Effective April 8, 2020, Canadian National Railway will suspend train service between Williams Lake and Squamish, B.C.
The move comes due to the decline in customer demand that makes it no longer feasible for CN to maintain the current service profile, CN senior manager of communications Jonathan Abecassis confirmed in an e-mail Friday.
“The remaining customers on this corridor have been advised in advance that they will now see their traffic routed via the Prince George — Kamloops — Vancouver corridor.”
Abecassis noted this is not a decision CN Rail is taking lightly.
“We are sympathetic to the disruption of this change on the lives of our employees, particularly in the current environment, and they may have an opportunity to remain with CN in other locations.”
Based on collective bargaining agreements and depending on seniority, employees may elect to work at other CN locations in B.C. and where there is a shortage of personnel, he added.
“CN recognizes and understands that these are unprecedented times and wants to reaffirm that we are focused on the health and safety of our employees, the essential movement of critical supplies for all Canadians, and a safe and reliable service for our customers.”
Cariboo Chilcotin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett said she was shocked to learn that CN Rail is putting the brakes on the line.
“I was made aware of this a day ago,” she told the Tribune Wednesday, April 1. “I’ve been making phone calls and found out today they are not going to have the line from Williams Lake to Squamish.”
Barnett said whether it’s temporary or permanent she is not certain.
“But to me personally, and I could be wrong, I’ve been wrong before, it sounds permanent. They’ve lost many customers over the last while and so whether it’s feasible or not, I know that it’s probably one of the most expensive parts of the line to manage between Squamish and 100 Mile. It’s the most beautiful ride in the world and the topography is tough, yet gorgeous.”
It would be nice to know the facts, Barnett said and it is also a shock that no one knew about it beforehand.
“It must have been in the works for a little while. It will be hard on businesses in Williams Lake.”
Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, who only learned about the curtailment Tuesday, said it is not good news.
“I find it crazy that they are saying there was a lack of business because even when I was mayor 20 years ago we were crying for more cars then.”
Cobb said looking out his window overlooking the town, he could see rail cars with lumber on them.
“This very upsetting,” he added.
Barnett said other communities along the line will also be impacted as well.
“There will be jobs lost,” she said.
The line was once part of BC Rail, which the government under former premier Gordon Campbell sold most of to CN Rail for about $1 billion in 2003, after a bidding process involving Canadian Pacific and a consortium of U.S. railways Burlington Northern Santa Fe and OmniTrax.
The deal, which technically includes a 900-year lease of the railway property, came in spite of a 2001 election promise by Campbell that the railway would not be sold. It became engulfed in controversy as two ministerial aides from the Campbell government were eventually convicted of breach of trust for accepting benefits and leaking bid information to Denver-based OmniTrax.
With files about the BC Rail sale from Tom Fletcher, Black Press.