As of this moment the fate of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo rail service remains in the uncaring hands of the swine at Via Rail way over there back east somewhere in which folk cannot grasp the concept of Vancouver Island, which seems to be a place as alien to them as is Namibia, say.
So no word as to whether it comes back or is lost to history. For a lover of trains, like me, this is galling and frustrating and makes me less than tolerant with the unromantic jerks who want to see the rail right-of-way turned into a fancy-schmantzy trail for them and their wretched bicycles. Piss on them, I say, with no small malice. I want my train back as a viable alternative to the eventual blacktopping of this Island. Rail conveyance works as anybody who has traveled in Europe knows and it cuts down on road traffic immeasurably.
That said, and before you proceed with this it’s important, though not vital, that you understand a little bit about the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railroad. I have included this for a smattering of background and also because I like history.
Esquimalt and Nanaimo are two towns on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, which is on the west coast of Canada. (This is designed mainly to help the Via folks who seem unclear on the concept) I am being geographically precise just in case you, the reader, know little about the area. If you don’t gain this basic understanding of the place then the story you are about to read won’t lose any of their charm whatsoever, but you’ll, at the same time, feel better situated.
First, understand that Vancouver Island is not islet sized. It’s the largest island on the west coast of North America, being four-hundred-and-sixty kilometres long and around one hundred kilometres wide at its most girthful point. The kilometers reference is used, by the way, since that’s the way they measure things on Vancouver Island. So, anyway, it’s a big place, relatively, and compares in size with the Netherlands and Taiwan. Well, the Netherlands isn’t actually an island, but you get the drift.
The E&N these days is part of a national passenger entity known as Via Rail. Via Rail is something like Amtrak, only even less efficient or caring. Via does not like the E&N. That’s been made abundantly clear by them over the years.
In 1905 the E&N became an aspect of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and it was extended at the south end into Victoria proper. A reality that Victoria, for some bizarre reason, has been fighting against ever since and continues to do so. As an example, the new and largely unneeded Johnson Street Bridge in that city makes no provision for rail trackage. That notwithstanding, northerly it was extended to the west coast deep sea port of Alberni and eventually, by nineteen fourteen, to its current northernmost terminal, Courtenay. Just in time for the First World War. And Courtenay has remained to this day as the northern terminus
In its heyday the line was well-utilized hauling freight and supplies to and from the communities served by the grand total of fifty-three stations en route. Until a highway link was established connecting those communities, the E&N was essentially the only way to travel. But, rubber killed the railroad, as it did in so many other parts of North America and rail use continued to decline throughout the years of the twentieth century.
Any rail service is, of course, a carrier of goods and it’s in that freight haulage where the money is made. But, there is also the passenger service, and that’s where railroad romance is realized and perpetuated and that’s the area in which this much-beleaguered line is connected to the tales that follow here.
It’s not the Orient Express, the Royal Scot, or the hugely long coast-to-coast rail lines in Canada and the US. It’s a clunky, bumpy, swaying two hundred and forty kilometre ride, twice a day, up and down the Island. It’s much spat-upon by the funding-purveyors and generally disregarded by politicians at all levels and has stopped and started more times that most would care to remember. The ancient Budd cars are victims of their age and if one is familiar with the sleek railcars to be found in places like Switzerland and France, one can only weep a little bit and think we should be so ashamed.
Wendy and I used that little train with much regularity when we were commuting back and forth between the Comox Valley and our apartment in Victoria and grew to love it. I would hate to think that future generations might not have that privilege due to the lack of will by those who will only realize what it might have been if only we’d had the balls to stand up for it. Not yet too late, but getting close.