Karl YuBlack Press
Heritage train rides occurred in Nanaimo last week, part of the 130th anniversary of rail on Vancouver Island, and planning is afoot for train service catering to cruise ships.
Frank Butzelaar, CEO of Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, which operates the rail line, said feasibility studies and economic assessments have been done and an anticipated six-month stakeholder engagement process on a permanent excursion train will soon begin, culminating in a business plan.
Butzelaar said the plan will be used to market the train to the cruise ship industry and can cater to more than just ship customers, too.
“We concluded when we did the feasibility study that we have a unique opportunity here on Vancouver Island, with this rail corridor, to not only do cruise ship tours, but actually, we have an opportunity to do special event tours as well,” said Butzelaar.
He said he would like to reach out to organizations in the community to talk about other opportunities.
While a route hasn’t been established yet, Butzelaar said potential ones have been identified. He said the best opportunity would be service from Nanaimo’s cruise ship terminal to Chemainus.
Butzelaar said the service is contingent on federal, provincial and regional district money. The Regional District of Nanaimo recently pulled its commitment of $945,000. Butzelaar had no comment.
“I’m really not involved in that part of it,” said Butzelaar. “Our role is to be operator. We work with the [Island Corridor Foundation, track owner] to develop business plans.”
Judith Sayers, foundation board co-chairwoman, said the situation with the RDN is another issue it has to address.
“I am confident that we can either work it out with them or that we can find other funding sources,” said Sayers. “I don’t know where it will go, but it’s a fairly recent announcement and as a board, we haven’t talked about it, but there are alternatives.”
Following stakeholder engagement, Butzelaar said finalization of the business plan will take another two months.