June Op-ed for the Bridge River Lillooet News
In less than 6 weeks the online passenger train petition has 1,150 signatures, and counting. (https://www.change.org/p/premier-gov-bc-ca-bring-back-the-north-vancouver-to-prince-george-passenger-train) The Facebook page—Bring Back the BC Passenger Train—has hundreds of Likes and shares so far. People are keen to have the service.
But as I connect with people and do research, one negative keeps cooling the excitement: even though population, highway traffic, and tourism have significantly increased since the train was cancelled in 2002, would ridership be enough to make a new service profitable?
To that negative train of thought (sorry, the puns abound) I would say this: it’s time to think beyond old-school revenue models. Why force ridership to be the sole profit generator? Let’s re-imagine the passenger train concept and find ways to maximize the infrastructure in terms of the incoming green economy.
Here’s an exciting template: The Canada Post Corporation is struggling financially and quality of mail service has eroded. Its future looks bleak. But the clever folks at Friends of Public Services have some fantastic ideas for refitting the organization which will transform it into a centre of community care and economic development.
They propose that post offices be turned into publicly-owned banks, which would invest in solar panels, green building, renewable energy, local farming, etc, in communities all across the land. Post offices could also be charging stations for electric/solar cars.
Presto, a struggling industry could be rejuvenated and revitalized, value added to a national infrastructure, and Canada Post is highly relevant again. Not to mention the spin-off in job creation.
That kind of thinking can be applied to anything, especially railways. In India, they’ve recently started running their first-ever solar-powered trains, with the solar panels being located on the rooftops. Or how about building solar canopies above the track for the segments of the line that are oriented to the south and west and get maximum sun? What about creating solar farms along the route?
Did you know that Bill Gates is the largest shareholder in CN Rail? Mr. Gates, who hails from nearby Seattle, is well known for his generous philanthropy, not to mention the revolutionary ideas…Hmmm…Dear Mr. Gates, how about you exert your considerable influence and make a little passenger train one of your pet projects? How about turning this undervalued gem into a showcase of green technology?
On a humbler note, recently on a social media forum someone mentioned that there used to be a show for the tourists where an outlaw gang on horseback would ride up to the BCRail passenger train and pretend to be robbing it, which sounded like a blast to me. Wanted Dead or Alive: The Infamous Gold Rush Gang.
There’s no reason why a passenger train can’t be smart, green, profitable, and even fun sometimes. We humans are nothing if not resourceful, intelligent and inventive so let’s dream big, because dreaming is a form of planning. If you come up with an idea, share it on the Facebook page—where there’s a will, there’s a railway.