undertaken by the railway in British Columbia and Alberta.

Lighter eastbound trains through Rogers Pass will use the old track and the Connaught Tunnel, which opened in 1916. The new route also will be used by passenger trains.