B.C.’s Minister of Transportation doesn’t think rail travellers need worry about a new passenger train driven by Canadian National Railway engineers from Vancouver to Whistler through the same canyon in which a commercial CN train derailed last summer.
Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (RMV) launches its Whistler Mountaineer run in less than two weeks and because the boutique train company leased track rights from track operator CN, the train will be driven by CN engineers. CN is currently under investigation for last summer’s derailment in the Cheakamus Canyon when nine cars in a 2,800-metre train went off the tracks, spilling sodium hydroxide into the river.
According to Transportation Safety Board investigators the canyon "is one of the most challenging railroads in the country, with steep grades and very sharp curves." The safety board’s investigative team has examined how well trained and how familiar were CN’s engineers involved in the accident.
But Kevin Falcon, Minister of Transportation, speaking at the Whistler Mountaineer’s launch in Vancouver Wednesday, said CN will be staying on the tracks with RMV’s latest run.
"CN’s record since that derailment has dramatically improved and I think that’s a testament to the fact that they have focused a lot of resources and attention on making sure that those kind of derailments don’t happen in the future," Falcon said.
"But as I’ve always been careful to point out," he continued "derailments are a way of life in the rail business and you can’t pretend that they’re all going to go away, because they won’t. The issue is, particularly in that corridor, that we want to make them use every possible precaution and safety measure to try and minimize that."
Whistler Mountaineer will begin daily service to Whistler from North Vancouver May 1.
The nine-car train, that includes two dome, two coach cars and one vintage open observation car, will leave North Vancouver daily at 8:30 a.m. and take three hours to travel to Whistler, returning to Vancouver at 2:30 p.m.
Round-trip adult fares of $179 for coach travel will be lowered to $99 for B.C. residents who book before June 30 for travel until mid-October.
Local MLA Joan McIntyre, on hand for the Whistler Mountaineer’s launch, said the train is a needed boost for the area.
"The opportunities are just huge… there will be thousands of people coming to Whistler," she said.
McIntyre pointed out that in addition to the Vancouver/Whistler run a second train, the Fraser Discovery, will travel the same route but continue on to Quesnel, and says the potential for guests to overnight in Whistler will be an added dividend.
Tourism Whistler’s head echoed those remarks.
"It’s a huge business for summer traffic," Barrett Fisher said. "This is a huge opportunity to bring not only the regional traffic but also our international traffic."
Fisher said the potential for year-round service is also significant.
"From a winter perspective it’s got opportunities because of the scenic beauty both in summer and winter but also because we are a year round destination, so we’re delighted with that prospect as well."