Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘E&N Railway

Vancouver Island railway running out of steam

with 4 comments

The Globe and Mail sets out the depressing recent history of the Esquimault and Nanaimo Railway. I have, of course, covered this before – with the same photo!

VIA6148 Victoria Stn BC Oct 1994

Victoria Station October 1994 - my photo

I came to Vancouver Island in 1994, when I worked for the BC government. The railway was, of course, an issue then. That really has not changed very much except, like the railway, the position has steadily deteriorated. In fact one of the last things I did before I left was buy myself a round trip ticket for the ride from Victoria up to Courtney and the back again. I was pretty sure I would not have the opportunity again – and at present it cannot be done. The once a day train has stopped running – and in fact has not been allowed into Victoria for a while.

VIA6133 Nanaimo Stn view2 BC Feb_1997

Nanaimo Station February 1997 - my photo

While I lived in Victoria there was a lot of interest in running a train into Victoria in the morning and out again in the evening – just like West Coast Express. That, it was said, would give people an alternative to the “Colwood Crawl”. Unfortunately the government of the day was committed to the Island Highway – an idea born of the previous SoCred government. Nanaimo being a centre of NDP support – and of course the bingo scandal – they wanted the highway much more than any upgrade to the E&N. On that last ride in 1997 I got see the raw wound of the new highway carved across the scenery. At one time the E&N was one of the more scenic railway rides. It seemed to me at the time that the Island Highway project had damaged much of that.

VIA6133 Courtenay Stn BC Feb_1997

Courtenay Station February 1997 - my photo

Once you got to Courtenay there was really nothing much to see – and anyway the single car train simply reversed direction and went back the way it came. There was no catering on the train. A coffee truck came out to meet it at Nanaimo – and there was time to get a cup of something very like coffee and some thing else which was almost edible.

Victoria Station

Victoria Station - and the Johnson Street Bridge 1994 - my photo

But there was never any consensus – especially among supporters of doing something. The commuter train was not supported by those who wanted light rail for Victoria. Others thought that it should be a tourist attraction. Something like that has been running at the extreme end of the old E&N in Port Alberni.   It uses an old steam logging loco and converted cabooses and is run by volunteers

Alberni Pacific 7 Port Alberni BC

Alberni Pacific at Port Alberni BC June 2010 - my photo

This is also an idea that was adopted on St Kitts with their narrow gauge round the Island line left redundant by the abandonment of sugar growing.

St Kitts Scenic Railway

St Kitts Scenic Railway, December 2010 - my photo

They of course now have tourism as their only industry – so their minds were much more concentrated. But enthusiasts in many countries have started successful railway preservation projects – perhaps none more so than in Great Britain where Dr Beeching provided them with plenty of opportunities, and there was a considerable body of enthusiasts and experienced, retired railwaymen. Some of these operations quickly expanded beyond the gricer and Thomas the tank engine markets into real transport service – and are now known as “community railways”, with the opportunity for government support for socially necessary services.

Victoria is, of course, a cruise ship port of call. You cannot expect the cruise ship companies to come up with excursions themselves but everywhere that cruise ships operate there are small tour operators keen to tap the deep pockets of cruise ship passengers. Alaska, for instance – and the Yukon – both offer train rides to them. BC has one of the best tourist railway operators since VIA gave up on the finest scenic passenger ride – the Kicking Horse pass to Banff – which has allowed Rocky Mountaineer to become very successful indeed and expand with services to Whistler and beyond.

Rocky Mountaineer enters The Cut

Rocky Mountaineer June 2010 - my photo

If we had governments who could get the heads out of highways for a moment, they would see that the lower end of the E&N could become very useful both for moving commuters and tourists. Indeed this market segmentation strategy is essential. Virgin brought that expertise to British railways from its airline business and has doubled passenger traffic on its route (the West Coast Main Line). Running trains for people is a different kind of business to running trains for freight but unfortunately North American railways are dominated by those who understand freight alone.

WCE 902 Vancouver BC 2005_0620

West Coast Express - June 2005 - my photo

It is not beyond the wit of man to come up with a structure that would allow for different types of train service that will attract commuters and tourists – just not at the same time. And freight trains could be fitted in between them, even without huge investments in signalling. As Bombardier was saying, the time is right for trains: if only because they are far more fuel efficient per passenger kilometre than most other modes.

UPDATE BC Transit announced today (April 26) that “Light Rail Transit (LRT) has been identified as the preferred technology that will meet the goals and objectives of the Victoria Regional Rapid Transit Project.”

In 2010, the rapid transit alignment was approved and endorsed by all directly‐affected municipalities (Victoria, Saanich, View Royal, Colwood and Langford), the Victoria Regional Transit Commission and approved by the Board of Directors. The alignment follows Douglas Street between downtown Victoria and Uptown in Saanich, then runs parallel to the Trans‐Canada Highway and the Galloping Goose Trail to 6 Mile/Colwood Interchange, along the Island Highway to Colwood City Centre, then into Station Avenue in Langford via Goldstream Avenue.

In May 2011, the business case with the recommended technology will be submitted to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission for endorsement and then to the BC Transit Board of Directors for approval in May. If approved, the business case will be submitted to the Province of BC in June. The timeline for the project will be finalized once BC Transit receives approval and funding for the project.

The cost of the preferred technology along the entire alignment is estimated at $950 million.

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Written by Stephen Rees

April 21, 2011 at 10:54 am

Posted in Light Rail, Railway

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‘Wrong way’ rail may be righted

with 7 comments

VIA6148 Victoria Stn BC Oct 1994

Times Colonist

The E&N Rail Dayliner could soon be turned around — starting up-Island in the morning and heading south from Nanaimo into Victoria for its first run of the day instead of the other way around.

“It’s something we’re definitely working on,” said Graham Bruce, executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the rail line. “There’s a number of pieces to make this all work together. I think it’s quite plausible.”

Bruce said the change could take place as early as six months from now.

Currently, one 90-passenger car leaves Victoria each morning and travels to Courtenay before making a return trip at the end of the day. Islanders have complained for years that the train is going the wrong way and missing potential commuter traffic.

I will believe it when I see it. VIA Rail has known that this service was needed for at least the last twenty years – and probably a lot longer than that. I have never understood why they have persisted in refusing to run trains when people actually might want to use them. But then VIA rail is even more shambolic than Amtrak.

Actually the ideas are even more creative than the beginning of the story suggests

The idea would be to operate two trains out of Nanaimo. The first might leave at 6 a.m. for the capital region, then turn around for its trip to Courtenay.

A second train could leave Nanaimo shortly after that, carrying another load of people to the capital region, and then operate back and forth between Victoria’s downtown and Langford over the course of the day before heading back to Nanaimo.

Both Backhouse and Bruce say there is potential for excursion rail as well, with one run possibly linking up with a new cruise-ship terminal in Nanaimo and taking people to Cameron Lake.

The bad news is in the tail. There is also a proposal to open up a new coal mine near Union Bay which, if it ships coal for export  could bring significant new rail traffic. That might be good for the railway but it is not at all good for continued human survival on this planet. It is not clear but the way the story is currently put together suggests the coal might cross subsidize the passenger service. This seems somewhat more likely than government actually directing VIA to behave in the public interest.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 29, 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Railway

Tagged with ,