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Letter: 2030 Olympic bid offers golden opportunity to revitalize rail in the Sea to Sky

"The bid-makers and the COC have the influence to require CN to cooperate or get out of the way."
Whistler railway train track
A train track winds its way through Whistler. A new "Corridor Railway" from North Van to Lillooet could prepare for pre-games operations ahead of a potential 2030 Olympic Games in B.C., writes a Whistler local this week.

G.D. Maxwell’s advice to us is to respond to the official invitation to comment on the 2030 Olympic Episode 2 Re-Run (Pique, July 14: “Let Whistler council know how you feel about the 2030 Olympic bid”). I reluctantly agree, at least as a courtesy to the bold First Nations adventurers who are framing and presenting the bid.

I strongly recommend that we think collectively about the prerequisites we wish to see before the planning-permits are approved for these Olympic Games. They should be the things which can be achieved within eight years, preferably seven.

I often pick up my Pique at the Husky station and wander over to the bridge over the creek flowing out of Nita Lake to read it. There I read My Learned Friend Max’s column with his welcome skepticism about how evidence of support for the 2030 bid would be mobilized. Then he said, “The COC is supposed to provide this information by August 15?” and the prerequisite was staring me in the face. I mean our high value and useless railway, sold in 2003 by some dubious hustlers in the previous government to a once-Crown corporation that has no abiding interest in it and no abiding interest in the Sea to Sky corridor.

The railway runs along or near Highway 99, which has become a zone, not a tunnel from city to mountain as we thought, but a wider zone of diesel pollution. We are running huge trucks beside a facility which is built to carry heavy goods. This highway is occasionally frozen by accidents and is blocked for 60 to 100 minutes in one or both directions.  

The bid-makers and the COC have the influence to require CN to cooperate or get out of the way. A newly formed “Corridor Railway” (North Van to Lillooet and back) could prepare for pre-games operations in 2028-29 involving delivery of construction equipment and material, etc., and game-time operations delivering tourists and equipment in 2030. It would continue to do well over the tourist summer of 2030. There are a hundred people in B.C. who know exactly how to operate a railway, and this would be a familiar freight and people run. If CN were smart and cooperative, the whole thing would go smoother and restore their poor local reputation. If not, could they please step aside from Montreal?

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the municipal councils have permit-power. Lillooet would be liberated from its dependence on two long roads, Shalath and Portage the same way. The two Lillooet and Lil’wat Tribal Councils have land and influence with the bidders, and could see this as an economic development initiative. Mount Currie could cultivate a train-tourist-overnight-stay business if it wishes to. Why should small First Nations be disconnected from the economy by an uncaring ex-Crown Corporation?

Members of Parliament should love the reopening of the railroad. If someone asks you “how could it possibly make money?” just answer by asking how much money is that “new” $600-million Olympic highway making? 

There are 10 full force and not-fish-bearing creeks along the route from which electricity could be generated (at least nine months a year) to transform the Corridor Railway system into an electric rail system, just like—dare I say it—where Olympic decisions are made, in Lausanne, Switzerland. Impress the IOC by bringing a Swiss railway expert to assess our situation. B.C. is a leader in medium-sized hydro power systems, so let’s show it on the trains and curb the diesel pollution along Highway 99.

If this electrified railway took 33 per cent of heavy diesel and 20 per cent of pickup and car traffic off the road by 2030, that itself would be an achievement. The COC could require use of the railway for some contractual purposes in 2029 and 2030.

Could Pique please help us by inviting people who have studied this subject to respond expertly to this proposal? The corridor is ready for constructive criticism.

Bob Anderson // Whistler

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