Snow pulls Islanders onto E&N trains
Ridership jumped nearly 50% since snowstorms hit
by Darrell Bellaart, Times-Colonist, December 30, 2008
More Vancouver Islanders are choosing to travel by train when the roads get too slushy and slippery to drive. Southern Rail, which operates the E&N railway from Victoria to Courtenay, saw more customers buying Via Rail tickets when heavy snow made travel difficult on the Island Highway earlier this month.
Ridership rose almost 50 per cent in the past two weeks, so Southern Rail asked Via Rail to add a second car, something that only happens during the busiest periods.
“It’s been up and down daily but we’re definitely seeing above-average ridership,” said Don McGregor, Southern Railway Vancouver Island general manager. “Talking to people, there’s a lot of people using the service, rather than using the roads.”
And while Via expects an increase in traffic at Christmas, he said this year the numbers jumped earlier than usual because of Island snow conditions.
The Christmas rush can be heavy enough to warrant putting a second car on the line, but McGregor said when that happens, it’s just a “bit of a blip” for Christmas only. “But this is a significant blip and beyond what we would have expected and it started a week earlier.”
Between Dec. 17 and 28, when weather was at its worst, Via Rail saw 1,132 passengers travelling north from Victoria to Courtenay. That compares with 770 during the same period last year.
“That represents a 47 per cent i n c r e a s e . I t ‘ s p r e t t y significant,” McGregor said. And while McGregor a g r e e s a s e c o n d scheduled train would make passenger rail travel more attractive on the Island, it wouldn’t happen before the line gets muchneeded rail bed improvements, which are estimated to cost more than $100 million. That would only happen with government support.
“Our first priority is to get the funding together to get the track up to scratch,” he said. “You’re piling more load on an existing track that needs some infrastructure. It’s like loading up a dilapidated horse.”
About half the passengers interviewed yesterday at the Nanaimo train station said weather played a part in their choosing to travel by rail. “That’s part of it,” said Carol Young, who was on her way back to Courtenay after visiting family in Nanaimo. “I wouldn’t want to drive in this.” She added driving in snow is too stressful and she finds trains a relaxing way to travel, and wishes the service could be expanded.
“There should be two trains a day, because I’d go to Victoria lots if they did,” Young said. Cindy Green came to Nanaimo on Dec. 14 from Fort McMurray, Alta., to spend Christmas with her family. She decided to take the train back to Courtenay so she could catch her plane home from Comox. “I just thought, I don’t know what the roads are going to be like, I don’t know what the weather will be like, I’ll take the train,” Green said. “When a friend’s son drove me here, I was appalled at the roads. I could not believe a major highway [was] like that.”
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