CN, it’s time to think outside your boxcars

August Op-Ed for Bridge River Lillooet News

It was with much disappointment to read in this newspaper that after a lengthy process resulting in CN’s verbal approval for the tourist train, CN has now pulled out their support. (July 22nd, CN derails plans for tourist train) Paul Deegan, CN vice-president of public and governmental affairs, wrote to Mayor Lampman that “Due to current traffic volumes and safety concerns, a tourist train is not suitable in that area”.

Have CN officials been to Lillooet recently? There’s plenty of traffic volume. From May to September the Duffey Lake Road is non-stop with tour buses, motor homes, motorcycles and vacationers. And there would be plenty more traffic if people had more ways to get here.
Eight years ago I bought property here and in that short time the town has made slow and steady progress toward economic diversification. Just like The Little Engine That Could, that classic children’s story about a train’s hard work and optimism, Lillooet is all about not giving up. This is the Little Town That Could.
Has CN heard about the award-winning Fort Berens Estate Winery? This province has a huge wine culture, of which Lillooet now proudly plays a part. People in Vancouver and Whistler, not to mention around the world, are chomping at the bit to get to Fort Berens Winery.
In 2013 Vancouver-based Powell Street Craft Brewery won the Canadian Brewing Awards Beer of the Year for their Old Jalopy beer, which was made with organic hops grown on the Lillooet farm of the ambitious Bitterbine Hop Company. Craft Brewing has become huge business.
Has CN heard about the fact that BOSA Developments just bought a key piece of real estate? BOSA is an astute investor with an excellent reputation in Vancouver for the quality of its many projects. If BOSA is investing in Lillooet, you know that’s a thumbs-up for this town’s future potential.
First Nations have businesses in agriculture, tourism, culture, and environmental knowledge and protection. And there are many smaller initiatives too numerous to mention here. All this and the spectacular landscape makes Lillooet poised to transition to a highly desirable destination for tourism.
CN’s official website claims the company is committed to “building safer, stronger communities”. If this is true, and not just empty public relations spin, then I would challenge CN to have another look at supporting a tourist train. If not the proposed route, then how about considering another route, or a partial route? How about meeting with the Mayor and other organizers for a serious discussion instead of conducting business only by email? That sort of conduct isn’t acceptable.
Like all the railways, CN needs to show that it has actually joined the 21st century. Seems to me the railways could benefit from a corporate image rebranding. The old days when railways could operate without public scrutiny are gone. This is the age of social media and robust public discourse. People now expect corporations to exercise their social responsibility. Come on, CN, get on board the change train, it’s time to think outside your boxcars.