The Little Engine that Could


The photo on the right, of Lillooet station, is by John Lee and is courtesy the BBC.

One of the things that saddens me is how much of our rail network we’ve lost, and how much that has taken a lot of Canada’s wilderness out of reach of people who don’t have access to a car, or would like to do without such access. I’m still angry at the Liberals for killing the Northlander, but they were hardly the first.

Trudeau and Mulroney gutted VIA Rail, making it viable as a travel option through southern Ontario and to Montreal, and only as a land-cruise ship along very limited routes elsewhere. The Liberal government of British Columbia canned BC Rail’s passenger rail services between Vancouver and Prince George, robbing interior communities of a connection to the big city, and robbing tourists of some excellent scenery, outside of the Rocky Mountaineer.

What we are left with, outside of VIA’s lonely transcontinental, are isolated pockets of lines like VIA’s remote Sudbury-to-White River run (which doesn’t connect with the VIA rail network at Sudbury), or its slowpoke train from Winnipeg to Churchill. Some, like Algoma Central, are attempting to advertise themselves as a possible last gasp before abandonment. Some, like the remains of the Quebec, North Shore and Labrador, are well kept secrets.

And I may have stumbled upon one of the best kept secrets of all.

When British Columbia abandoned its passenger train between North Vancouver and Prince George, it retained a small operation between the nearby towns of Lilloet and Seton Lake, run on behalf of the Seton Lake Indian Band. It was largely kept because the only other access between these two points was a gravel road that got washed out frequently.

To say that the equipment to run the line was put together rather quickly is an understatement. Railfans have likened the dinky, self-propelled cars as garden sheds on wheels. But the amazing thing is, this service kept running, even after BC Rail was sold to Canadian National. The service, now called the Kaoham Shuttle operates daily, and the round trip fare is $10.

And according to this travel article on the BBC’s website, this operation is starting to attract the notice of tourists who like the idea of discovering a well-kept secret, and being rewarded with some spectacular scenery and wildlife views. The operation continues, with three trips on Friday for tourists, although the official website notes the 1:30 p.m. run “will only live Seton if there is more than 5 passengers”.

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