The highs and lows of riding the Island railway line

I was put off when Bruce twice said that Islanders are either passionately “for” or “against” the former E&N railway line

There was no Thomas the Train when I was a kid, but locomotives always fascinated me.

One of my earliest memories was as a three-year-old travelling in an old coach from Toronto to Ottawa. I vaguely recall trying to carry a paper cup of water down the aisle as the train shook side to side spilling most of the cup’s contents, much to the bemusement of the older passengers.

While the railway did open up The West, train travel is a novelty to most British Columbians unless you live in the Lower Mainland.

In Southern Ontario, riding trains is a part of daily life for many. We would take the Go Train from Port Credit to downtown, ride the subway from Union Station to Bloor Street, walk back down Younge Street and then maybe grab the Queen Street street-car back home.

My dad commuted daily by train and sometimes I would take the VIA train to London to visit my brother at university.

I’ve always wanted to cross the country by train and someday I will, and perhaps someday the Vancouver Island line will re-open. I hope it does, but not in the manner viewed by the Island Corridor Society. On Wednesday the society announced it had a tentative deal with VIA Rail to restart service on the line which runs from Courtenay to Victoria.

Later that day though, VIA attempted to distance itself from the media announcement and made it quite clear that a deal is still many stops away.

I listened with interest as Island Corridor CEO Graham Bruce spoke with CBC Radio Victoria on Thursday morning and tried to explain the situation.

It sounds like they “jumped the tracks” a bit and then I was put off when Bruce twice said that Islanders are either passionately “for” or “against” the former E&N railway line.

Well, Mr. Bruce, I and many others sit somewhere in the middle.

Just once I rode the train from Courtenay to Victoria and my vivid recollection is the majority of it was the most unpleasant rail journey I have ever experienced. Oh sure, everyone was nice enough, but it was still a slow and noisy ride.

The biggest problem is the seemingly hundreds of road-rail crossings which caused the engineers to put on the brakes and wail on the horn. I can’t blame them given the stunning number of accidents – many of them tragic – involving a train that traveled back and forth once a day.

That said, the trip from Chemainus over the Malahat to Victoria was the best rail trip I’ve ever been on! Stunning views, fewer road crossings and far safer than driving across the Malahat in a rain or snow storm.

Better still, I believe it makes good economic sense to run a train from Duncan to Victoria mainly for daily commuters and tourists.

That would be a good way to re-start the railway. Let’s see if it works where the most people are and then, if successful, let’s start to look at extending it further north. In other words, Mr. Bruce, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.