British Columbia Fall Northern Wilderness Tour
The West Coast Railway Association in Squamish, B.C., along with BCRail, sponsored a charter rail trip covering just about all of the mileage of the BCRail system. This annual journey uses a self-propelled Budd RDC (Rail Diesel Car) to follow the BCRail trackage from North Vancouver all the way to Fort Nelson, just south of the Yukon border. Most of the trip is on "freight only" trackage that has never seen regular passenger service. We had a chance to visit the Northern BC towns of Prince George, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, and Fort St. James. We also traveled over the electrified Tumbler Ridge branch line to see the expansive coal mines at Tumbler.
BCRail employees bid on the opportunity to operate the RDC on this trip, and seniority determines who gets the privilege. As a result, our operating crew consisted of employees who were very close to the top of the seniority ranks for their jobs. This journey was unlike any rail trip we've taken before, because the same operating crew was with us each day. We had a chance to get to know them personally, and they made every effort to give us a thoroughly enjoyable railroad experience. Excepting a few times when it couldn't be done safely, there was an "open door policy" in the operating cab.
This trip caters to railroad enthusiasts. We had plenty of "photo run bys". The crew would stop near an interesting bridge or curve, let us off the car, then back up out of sight and "run by" at speed so we could get pictures of the Budd car in some spectacular British Columbia scenery. In some places, the tracks pass near scenic points of interest where we would be let out to walk a few hundred yards to a view point. When we met opposing rail traffic, our crew would radio for some terrific "horn action" as the heavy freights passed a line of photographers standing to the side of the tracks.
Box lunches were provided on board each day. We spent each evening in hotels, where we usually enjoyed a buffet dinner. Several of the communities organized welcome events, with community tours or programs put on especially for us. We were really treated like royalty!
Much of this trip runs through very remote areas. Particularly from Fort St. John North to Fort Nelson, we passed mile after mile of muskeg with no sign of human activity. On a couple of occasions, wildlife was spotted on the tracks ahead of our car. Coming down from Tumbler Ridge, a grizzly sauntered down the tracks for a few hundred yards before eventually scrambling up the cliff next to the tracks. A black bear was in our tracks on another day. I was lucky enough to be in the cab when a moose crossed our tracks, and have some pretty shaky video of the sighting.
BCRail runs through very resource-rich country. Timber, finished lumber, and petroleum products are produced throughout the Northern interior of British Columbia. Some Americans feel that competition between B.C. and domestic lumber producers is unfair, because of federal and provincial subsidies to the timber and railroad industries in B.C. The citizens of Canada and B.C. have chosen to use their tax dollars to support the industries and transportation systems that provide productive employment to many residents. It seems to me that we Americans could make that same choice.
Usually I organize our photo albums chronologically. I took so many pictures on this trip (about 300 stills, and 2 hours of video) that I decided to organize them very differently. Click on the links that follow to see pictures of the people who made this trip so memorable, the places that we visited, and if you're interested in trains there's a page full of railroad pictures.