Engineer Rod Gledhill maneuvres the No. 7 steam train off of the siding at the Barclay Hotel Whistle Stop on July 20 during a ‘popup’ steam event. The steam train, which weighs about 90 tonnes, is not permitted to cross either of the trestles between the Port Alberni Train Station and McLean Mill, so this is as far as it can go for 2017. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Alberni Pacific Railway needs $300K if steam train to run again

Alberni pitches 10-year, $1.2M rail maintenance program

If the City of Port Alberni wants to run its steam train as a tourist attraction, it could cost up to $1.2 million over the next 10 years to fix the rails, says City of Port Alberni CAO Tim Pley.

Pley on Monday, Aug. 14 unveiled a rail maintenance plan for the Alberni Pacific Railway with an estimated price tag of $1.2 million. The plan includes details about the long-term maintenance requirements and anticipated costs for the rail corridor between the McLean Mill National Historic site and the E&N Train Station.

McLean Mill funds subject to receipt and approval of a rail and track maintenance plan

Pley pointed out that the city owns the portion of rails between the train station and Catalyst lands, while the bulk of it is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF). “We have a contract to operate on their rails,” he said.

This contract says that the city is responsible for all maintenance costs.

“If we want to continue to run rail on that corridor, it needs some significant work,” said Pley.

Albert Pacific Railway operation in 2017 has been limited by the BC Safety Authority, to the use of only the lightest weight diesel locomotive, due to the states of the trestles above Roger Creek and Kitsuksis Creek. The structures of the trestles themselves, which are steel, are sound, but some of the wooden bridge ties were found to contain rot.

The McLean Mill Society has already spent $80,000 of its 2017 funding. “This is primarily to get BC Safety Authority to allow us to operate,” said Pley.

In 2018, Pley said the city must turn their attention to the bridges, or trestles. An estimated $300,000 worth of bridge repair work and other maintenance must be completed in order for APR to operate beyond 2017 with the full range of its locomotives. Maintenance and repair work, including tie replacement, vegetation control, drainage work, and ballast remediation, must be undertaken each year. Pley estimated costs at approximately $100,000 for each of the nine years after this.

Some of the city councillors expressed surprise at the high numbers, but Pley pointed out, “If we want to be in the rail business, we have to commit to the rail business.”

Councillor Chris Alemany questioned if the city should be contacting ICF to provide some funding, since most of the corridor is their asset and it has not been maintained. The ICF committed $20,000 this year to help offset the costs of rail maintenance.

Pley recommended that the McLean Mill Society find external funding for the rail maintenance so the burden does not fall on the city.

McLean Mill Society executive director Deanna Beaudoin agreed that she does not want to burden taxpayers anymore.

“There’s vested interest within Vancouver Island’s tourism sector to have our McLean Mill operating,” said Beaudoin. “I am 100 percent confident that we are going to be able to tap into other funding sources.”

She added that she is currently in negotiations for the $300,000 for next year.

“Having our steam capability again elevates our game completely,” she said. “It is really important that we work together to get this trestle piece worked out. We’re not going to do this anymore with Band-Aid fixes.”

Councillor Jack McLeman asked if the steam-powered mill would be running next season, and Beaudoin admitted that this is still unknown.

“Our mill needs a very similar approach to what we’ve done with rail,” she said. “I don’t think it would be feasible to just make an assumption to say yes or no there, we need to do a business plan and cost analysis on all of it.”