When Helen Mussio stepped outside her Function Junction shop to wave as the Whistler Mountaineer passed on its first run up the Sea to Sky corridor she burst into tears.
"It was memories," said Mussio, who turns 70 next week: "It was a big part of our (generation’s) transportation and our life. I can remember coming up to Whistler on the train before they took it off the tracks."
Mussio also felt connected to the Whistler Mountaineer because Mountain Blooms, the Function Junction florist where she works, provided flowers for the inaugural run.
Graham Gilley of Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (RMV) says Mussio’s reaction is one he often hears.
"It’s a very friendly, emotional experience for people," said Gilley, vice-president of marketing and communications. "Trains bring smiles to peoples’ faces."
Charm of the railway could be one reason why Whistler Mountaineer may exceed its projected 36,000 bookings for the May to October season. Barely six weeks into the season some 25,000 bookings have been made through RMV reservations.
"That puts us well on target to exceed the ridership numbers we’d looked at the beginning of the year," Gilley said from his Vancouver office. The 16-year-old privately owned rail passenger company now expects to reach 50,000 bookings for the season.
"Which would be a tremendous achievement in our first year," said Gilley adding. "(it) will pay dividends for years to come."
Gilley said Rocky Mountaineer will add another coach car for July and August to the train, a complement that will include three refurbished 1950s coach cars, two renovated dome cars and a vintage open-air car. The three-hour trip starts in Vancouver 8:30 a.m. and has a three-hour layover in Whistler before returning to the city.
Local retailer George McConkey says he hasn’t noticed an increase in customer traffic coming through McCoo’s doors in Village Stroll, but "it could have been a lot worse if the train wasn’t coming." McConkey said the Whistler Mountaineer is a positive addition for Whistler.
Rocky Mountaineer’s other new run, the Fraser Discovery Route that travels from Whistler to Jasper, has also been well received with 2,400 bookings. RMV has projected 3,600 bookings for the two-day trip.
Although more than half Whistler Mountaineer’s bookings have come from beyond B.C. Gilley said working with Tourism Whistler to raise the resort’s profile remains a high priority.
"Not everybody knows where Whistler is but we’re determined that everybody that we and Tourism Whistler work with finds out about Whistler."
Gilley said he’s always impressed with the numbers of people who take time, even in West Vancouver’s Ambleside, to step out their back door and wave at the Whistler Mountaineer.
"People don’t wave at airplanes, but they do at trains. Trains do that to people," he said.