All Aboard the Tourism Train

The Peace River Region is expected to receive a huge boost in the tourism arm in the very near future. On November 25, 2003, BC Rail Ltd. signed an Investment Opportunity Agreement with CN Rail. Under this partnership agreement, CN Rail will pay the BC government $1 billion to acquire the outstanding shares of BC Rail along with the right to operate on BC Rail's road bed under a long-term lease. BC Rail's rail bed will remain a publicly operated company but CN Rail will assume responsibility for rail transportation and infrastructure maintenance.

CN Rail's partnership objectives are three-fold. First, CN Rail wants to develop economic and community opportunities in northern BC. Second, the company wants to increase the freight volume in the northwest corridor of the province in cooperation with the Port of Prince Rupert. And third, it wants to support new train tours on BC Rail's network between Vancouver and Prince George and CN Rail's route between Prince Rupert and Jasper.

CN Rail has already announced it will relocate its BC North Division office to Prince George, which will create new employment opportunities for the city's BC Rail shop complex, in addition to making a tremendous impact on the city's tourism industry. On December 5th, CN Rail and BC Rail invited proposals from qualified companies to operate third-party passenger tourist trains over BC Rail's network between North Vancouver and Prince George, and on CN Rail's line between Prince Rupert, Prince George and Jasper, Alberta. The new passenger tourist trains are expected to generate significant new economic activity in BC, particularly in the province's northern regions. The Great Canadian Railtour Company Ltd., the biggest, private company of its kind in North America, said it will submit a proposal in response to CN Rail and BC Rail's invitation. If our proposal is accepted, our Rocky Mountaineer passenger train will make three over-night stops per week in Prince George on the proposed Whistler/Prince George/Jasper passenger line. The economic benefits Prince George would see from this passenger line include hiring local residents for train maintenance, cleaning, baggage handling, and souvenir fulfillment. Other economic benefits would include passengers using the city's accommodations, and patronizing its restaurants, entertainment facilities, and retail stores. Also, suppliers in Prince George and surrounding area could receive contracts to provide products or services to the passenger line, said Graham Gilley, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at GCRC. Not only will the communities along the proposed new train tour route in the Peace River Region enjoy an increase in economic benefits for their tourism industries, but residents could also enjoy a new vacation option. Although details of the tour options have not yet been finalized, there could be a tour option for passengers to travel from Prince George to Jasper and back, said Gilley. There has never been a passenger line north of Prince George but the GCRC is always looking at potential rail tour options regardless of location. Because Tumbler Ridge is 175km northeast of Prince George, we don't believe there will be an immediate impact on the town, but there could be equal opportunities for suppliers that may exist in Tumbler Ridge that could receive contracts to provide products or services to the passenger line, said Gilley. If the BC Rail network were to extend passenger tourism train service in the future, then Tumbler Ridge could receive some of the economic benefits seen elsewhere in the province. Executing CN Rail and BC Rail's partnership agreement will require the BC government to enact legislation. If the agreement is approved by Canada's Competition Bureau, it is expected to be complete by spring 2004. And if the GCRC is the successful bidder, the company estimates their Rocky Mountaineer Whistler/Prince George/Jasper passenger line will start running in May 2005. Although an economic impact study has not yet been complete, if our proposal is successful, our Whistler/Prince George/Jasper passenger line is expected to have a tremendous impact on the tourism industry for BC, including the Peace River Region.