Dayliner arrives in Nanaimo, awaits funding

Rail buffs tout E&N line's potential

Graham Bruce

Graham Bruce

For a train buff like Gordon Niamath, the sound of a train’s whistle is music to his ears, the rolling wheels like thundering drums.

But the arrival of the Dayliner Tuesday afternoon held a potentially sour note for Niamath and dozens of other supporters as two bud cars arrived at Nanaimo Station, possibly for the last time, if $15 million isn’t granted by the provincial and federal governments for track upgrades.

Via Rail repositioned the train to Nanaimo Tuesday in anticipation of the service starting up again with early morning service from Nanaimo to Victoria then back up-Island to Courtenay in an effort to provide a commuter service and tourist opportunity.

The train will sit in Nanaimo’s Welcox Yard until a decision is made, likely in mid-June. VIA has also promised three newly refurbished cars if and when the service restarts.

Meanwhile, the Nanaimo Station continues to undergo massive renovations, funded by VIA Rail and community contributions, after a fire ripped through the historic building nearly four years ago.

Niamath said the train is the only way to go.

“Two weeks ago I rode the Amtrak to Seattle and gone are the days of the old clickety-clack. The rail line is smooth and comfortable, way better than driving. We spent 20 minutes getting across the border and that was it. Cars were lined up for four hours.”

Niamath said a well-maintained and reliable train service on the Island would take cars off the road and give Islanders an alternative mode of transportation.

Graham Bruce, Island Corridor Foundation executive director, said Tuesday was like a glass half full, not empty.

“Is there a better and brighter day ahead for rail service on Vancouver Island? Absolutely,” said Bruce. “We’re in the crossroads of securing the $15 million that will really make a difference. Some of us are all very confident that is going to happen, so by bringing the cars up here we’re hoping VIA Rail will see the wisdom and we’re quite confident they see this is the proper way to run the system over here.”

Bernie Manuel showed up to Tuesday’s reception to welcome the train to Nanaimo and provide some nostalgia.

“I used to ride it back in the ’80s and it was wonderful,” he said. “I’d recommend it to anybody. It’s the only way to see this beautiful Island. I used to take it to see my mom. I always promised her a trip on the train and I had a buddy who was an engineer so he gave us the tour and everything up front.”

About 30 people braved May showers to welcome the Dayliner to its new home base.

Paul Sonnenberg said it’s been a while since he took the train, but would if it resumed service.

“Before I went to school I rode on the old train with wooden seats. It was all right,” he said.

Another supporter wondered why roadways receive billions of dollars, encouraging more cars while the train struggles to attract the attention of politicians.

Dayliner ridership had increased 30 per cent over the past four years before the service was halted two months ago due to unsafe infrastructure.

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