A seniors group of 35 local residents made their way to Prince Rupert by train last Thursday afternoon. The regularly scheduled VIA Rail passenger service to Prince Rupert through Burns Lake was delayed by more than two hours.
VIA Rail leases rail time from CN Rail, and VIA’s service is contingent upon the level of freight traffic on the line. If a freight train has the line, then VIA has to wait its turn behind it, or for it as the case may be.
“On time performance is a priority for VIA Rail,” said Mylene Belanger, VIA Rail spokesperson. “Because we do not own the tracks, we do not control the situation.”
According to Belanger, VIA holds weekly conference calls with CN to work towards improving the situation with freight and passenger train scheduling.
Burns Lake is a conditional stop for VIA passenger service.
“Our on-board crew are informed of tickets purchased for conditional stops along the way and the train will stop,” Belanger explained. “Also, the train stops on request when a traveller is seen on the platform.”
The Burns Lake train station is a sideways leaning sign that reads, Burns Lake. It could easily be mistaken for downtown parking, which is what most vehicles parked at the station are all about.
VIA is working on a solution for the nondescript nature of the Burns Lake stop.
“VIA is considering installing signs [in Burns Lake] that would provide train schedule and contact information,” Belanger said. “Eventually, we hope to be able to provide real-time status information for our trains.”
The technology being considered for Burns Lake is now being tested in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. If the technology is reliable, it may come to Burns Lake.
“We are willing to work with the community of Burns Lake to improve passenger service in your community,” Belanger added.
Passenger rail service is an affordable option in Northern B.C., with rates less than typical Greyhound bus service rates. Schedule frequency for rail service is a limiting factor for its use.