Feature - End of the line 

Final whistle about to blow for Cariboo Prospector


The sound of a train whistle is the sound of expectation.

It's the sound of dreams about to come true, of adventures to be had.

It is the sound of hope.

But hope is running out for those who have been working furiously trying to save the Cariboo Prospector before its service comes to an end Oct. 31.

No longer will the well-known airchime whistle be heard from North Vancouver to Prince George.

BC Rail can no longer afford to run the service, which lost $5 million last year. And even if they could live with the losses the self-propelled diesel Budd passenger cars have reached the end of their lives.

It is estimated by both BC Rail and VIA, which is refurbishing five of their own Budd cars, that BC Rail's cars would cost more than $30 million to rebuild.

No decision has been made yet on the fate of the Pacific Starlight dinner service train from North Vancouver to Porteau Cove and the luxury tourist-oriented Whistler Northwind which travels to Prince George.

"It's a difficult situation, no question," said Alan Dever of BC Rail.

"Nobody is happy about a situation such as this but there are objective realities we are facing and that is the unfortunate reality.

"We as a company need to deal with our financial challenges. We have to become a healthier enterprise and by becoming a healthier enterprise we will benefit the shippers which form the economic base of many of these communities.

"This is a very serious issue for us. Passenger service is certainly one aspect of our business but so is our freight operation and the freight operation is certainly a lifeline for many of the economic activities of the north."

But many up and down the rail line argue the passengers the rail line carries are also breathing new life into communities ravaged by the soft economy and softwood lumber tariffs.

"It is an integral part of our tourism potential," said Lillooet Mayor Kevin Taylor.

Whenever he can he organizes a royal welcome for the train with himself, his wife, the town's May Queens and other dignitaries on the platform to emphasize how important the tourists are.

Taylor and scores of other stakeholders up and down the line met at 100 Mile House in May to draw up a strategy to fight the Prospector's closure. By the end of the meeting a thick report was produced for Transportation Minister Judith Reid, which included a series of recommendations.

"We believe (the government) should look at the amount of money that is being spent by tourists in the Lower Mainland as the tours originate there and the visitors have overnight stays," said Taylor.


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