It Is Time For The Return of Regional Passenger Rail In BC?

Calls for a return of an interurban style rail passenger service from Vancouver to Chilliwack; the restoration of passenger service on the E&N; the reinstatement of a passenger service from Vancouver to Prince George;  for a Vernon to Kelowna passenger rail service and now folks in the Kootenay’s want a passenger rail service as well, shows a growing demand for a regional passenger rail system in the province.
Why not?
If government is truly “Green”, then rail is the only alternative to attract the motorist from the car.
So let’s compare the following.
The current provincial and federal government is spending $4.6 billion to extend the Expo and Millennium light-metro lines a mere 12.8 km, yet the investment will not take a car off the road.
The Rail for the Valley plan in 2021, costing about $1.5 billion for about 130 km route, providing a maximum of three trains peer hour per direction from Vancouver to Chilliwack. Such a service would attract ridership because of the congested Number 1 highway and the proximity of post secondary institutions and industrial hubs along the route.
The RftV/Leewood Study would make an excellent test bed for TramTrain and the possibility of making it a template for a Canadian version of tramtrain.
Realistically, the E&N needs a $1 billion rehab to provide a viable passenger service (maximum two trains per hour on some sections of track) linking Victoria to Nanaimo, Courtney and Port Alberni. Again, like the RftV Interurban, congestion on Island highways would make a passenger service a viable alternative to the car.
The E&N Railway is also an excellent candidate for a tramtrain service.
Rebuilding the railway from Salmon Arm to Kelowna for passenger service would cost around $1 billion but with the Kelowna International Airport and UBC Okanagan literally at the doorstep of the railway, would guarantee a healthy ridership.
Another excellent candidate for a TramTrain service.
Reinstating a the Vancouver to Prince George passenger service would return a vital tourist and transportation link in the province, which disappeared after the BC Liberal government of the day sold off BC rail on the cheap.
A Cranbrook to Creston railway, may sound good on paper, but has a major flaw, who will use it?
Unlike the three above examples, which connect population centres with destinations a stand alone Cranbrook to Creston railway is a non starter; but what about a 450 km passenger service from Golden to Nelson, via Cranbrook and Creston?
Here we have a regional railway connecting the Golden with major tourist areas, including  Radium and Fairmont hot springs; with Cranbrook to the University town of Nelson. The line, properly marketed would be a major tourist attraction, traveling through BC’s almost unspoiled Kootenay’s.
The schedule would see two through trains per day, with more services in areas with demand. Using modern diesel multiple unit (DMU) rail cars, complete with full amenities, would be standard and in the future could provide such tourist pleasing features as steam operation or a modern version of “car-go-rail” where cars travel with the passenger’s, on the train service, an important feature for limited distance electric cars.

Inside of the Channel Shuttle train, car carrier, providing a ro/ro service.

The cost? Track and signalling upgrades for the line would push the budget past $1.5 billion. As there is not the traffic to justify electrification, the trains would be modern DMU’s to start and the service could evolve to hydrogen powered electric train, now in their infancy.
Certainly the naysayers will poke holes with such a plan, but if BC really wants to be “Green” a stark choice will have to be made, either invest in rail to move local freight and passengers like rail once did, using today’s continuing evolving rail technology or invest in an unproven, high-tech gadget methods, using existing or new highways or even more expensive new build infrastructure.
BC desperately needs to connect tourist oriented destinations in the province, post Covid and a modern passenger rail service would provide the impetus for “Green” tourism, without the need to build more highways and associated infrastructure.
British Columbian politicians face a Hobson’s Choice with provincial transportation infrastructure, either spend a lot of money on “Green” rail, or spend a lot of money on “not very Green” new highways.
The question is “can we wean BC politicians off of classic blacktop politics?”

Norwegian DMU's


A passenger train in Switzerland. Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison wants to bring a similar, but much smaller in scale, electric service to the region. Photo: Andi Graf/Pixabay

A passenger train in Switzerland. Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison wants to bring a similar, but much smaller in scale, electric service to the region. Photo: Andi Graf/Pixabay

Kootenay-Columbia MP exploring electric passenger train service

Rob Morrison says a train from Cranbrook to Creston makes sense

  • May. 4, 2021

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison says he’s working on a pitch to bring an electric passenger train service to the region.

Morrison said there is a clear need for more transportation options in the Kootenays, as well as ones that use clean energy. A small train, with perhaps 24 passengers he says, that runs on CP Rail lines is realistic.

“To me, I think it’s manageable,” said Morrison. “We can use existing tracks, we can use existing technology for electric.”

Travel throughout the Kootenays is currently limited to personal vehicles, BC Transit routes and limited flights out of airports such as those in Castlegar, Trail and Cranbrook.

Morrison said constituents have told him a Cranbrook-Creston route that travels through Yahk makes sense, especially in the winter when highway conditions make driving difficult and tend to cancel flights out of Castlegar.

Eventually, he said, other routes such as Nelson-Castlegar would be added as well.

“I think it would be great if I could come to a meeting in Nelson by just jumping on the train in Creston, spend a day and night or whatever and move on,” he said. “I think it’d be awesome.”

Morrison said the idea isn’t just a politician’s daydream either.

He’s had a meeting with Tesla to discuss the concept — no, it would not be a Hyperloop — and is putting together a feasibility study that would make an environmental and business case for small-scale passenger service that can be presented to the federal government.

“I’m not trying to start a multi-billion dollar enterprise,” he said.

Speed limits on CP Rail lines, as well as the Kootenays’ mountainous geography, rule out a high-speed train concept. But Morrison, a Conservative MP, said a regional electric train service works as a non-partisan solution that he thinks will appeal to the Liberal government, which has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030.

“This is very good for our environment. It’s good for our communities,” said Morrison.

Passenger train service in the Kootenays ended in the 1960s, but Morrison isn’t the first person to consider bringing it back in some form.

A group of residents pitched CP Rail on a passenger service that would run between Procter and Nelson, but that plan went nowhere after CPR said in 2011 it wasn’t interested in operating the service.

In 2019, Castlegar and District Economic Development put a call out for consultants to research a train service that could be used by either commuters or tourists. Nothing came of it.


A modern Stadler regional DMU


3 Responses to “It Is Time For The Return of Regional Passenger Rail In BC?”
  1. Major Hoople says:

    In Europe, especially the UK and Germany, older disused railways are being brought back to life for regional passenger traffic.

    It is much cheaper than new autobahns to construct and with modern signalling, some lines can operate 4 trains per hour per direction on single track. The kleine Landpassagierbahne give customers direct travel to large towns at a regular schedule and at an affordable cost. Before the pandemic, these new regional railways were discovered by tourists at great benefit to the towns the trains serviced.

    The concept of Car-go-rail or Auto Go Rail is also being reborn, especially in the age of the electric vehicle. I believe Stadler is designing a DMU/EMU version, with each rail vehicle holding up to 8 cars and will provide charging while in transit!

    Of course many of our electric regional railways are powered by wind turbine and if fuel cell trains are successful then there will be no need for the expensive electrical overhead.

    Why Canada does not join the rail revolution is beyond comprehension, so many kleine bahns, so much scope for new passenger services.

  2. Haveacow says:

    For some reason the term RO/RO (Roll On/Roll Off) always made me giggle. Just thought I would share that point!

  3. Adam Fitch says:

    If Peter Armstrong can make the Rocky Mountaineer Railway work as a privately held business, then governments should be able to make it work. It seems a no-brainer.

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