Train whistles will soon be sounding off again in the Sea to Sky as May 7 has been announced as the day when people will see the return of the Rocky Mountaineer passenger train service.
“We’re thrilled to see the Rocky Mountaineer resuming its Whistler route this spring,” said Tourism Whistler CEO Barrett Fisher in an email.
“The Rocky Mountaineer’s Whistler tour is an iconic West Coast experience for domestic and international visitors alike, offering not only a scenic way to travel to Whistler but a relaxing alternative to driving as well. We’re very happy to welcome them and their guests back to the Sea to Sky.”
The Rainforest to Gold Rush route follows the Canadian National (CN)-owned rail line from Vancouver to Whistler, up through the Coastal Mountains to Quesnel and then on to Jasper in the Rocky Mountains.
The route is becoming increasingly popular with rail tourists and is expected to have more guests in the 2022 season.
“We are anticipating over 5,000 guests onboard this route this year, which will put us close to pre-pandemic guest counts,” said Rocky Mountaineer communications coordinator Dallas Carlson.
“This year, we are only offering our two-level GoldLeaf domes on this route, given the high level of interest in this service from our guests.”
The train will arrive in Whistler twice a week from May to September. Residents are advised to be aware that the rail line is active again. The railway crosses Highway 99 several times between Squamish and Pemberton, which will affect traffic.
“Those travelling on the route eastbound will arrive in Whistler between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., so they will have the afternoon and evening free to explore the village. Guests travelling westbound arrive in Whistler in the evening, but they do not depart until 3:30 p.m. the next day, so they have the morning and early afternoon free,” said Carlson.
Pemberton’s train station will continue to be used as an on and off point for the railway. The use of Pemberton’s rail station as an embarking point began last year due to new federally mandated rules around train speed in steep grades.
“Due to the long travel days of this route and the possibility for our trains to be speed restricted during hot summer weather, this saves at least an hour of travel time. We started doing this last year, and it resulted in a better experience for our guests, so we will continue this process moving forward,” said Carlson.
The Rocky Mountaineer is now the primary traffic source on the former Pacific Great Eastern Railway line. CN has owned the rail line since it was controversially acquired in 2003, but has since generally stopped using it for freight aside from during the 2021 floods and fires that impeded train movement in the Fraser Canyon.
For Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman, the main concern with the Rocky Mountaineer’s return is the increased fire risk that train traffic brings to the Sea to Sky corridor.
“The biggest concern around the rail these days is the fact that it’s not used. The line through our communities is not used nearly as much, if at all, compared to years past,” Richman said.
“So if they’re going to put the Rocky Mountaineer here or any other train traffic, the concern is around maintenance and ensuring that mowing has been done, and the track is maintained so there’s not any fire hazards that might be increased due to the fact that the rail line has been dormant.
“We want to make sure that the rail maintenance is being kept up so that Rocky Mountaineer and whatever rail traffic is coming through is safe traffic.”