Clear the tracks 

Whistler Rail Tours sees a specific passenger rail market for Whistler

Be it Amtrak in the U.S., British Rail in the U.K., Via Rail in Canada or BC Rail in the province, all have a common thread. They are passenger train services that are not lucrative.

That economic reality forced BC Rail out of the passenger service business at the end of October last year, marking the end of an era.

"When you run regularly scheduled passenger trains you don’t make money," said Alan Dever, vice president of communications of BC Rail.

"That’s not to say there isn’t money to be made."

A group of entrepreneurs, among them some heavy hitters in the transportation and tourism world, say they’ve found the way to make it work, in the Sea to Sky corridor at least. They presented their scheme to Whistler council on Monday night.

Whistler Rail Tours believes they can succeed where BC Rail failed.

"It’s our intention to build a company that will direct the cruise ship industry to one of B.C.’s best gems," said Whistler Rail Tours President Michael Drever.

Over 1 million cruise ship visitors embark or disembark in Vancouver every year. Currently less than one per cent visit Whistler.

Drever says Whistler Rail Tours can bring more than 15 per cent of them here on a luxury tourist train and when they get here they’ll be spending money – injecting almost half a billion dollars into the local economy within the first five years of operation.

The rail project is tied to the newest Creekside development proposal because the Nita Lake Lodge developers want to build a multi-million dollar train station to welcome the guests in Whistler.

That doesn’t change the fact that BC Rail lost millions of dollars every year in the passenger service business.

The total operating loss of the Cariboo Prospector, the passenger rail train running from North Vancouver to Prince George, was $4.8 million in 2001.

The train carried 81,000 passengers in one-way trips that year. Roughly 37,5000 made the trip to Whistler, the most popular route on the line.

"I believe studies would suggest there isn’t a market for commuter rail traffic," said Dever.

But Whistler Rail Tours will be a different service altogether, not catering to the commuter market.

Running more environmentally friendly and faster cars, Tom Rader, president of Colorado Railcar, highlighted the importance of the target market.

"We think the first class element is a very important element in running to Whistler," he said.

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