Opinion » Editorial


Opening remarks BC Rail won't be a viable transportation alternative BC Rail is packaging a new passenger service this summer, from Whistler to Kelly Lake and back. The day tour is part of the publicly-owned railway's restructuring of its passenger rail service. But don't expect the railway to become a major carrier of visitors to or from Whistler. BC Rail reported a net income of $40 million last year, but passenger services accounted for less than 1 per cent of revenues. The Royal Hudson, which runs from North Vancouver to Squamish and back for less than five months of the year accounts for roughly half of all passengers the railway carries. Passenger services have consistently lost about $4 million a year. With the restructuring — the result of extensive passenger surveys and marketing analysis — the railway hopes to bring that loss down to about $2 million this year. It's only because the provincial government has given BC Rail a mandate to provide passenger services that the service continues. According to BC Rail's Andrew Cameron, there probably isn't a regularly scheduled passenger rail service in North America that makes money. BC Rail's restructured passenger service, including marketing Vancouver to Whistler skier packages this past month, was prompted by the loss last year of a government subsidy. Up until that time BC Rail was subsidized roughly $35 per passenger, according to Cameron. VIA Rail is believed to be subsidized as much as $90 per passenger. Cameron says there is still a feeling within BC Rail that the loss of the subsidy was wrong and that it's unfair for the railway's freight customers to be asked to subsidize the passenger service. Regardless, the passenger service was studied and some economies were found. The Whistler-Cariboo section of the line was popular among passengers so rather than send one train from North Vancouver to Prince George and back, the Whistler-Kelly Lake return run is being packaged. Other initiatives include improved value and quality in on-board services and marketing of popular routes. Passenger fares have also increased a couple of times in the past year. While there will be a new shelter built at Kelly Lake for the summer run, there are no immediate plans to build a real train station at Whistler, or anywhere else along the line. If BC Rail was privatized, as was suggested in a leaked government report, the first thing a new owner would likely do would be axe the passenger service. Of course, the now-profitable railway might not be so attractive to buyers if the property tax exemption the railway currently enjoys was lifted with the sale. So, don't look for the provincial railway to provide a realistic passenger link to Whistler. Highway 99 will get a lot busier before transportation alternatives get better. – Bob Barnett

Add a comment