Getting here used to be half the fun 

The B.C. Rail Budd cars are gone, but train travel is not forgotten

click to enlarge The Budd Cars cross the Cheakamus River.
  • The Budd Cars cross the Cheakamus River.

Judy McNolty has fond memories of the train trips she used to take from Pemberton to North Vancouver, or up to Lillooet to visit with family. “It was so relaxing,” she remembers. “I got on the train and could sleep, read, or chat with friends. I loved the journey, the scenery. Now, on the trip down to the city in the car, it’s breakneck speed all around you. You’re dealing with a lot of traffic, which is very stressful.”

Stories like this one make long-time Whistler homeowner Sidney Madden wistful for the days when B.C. Rail offered affordable, daily passenger rail service to Whistler year round — and she could travel to Whistler at a leisurely pace. “The journey was as much a part of the trip as the destination,” said the Vancouver resident, who has been tireless in contacting organizations from Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler about reinstating affordable passenger rail service to the resort. “Travelling by rail used to be affordable and convenient. Now if I want to take the train, I can’t do it during ski season, and it is prohibitively expensive.”

B.C. Rail ended its passenger rail service in October 2002 amid protest from municipalities throughout B.C., who considered the termination of the daily Cariboo Prospector service from North Vancouver to Prince George, with its stainless-steel Budd cars, like “cutting an artery to the North.” The subsequent $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail to CN in 2004 is still a contentious issue for many people.

The upscale rail service to which Madden is referring is the Whistler Mountaineer, which currently runs from early May to mid-October. Starting at $199 per person for a return ticket, the price point for this mode of transportation is beyond the budget of most locals. But even if the train fare were not an obstacle, the fact that the service does not run during ski season is baffling to people like Charles Hillman, who owned property at Alta Lake from 1965 to 1997.

Hillman fondly remembers taking the “ski train” from Ottawa to the Laurentian ski area of Huntsville in the 1930s. “Back then, train travel was a cent a mile,” he recalls. “I could get a return ticket for three dollars. People got onto the trains in the morning and arrived at their destinations, refreshed. At the end of the day, you were invigorated from trading ski stories with friends.”

Hillman laments the fact that North America is now so car-oriented. “One of the reasons you do a sport is for the camaraderie,” he said. “Driving up to Whistler can be lonely and dangerous. To have the train back as a social part of skiing life would be tremendous.”

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