The society in charge of Port Alberni’s railroads is planning to have the steam train back on track for the 2024 season.
Port Alberni’s 1929 Baldwin Steam Locomotive (the “No. 7”) hasn’t run since 2018, due to a “significant” failure with the boiler tubes that required a full re-tube. Matters were complicated in 2019 when city council decided to put a temporary halt to railway options in the Alberni Valley due to budget concerns. The city had plans to run the train in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to this.
Now, members of the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS) have put together a business plan and budget for the steam train to return next summer.
Ron Corbeil, president of the IHS, and vice-president Richard Spencer appeared before city council during a committee of the whole meeting on Monday, Oct. 16 to provide an update on their plans for the next season. With a new business model, and support from the city, Spencer said railway operations will return for the 2024 season.
“In the past, the Alberni Pacific Railway has been a key part of tourism in the Alberni Valley, providing visitors and locals a unique, exciting and educational experience aboard one of our many trains,” said Spencer. “The No. 7 is ready to steam up the tracks once again.”
Spencer explained that the IHS has submitted a business plan and a budget to council for consideration in their 2024 budget planning. They are asking for $130,000 from the city in next year’s budget to help with expenses, but they are also looking into various fundraising and sponsorship opportunities for more revenue.
The budget and business plan are both available for the public to view on the railway’s new website at www.albernipacificrailway.ca.
“We want the residents, the taxpayers, to know what our plan is and to be engaged with that,” said Spencer.
Corbeil explained to council that the IHS has experienced a number of setbacks this summer.
They had originally planned to bring the No. 7 out in August for a community event, but this was halted by Technical Safety BC. Now, armed with a safety management system and track certification, Corbeil says the IHS is confident that the steam train will be able to run next year.
For 2024, the train will only be travelling along the city’s waterfront and not out to McLean Mill, as it has done in the past. Spencer explained that the railway is split into two halves, with the first half owned by the City of Port Alberni and the second half owned by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF). For now, the IHS is focusing on the city-owned half of the railway but “the big picture” will involve collaborating with the ICF and other stakeholders and getting the train back out to McLean Mill.
Spencer says this will ensure that the railway is financially sustainable.
“One of the real reasons why the city was paying so much for the railway in the past is because of track maintenance,” he explained. “[Track maintenance] for six miles is very expensive, as well as crossing two major trestles.”
Members of council were happy to hear that the steam train is returning.
“There are a couple of iconic sounds in this community,” said Coun. Charles Mealey. “One was the [Martin Mars] waterbombers and the other is the train going through town. We don’t have either. Now we have an opportunity to have one.”
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions praised the “new energy” of the IHS and the changes they have made to their organizational structure and planning.
She also encouraged the IHS to push the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) for financial support, as well.
“I think we need to get the community to push for this and recognize that this is value to the whole community, not just the city,” she said.