Emergency satellite phones installed on stretch of Highway 93 without cell service

Drivers frustrated with a lack of cellphone coverage along a stretch of Highway 93 through the Rockies between Castle Junction in Banff National Park and Radium, B.C., will now be able to call for help using one of four emergency satellite phones any time of day.

The phones, located in Kootenay National Park, have been set up at Marble Canyon, Simpson River trailhead, the Kootenay Crossing operations centre and the Kootenay River day use area. They’re located approximately a 15-minute driving distance apart.

The locations of the phones are marked by signs along the highway.

They will connect callers to 911 emergency services, such as police, fire and EMS 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

“For some time now there’s been some concern about a lack of communication through Kootenay National Park,” said Rick Kubin, a spokesperson with Parks Canada. 

“Of course, that area has no cellphone coverage. So we’ve been cognizant of a need to try and establish improved communications for emergencies.”

The problem has been exacerbated more recently by the Kicking Horse Canyon project — which is widening the Trans-Canada Highway near Golden, B.C. — because it has at times diverted a lot more traffic south onto Highway 93.

Colleen Roberts, who lives in Windermere, B.C., is part of a local committee that’s been pushing for better communications throughout that part of the remote highway for the past five years.

“It’s a long time coming but we’re happy that they’re there and the biggest thing is the safety,” Roberts said. “It’s nice to know that there are emergency phones and you don’t have to rely on somebody stopping.”

A map shows the location of four new satellite phones located in Kootenay National Park. (Submitted by Parks Canada)

Last fall, a snowstorm pelted Highway 93, snarling traffic and forcing some people to spend the night in their vehicles. 

Radium Mayor Clara Reinhardt said she isn’t sure if the phones could have helped in that scenario, since many people said it was the lack of communication about the latest road conditions — but she said they couldn’t have hurt.

More specifically, she said it will help cut down on response times, since until now, people had to wait for someone to stop and then call for help once they reached a spot with cellphone service if they didn’t have a satellite phone.

“I think that could potentially help get there an hour or two faster,” she said.

Kubin said Parks Canada said it is still open to working with private cellphone providers to install towers in the future, but that so far it’s been too costly to proceed.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation committed $40,000 to purchase and install the phones. Parks Canada will continue to cover the cost of maintenance and operations. The total cost of purchase and installation is estimated at $80,000.

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