Kamloops Heritage Railway hopes to keep chugging down the tracks through CN coal dust as it is plans to shift from offering in-town rail tours, via the historic 2141 steam engine, to journeys between Kamloops and Armstrong.
The proposal is the result of increased coal transportation on CN rail lines as the trains pass through the downtown core.
The increased train traffic will lead to fewer but longer trips for the 2141 and change in location of departures and arrivals, from the heritage CN Rail Station in downtown Kamloops to Campbell Creek in the eastern part of the city.
On Monday (June 28), the city’s finance committee heard a presentation from Kamloops Heritage Railway executive director Cory Clark, who is requesting from council permission to transfer existing city funding — totalling $210,000 in 2021 — through a service agreement toward the new initiative, dubbed the Armstrong Explorer.
Clark touted the plan as one that would create one of the “premier” steam engine experiences in the world, drawing European tourists who also hop aboard the Rocky Mountaineer for that rail tour company’s trips across B.C.
At the same time, Clark said the decision was not the choice of the society. He said CN is no longer able to provide the society with time to operate its local rail tours, leaving the Armstrong run as the only option.
“Right now, during the peak, you’re looking at potentially 10 coal trains a day,” Clark said. “Each one of those coal trains taking about two hours to clear the track, so, just in coal trains, you’re looking at up to 20 hours a day and you’ve got freight on top of that. Then you have Rocky Mountaineer on top of that, so CN is no longer able to give us that two-hour chunk of time that we require to run to the Halston Bridge and back.”
Clark said it would cause chaos throughout the line.
“It really is CN that is pushing us out to Armstrong,” Clark said.
The proposed Armstrong tour would depart at 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays from Campbell Creek. Clark said departure from Campbell Creek will allow for a “delay-free experience.”
Upon arrival in Armstrong 108 kilometres east of Kamloops, passengers can have lunch and explore the town before returning to the train and arriving in Kamloops at 5:30 p.m.
The rail voyage would be longer than current in-town tours. However, the frequency would be reduced from 40 seasonal trips to 16 in a regular year.
This year, eight trips are proposed, beginning in September, when COVID-19 restrictions are scheduled to be lifted if the current downturn in case counts continues.
Clark said the new tour will net the society $19,000 in income per trip — money that will help to “advance cultural content,” he said.
A diesel locomotive will be needed to run the train in reverse and there is a need to upgrade car wheels to rail regulatory standards. The society will also hire staff.
Clark said the BC Cattleman’s Association is allowing the society to load and unload passengers at its facility. The steam engine will travel from its downtown yard to Campbell Creek on Fridays and spend the night, ready to go on Saturday morning. Security will be onsite overnight.
“They [BC Cattleman’s Association] have allowed us a parking area to park potentially up to 200 cars and they have also allowed us access to the rail space that they have and allowed us to build a little platform so that we can safely load and unload our guests,” he said.
Clark said the trip will also result in positive economic spinoffs, such as hotel stays, restaurant visits, employment and revenue for businesses that support the operations of the steam engine.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly suggested the community of Armstrong should pitch in, as economic spinoff will occur in that area. Clark said he met with Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper, who did not commit to funding this year. Clark said the larger spinoff would be in Kamloops, where ticket sales revenue and job creation will stay.
Council will have the ultimate say at a later date.
“One thing that I will say is that, for the longest time, almost 30 years, 2141 has been part of the face of Kamloops and we want to continue to be one of the things that Kamloops is known for,” Clark said.