Priority needs to be given to passengers travelling on Via Rail to and from Prince Rupert, says city councillor Gurvinder Randhawa. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Priority needs to be given to passengers travelling on Via Rail to and from Prince Rupert, says city councillor Gurvinder Randhawa. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Give Via Rail passengers priority, says Councillor Randhawa

Safe, consistent, transportation needed for Prince Rupert to Prince George after Greyhound leaves

On June 1, Greyhound’s passenger service between Prince Rupert and Prince George will cease, and one Prince Rupert councillor is suggesting Via Rail could fill the void — if service was more consistent.

“In Prince Rupert these days Via Rail is very unpredictable. If you have to go to Terrace for any appointment, you’re not sure what time you can go there. Sometimes it takes four to five hours to get to Terrace,” said Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa. “Now that Greyhound is not here, we need some kind of guaranteed service from here to Prince George.”

A scheduled train from Prince Rupert to Prince George was cancelled due to railway traffic on May 11. The only other traffic on the CN Rail-owned tracks ship cargo to and from the Port of Prince Rupert. No other train was impacted, said Mylene Belanger a spokesperson for Via Rail in an email. Passengers were provided alternate transportation.

“Unfortunately, because of unforeseen circumstances, our customers were taken to destination with approximately six hours of delay. We acknowledge that this situation has had an impact on the travel plans of our customers and we are sincerely sorry for all inconveniences this situation have caused,” Belanger said.

Travel delays are not uncommon. Another example of unpredictable train service was in February, when the Charles Hays Secondary School senior boys basketball team took the train to play a tournament in Prince George. The 10-hour train ride took 27 hours due to railway traffic and winter weather conditions.

READ MORE: Rainmakers stuck on train for more than 27 hours

“It’s not really fair for the senior people, or moms with kids that they have to wait all day,” Randhawa said, which is why he requested to mention the issue in a letter council is sending to the federal government.

At the May 14 City of Prince Rupert council meeting, councillors received a request from Skeena Bulkley-Valley MP Nathan Cullen asking them to write a letter to the federal government to provide safe and reliable public transportation along Highway 16. The 700km route between Prince Rupert and Prince George is also known as the Highway of Tears for the many missing and murdered women and men along the route.

While the province has worked with municipalities to create a Highway 16 Community Access bus, Cullen said in his request that the shuttle service was not meant as a replacement, and “we need to fill the void left behind by Greyhound.”

That void could be filled with a passenger service that already exists — Via Rail. Last year, the company had a 7.3 per cent increase in ridership on the Jasper-Prince Rupert route. There were 347 passengers per week and 18,018 passengers in the year, according to Via Rail’s 2017 Annual Report.

The train is scheduled to arrive in Prince Rupert Monday, Thursday and Saturday, and departs for Prince George Sunday, Wednesday, Friday. While the schedule is there, arrival and departure times are often unpredictable.

Councillor Randhawa asked to add another request in the letter to the federal government. He wants to give the passenger train priority on the tracks so arrival and departures are on time. Improving the passenger train service isn’t only for residents who want safe transportation, with tourism season around the corner, Randhawa doesn’t want tourists to experience poor service either.

Councillor Barry Cunningham agrees that the train service needs to be addressed. “It’s getting worse all the time. It’s supposed to be in at 8:30 p.m. tonight, and it’s going to be in around 10:30, 11 o’clock. It makes it difficult for people coming into town to find accommodation and things like that,” he said at the council meeting.

As the port continues to expand, and activity continues to grow, rail traffic will only increase. CN Rail looks to address the issue. In the first quarter review, the interim president CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest, said CN Rail will invest $400 million in new track infrastructure, in Western Canada especially.

“Port activity is good but all the cargo on the trains is first priority these days. Before, Via Rail was a priority. Now Via Rail is the last priority. I understand that too. We need port activity but at the same time we should have some kind of guaranteed service for our passengers,” Councillor Randhawa said.

With files from Keili Bartlett

Highway 16Highway of TearsNathan CullenVIA Rail