Mayors can’t catch a train 

Meeting with B.C. Premier doesn’t save passenger rail service

Stakeholders trying to save BC Rail’s passenger rail service did not get good news at a recent meeting with Premier Gordon Campbell in Whistler.

"There was no indication that the (government) was going to reverse its decision," said Donna Barnett Mayor of 100-Mile House.

"Basically it is still in the hands of BC Rail and the government has not intervened."

BC Rail has decided to stop all passenger service on their line at then end of this month because it was losing too much money. It is estimated that the Cariboo Prospector, which travels from North Vancouver to Prince George, lost $5 million a year.

The Pacific Starlight Dinner Train, which runs between North Vancouver and Porteau Cove will shut down Oct 21.

And the luxury Whistler Northwind service, which ran between North Vancouver and Prince George, rode the rails for the last time Sept 19. The tourist oriented land cruise started operating last year and lost $2 million.

Barnett and others along the rail line firmly believe that the government cannot judge the value of the passenger services just on the bottom line. They argue the rail service helps promote healthy tourist industries up and down the line, which will be devastated by the closures.

Barnett said she explained this to the premier and once again asked for a moratorium on the decision to shut down the Cariboo Prospector service until after the government completes its transportation strategy.

"He just listened and he said, ‘I will assure you that we will work with yourself and communities along the line in the future for rail services,’ and that was all he said," said Barnett.

At the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention here last week a resolution to save passenger rail was passed unanimously in a Small Talk forum.

The resolution also asked the government to stop dismantling rail lines as stakeholders have not given up hope that another operator will take over the line and run service on it.

"I think basically the concern we have now is to ensure that we have industrial freight and that we keep the line as a whole line and it is not dismantled in any way," said Barnett.

"I sincerely hope the line is kept as a line and that we do work on alternate solutions at the end of the day. That is my only hope now."

During his speech to UBCM delegates Campbell stressed how important it was for British Columbians to be connected by transportation systems. He made several references to specific highways but also said B.C. needs an integrated rail system.

The province has held discussions with other rail operators about passenger service on the BC Rail line but no deals are in place yet.

"We will stick together to ensure that the industrial freight continues and that the line is kept together until there is an alternative," said Barnett.

The passenger rail closures will affect about 90 people. Most of the jobs were seasonal.

The shuttles, to be put in place to serve rail-dependent residents between Anderson and Seton Lake, are almost complete said BC Rail spokesman Alan Dever.

"We are just working on getting the reservation number in place and a few other details," he said.

The shuttles are converted buses that will run along the rail line to Lillooet, where most do they’re shopping and see health care specialists.

The shuttles will be managed by the Seton Lake Indian Band.

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