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Passengers ride the rails once again

Decision on who will operate passenger service still awaiting review by Competition Bureau



A passenger train pulled to a stop in Creekside for the first time in a year and a half Wednesday, heralding the future for tourist travel in the Sea to Sky corridor.

Linked together on the railway line were cars from Rocky Mountaineer Railtours and Whistler Railtours, the two companies bidding for the chance to revive train travel to Whistler and beyond.

Earlier this year both companies submitted proposals to CN and BC Rail to start a tourist train service, which would run from Vancouver to Whistler and then carry on up to Prince George. Neither one has been awarded a contract yet.

"This is just an opportunity for the two proponents to see what the rail is like and to kind of experience for themselves the track ride and see the scenery," said Graham Dallas, director of communications, publics affairs and advertising for CN.

A decision on the tourist train has been held up in recent months as the federal Competition Bureau reviews the $1 billion CN-B.C. Rail deal, which the province agreed to last November.

That deal included the provision for a passenger rail service on the lines.

Though a final agreement for the passenger rail component was to have been reached in April, the process has been stalled as the federal review continues.

"Obviously we’re waiting… to get approval from the Competition Bureau for the partnership between CN and BC Rail before we can move forward with the passenger RFP proposal," said Dallas.

"We’re hopeful that’s going to come to a conclusion fairly quickly but once again, it’s a federal regulator and we can’t prejudge when they’re going to make their decision."

When asked if CN and B.C. Rail could choose both proponents for the service, Dallas could not comment.

"At this point I can’t speculate on that because it’s still very much a confidential process," he said.

"In fact, up to this point, because of the confidential nature of the RFP process, we still have not confirmed who the two finalists are."

Though so much remains up in the air, John Haibeck of Whistler Railtours was upbeat about Wednesday’s train trip.

The whole goal was to understand what the tourist experience would be riding the rails up to Whistler, he said.

"It was a beautiful ride up, absolutely gorgeous," he added.

At Creekside Whistler’s Mayor Hugh O’Reilly jumped on board for the return trip to Vancouver.

"This has been a project that I’ve been encouraging for many, many, many years, recognizing that inevitably we were going to see probably the dismantling of BC Rail," he said.

"We’re really optimistic. We think Whistler is a great destination on a tour of places to go and visit in British Columbia and so we’re excited that this should go forward."