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Tourist train contract awarded to Great Canadian Railtour

Whistler Railtours loses bid but pledges to work with proponent

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Though Whistler Railtours lost the bid to bring a tourist train to Whistler, developer John Haibeck said there’s a silver lining in every story.

"The good news is that there’s going to be rail service to Whistler and beyond," said an upbeat Haibeck this week.

"Council made the right decision, and the community as well, in supporting it (passenger rail service) because it’s going to be a whole new economic driver. We would have liked to have been the operator but that’s OK."

Last Friday morning CN announced the Great Canadian Railtour Company, which already operates the highly successful Rocky Mountaineer, had won the right to operate a tourist train through the Sea to Sky corridor and up to Prince George. They had ultimately beaten out Whistler Railtours in a lengthy bidding process.

The decision marks a one and a half-year countdown until passenger rail service, in the form of a high-end tourist train, is operating in the corridor.

Two routes will be offered.

The Whistler Mountaineer will be a three-hour scenic jaunt once a day from North Vancouver to Whistler. The second route will be an expansion of the GCRC’s Rocky Mountaineer, running from Whistler to Jasper, Alberta with an overnight stop in Prince George.

By May 2006 both services will be operational.

That’s the news that tourism operators throughout the province have been waiting a long time to hear.

"It’s an enormous opportunity for the tourism operators in British Columbia," said Graham Gilley, vice president, marketing and communications with Rocky Mountaineer Railtours.

"The response has been enthusiastic… and everybody’s excited."

Donna Barnett, mayor of 100 Mile House, said the decision could have an enormous impact on her community.

"It’s very important," she said.

"We don’t have many means of transportation here. We have the Greyhound bus, we have rubber tire traffic and of course, we don’t have an airline service. So in essence it’s very crucial for us."

Now she said GCRC and the tourism operators in the province must come together and generate some new tourism opportunities.

The rail company has already made a commitment to set up some product partnership workshops in seven locations throughout the province, including Whistler, Squamish, Lillooet and 100 Mile House.

"It’s going to be an opportunity for us to be able to meet with the industry, the tourism operators, the chambers and so on and so forth and really identify those tourism products that would warrant additional stops along the route," said Gilley.

The finer points of the GCRC’s service, such as pricing and train stops, have yet to be determined.

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