City of Port Alberni cancels tourist train operations for 2019

Steam train to McLean Mill is out of commission for repairs; city wants to re-examine rail costs

The R3 “Alco” diesel locomotive pulls out of the Alberni Pacific Railway roundhouse in July 2018, preparing to take tourists from the train station in Port Alberni out to McLean Mill National Historic Site. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Port Alberni’s tourist trains will not run in 2019 after city council agreed this week to put a temporary halt to railway operations in the Alberni Valley.

Council voted during a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19 to officially separate the McLean Mill National Historic Site and the Alberni Pacific Railway (APR), which have previously been treated as one entity.

READ: Residents, volunteers weigh in on future of McLean Mill National Historic Site

Dr. Jamie Morton, the temporary APR manager, brought forward a list of draft budgets for both McLean Mill and the railway. These draft budgets are available to view on the city’s website. He explained that if the city focuses on minimal APR operations for 2019—60 short runs using the No. 11 diesel locomotive—the cost would be about $127,100 from the city’s operational budget. Meanwhile, 45 runs to McLean Mill using the Alco diesel locomotive—which is currently in need of some repairs—would cost the city around $192,050.

Last year the railway offered 55 runs to McLean Mill, but struggled with filling the seats. According to Morton, occupancy was at an average of about 40 percent capacity in 2018.

Mayor Sharie Minions thanked Morton on Tuesday for his “realistic” breakdown of the costs for running the train.

“Although these numbers are shocking, because they are high, I think that this is the best, realistic projection of what this will cost that we have been given,” she said. “We don’t want to run an operation and not run it well and always be under-funding it so that the organizations are always struggling. We need to have the information in front of us so that we can make the decision.”

Minions then proposed a motion to pause train operations in 2019, until the city can find a more “financially viable” way to run the trains.

“I do not want to be a community that loses the train,” she explained. “I would like us to get to a point where we can run the train again. But I think with the current budget…I think we need to start talking about another way to do this. I don’t think we’re going to get there if we keep running it as we are right now.”

The stoppage would also include short runs such as the Santa Train during the holiday season, unless council can find a way to fund these.

Councillor Helen Poon agreed with this motion, suggesting that the APR should focus on getting the No. 7 “Baldwin” steam locomotive back up and running in 2020. The steam train is currently undergoing a boiler replacement, and will not be running in 2019.

READ: McLean Mill’s steam engine done for the season

“I think we should look towards running the steam train, rather than kind of a ‘halfway there’ diesel,” said Poon.

Councillor Debbie Haggard suggested that fundraising could be an option, as the city regroups and revisits the railway budget.

“I think you have a lot of opportunities to fundraise. The community will support you. And I’ll be the first one there to support you and donate,” she said.

“I don’t think this is the end, by no means. I think it could be a really good new beginning for us.”

Council voted unanimously to halt train operations in 2019. Council also asked staff to provide a report with governance options for McLean Mill. At this point, the national historic site will still be open in 2019, with 13 weddings booked for this season. But city council has not yet determined how much money they will be putting towards the site in this year’s budget.



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

More than 250 riders took part in the fifth annual Tripleshot CrossFondo, which riders across parts of the Saanich Peninsula, including this field near Sluggett Farms. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Tripleshot CrossFondo rides across Saanich Peninsula

More than 250 cyclists took part in mystery-course race

City of Victoria crews will soon be gathering up fallen leaves in neighbourhoods and city parks. First up on the pickup list are the James Bay, Fairfield, Rockland, Gonzales and South Jubilee neighbourhoods, starting Oct. 19. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria city leaf pickup a sure sign of fall

Residential pickup begins Oct. 19, drop-offs can happen anytime at city yard

Saanich police are warning residents to be aware of a non-aggressive bear sighting in the 400-block of Haliburton Terrace. (Black Press Media file photo)
Non-aggressive bear spotted in Saanich neighbourhood

Saanich police advise residents to be aware of sighting in the 400-block of Haliburton Terrace

The Capital Regional District spent $1.7 million to restore the Todd Creek Trestle. (Sooke News Mirror)
Todd Creek Trestle restoration completed

Restoration work adds 35 to 50 years to life span of the structure

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is warning customers of a confirmed case of COVID-19 on WestJet flight 195 from Calgary into Victoria on Oct. 11. Passengers seated between rows one and seven should self-minotor for symptoms for the next 14 days. (Black Press Media file photo)
Confirmed COVID case on WestJet flight day after previous exposure on same route

BCCDC warning passengers seated in rows one to seven on WestJet flight 195 on Oct. 11 into Victoria

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

(File photo)
RCMP: Two men face charges in reported Parksville fatal hit-and-run

Investigation into man’s death began in August of 2019

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Steven Michael Bacon pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder of Nanaimo teen Makayla Chang. (Photos submitted)
Accused pleads not guilty in Nanaimo teen’s 2017 murder

Steven Bacon appeared in Nanaimo court Monday via video link from Thunder Bay

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read