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B.C. Rail to end passenger service Oct. 31



Discussions underway with private operators

B.C Rail’s passenger service between North Vancouver and Prince George will turn into a pumpkin Oct 31.

The crown corporation will stop running its Budd-built diesel cars because it does not have the $30 million it would take to refurbish the 50-year-old coaches. It’s estimated the service is loosing $5 million a year.

Communities long the rail line are devastated by the news.

"The impact on 100-Mile House will be felt greatly in the tourism sector," said Mayor Donna Barnett, who met with the minister of transportation earlier this week in the hopes of saving passenger service.

"And we have a large community of senior citizens who utilize this service mainly in the winter time to visit family in the Lower Mainland."

"The minister (Judith Reid) is very receptive and open for us to sit down and try and work and come up with solutions and hopefully this will happen before October, otherwise we definitely feel we will loose the passenger service."

Ken Veldman, vice president with the Prince George Development Corporation wasn’t surprised with the news. He said B.C. Rail had been open about shutting down The Prospector train for months.

"Certainly the elimination of that is going to have impact, but I think the industry in general in Northern B.C. knew what was coming down."

The only portion of the service which might be saved lies between D’Arcy and Lillooet.

"People need the trains along Anderson and Seton Lakes," said B.C. Rail spokesman Alan Dever.

"We are in discussions and we are going to provide some sort of passenger rail service to the people in that corridor because they just have no other way of getting around, so we will be doing that.

"We feel that we are not going to leave anyone in the lurch."

However, Dever would not comment on who B.C. Rail is in discussions with to take over the passenger service.

He would say that B.C. Rail is open to negotiations with other companies interested in running passenger rail cars on the routes for tourists.

"I cannot go into details but there may be people out there who are willing to look at segments of the business and involve themselves in it and that is as far as I can go," said Dever

Eighty-per-cent of the people using the North Vancouver to Prince George rail route are tourists. Of the 20 per cent local traffic, the majority travel between Pemberton and Lillooet.

"We are not a tourist company per se," said Dever.

"We are a freight transportation company with a passenger component. We know that we are not the best people to run tourism related products and services.

"So there are discussions with other people about what to do with the service."

It’s early days yet but Malcolm Andrews, senior public affairs advisor with VIA said: "We have had brief discussions with B.C. Rail on the topic.

"We are looking at all the options which might be available but no decisions have been made."

It’s the same story at Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, which runs the popular luxury rail service through the Rockies to Lake Louise and Banff.

"Would we be interested in looking at it?" pondered Rocky Mountaineer Railtours’ Graham Gilley.

"Sure we are a rail operator and we are in tourism but certainly no decision has been made at this time."

So this will be the last year B.C. Rail runs the daily service between North Vancouver and Lillooet and the thrice-weekly service to Prince George.

The Whistler Northwind service, which B.C. Rail invested $12 million in last year, will also stop running at the end of October.

The Pacific Starlight dinner train, which ran between North Vancouver and Porteau Cove, will also end in October.

The Vancouver to Prince George service, although it carries a relatively small number of non-tourist passengers, is an emotional issue for many residents of northern B.C.

The B.C. Liberal party promised during last year's election not to privatize B.C. Rail, largely because it realized it partly lost the 1996 election bid because of northerners' sensitivity on the issue.

B.C. Rail cancelled two passenger services recently, including the Royal Hudson service and the Whistler Explorer.