Southern Railway of Vancouver Island

Infobox SG rail
logo_filename=SRY logo.gif
railroad_name=Southern Railway of Vancouver Island
locale=Vancouver Island, British Columbia
hq_city=Nanaimo, British Columbia
The Southern Railway of Vancouver Island reporting mark|SVI, formerly the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, is a short line railway in British Columbia, Canada. It runs from Victoria to Courtenay, with branch lines from Parksville to Port Alberni and from just south of Nanaimo to the SVI's main railyard and barge slip (dock) on the Nanaimo waterfront. The line is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation and operated under contract by SVI. The SVI is one of two remaining railways over 160 km (100 miles) in length on Vancouver Island. Until 1996, it was called the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway reporting mark|EN. It then spent three years as E and N Railfreight, an internal short line within then owner Canadian Pacific Railway. Operations were then sold to RailAmerica Inc., who changed the name to the E&N Railway Co (1998) Ltd. reporting mark|ENR. RailAmerica ceased to operate the E&N on June 30, 2006 with the Washington Group's Southern Railway of British Columbia taking over operations the following day under the name Southern Railway of Vancouver Island.

VIA Rail Canada runs regular passenger train service (the "Malahat") with Budd-built Rail Diesel Cars from Victoria to Courtenay and return daily. The train has scheduled stops at Duncan, Nanaimo, and Parksville, with many other flagstops (stops on request) along the way. The Victoria and Nanaimo stations have ferry service to Vancouver on the mainland.

In 2006 the Island Corridor Foundation took over ownership of the SVI, from the Canadian Pacific Railway and Rail America.



The history of the railroad [MacLachlin, p12-16] begins when British Columbia joined confederation in 1871. The terms of union required that within two years, the federal government was to start the construction of a railway from the "seaboard of British Columbia" joining the new province with the railway system of Canada. On its part, British Columbia was to grant a band of public land of up to 32 km (20 miles) in width along either side of the railway line to the federal government for it to use in furtherance of the construction of the railway. The Pacific terminus of the railway was not specified. There had been a preliminary plan that would see the railway cross the Rockies by the Yellowhead Pass and reach the BC coast at Bute Inlet. It would cross Sonora and Quadra Islands and reach Vancouver Island by a bridge across Seymour Narrows. The Colony of Vancouver Island, which had only been unified with the mainland colony the previous year was the more populous and included the provincial capital of Victoria. Through the influence of then BC Premier Amor de Cosmos, this plan was adopted by Order-in-Council by the federal government on June 7, 1873. Two shipments of rail were even delivered to Victoria from the United Kingdom. In 1873, Prime Minister of Canada Sir John A. Macdonald had stated that Esquimalt, British Columbia, the site of a naval base, would be the terminus of the "Pacific Railway".

However, both the federal government and the Canadian Pacific Railway placed a low priority on construction of such a railway, as it had low traffic potential and would duplicate an existing steamer service. In 1874 BC threatened to withdraw from Confederation and Premier Walkem petitioned the Queen for relief from these delays. Then Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzieand Walkem agreed to accept arbitration of the dispute by the Earl of Carnarvon, the Colonial Secretary. His award, given November 17, 1874 gave an extension of time for the construction and required that a railway be built from Esquimalt to Nanaimo. Despite the promises of both parties to be bound by his ruling, the federal government bill approving the award failed in the Senate of Canada. British Columbrians were indignant and withdrawal from Confederation was raised again.

Governor General, Lord Dufferin was sent to BC to assess the situation. The Governor General, arriving in Victoria had to take an alternate route rather than pass below an arch across the main street that bore a banner reading "Carnarvon Terms or Separation." His efforts produced no resolution.

In 1879 construction tenders were announced for the section of the railway between Yale and Kamloops. Later in the year it was announced that the terminus would be on the mainland. Walkem, although no longer premier, was sent to Ottawa to press for the Esquimalt to Nanaimo section. This issue was pressed again in 1880 by Amor de Cosmos and when that failed another petition to London was presented in 1881.

The Land Grants

Robert Dunsmuir, the Nanaimo coal baron and a member of the provincial legislature, was interested in taking on the railway project and in the coal reserves a railway land grant would provide. He had estimated that it would cost $1.5 million to construct. Dunsmuir planned to integrate the railway with the systems being built in Washington and Oregon with a ferry link from Victoria. He travelled to Ottawa in 1882 with letters of introduction from John Hamilton Gray, one of the Fathers of Confederation and Joseph Trutch the first Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, both men in favour with Macdonald. [Reksten, p 58.] . After a visit to Ottawa, to present himself directly for this project, Dunsmuir went off to Scotland. Macdonald gave the province the choice of Dunsmuir, or a bidder from San Francisco for the contract. While in Scotland, Dunsmuir received the news that the provincial government had chosen the Vancouver Land and Railway Company controlled by [ Lewis M. Clement] of San Francisco for the job. The company was to receive a grant with the following boundaries:

:On the south by a straight line drawn from the head of Saanich Inlet to Muir Creek, on the Straits of Fuca::On the west, by a straight line drawn from Muir Creek, aforesaid, to Crown Mountain::On the north, by a straight line drawn from Crown Mountain to Seymour Narrows: and:On the east, by the coast line of Vancouver Island to the point of commencement. [MacLachlin, p 15.]

. [Reksten p 59.] When Clement and his company failed to come up with the necessary financial security, Macdonald quickly moved to accept Dunsmuir's terms.

In 1883, the British Columbia provincial government signed a contract with Dunsmuir to build a railway between Esquimalt and Nanaimo in exchange for the same grant of land that Clement had negotiated, amounting to 800,000 acres (3,200 km²) plus a cash grant of $750,000 from the federal government. That amount of land was almost 20% of the entire island and included all known coal deposits. The fact that Dunsmuir was a member of the provincial government that was making the deal aroused some suspicion. Shortly afterwards, Dunsmuir and three partners (Charles Crocker, Collis P. Huntington and Leland Stanford of California) incorporated the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway with Dunsmuir president and owner of one half of the shares. When a court ruled that this grant did not entitle the railway to dispossess existing settlers, the company applied for and received a further grant of 86,763 acres between Crown Mountain and Seymour Narrows. Based on an average value of $10 per acre for the land the E&N received, it cost the government $626,660 per mile to build the railway, which, when complete, was in private hands. [MacLachlin, p 55.]


Construction of the railway took three and a half years. On August 13, 1886, the last spike was driven at Cliffside, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Victoria. The spike was gold, and the hammer was silver. Prime Minister Macdonald drove the last spike, during his only visit to British Columbia. The railway was extended to Dunsmuir's mine at Wellington in 1887, and into Victoria in 1888. It was extended west to Port Alberni in 1911, west to Lake Cowichan in 1912, and north to Courtenay in 1914. The E&N Railway was originally to have been built all the way to Campbell River, but that plan fell through due to the outbreak of World War I.

The present day bridge 17km north of Victoria, BC, over Niagara Creek Canyon, formerly crossed the Fraser River at Cisco, BC, and was moved here some 300km ca.1888. The cantilever suspension bridge was built in England in 1883 and shipped to Canada. Reference cited: Early Vancouver, Vol. 3, p. 187, by J.S. Matthews

The CPR years

Between 1905 and 1999, the E&N Railway was owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway. VIA Rail took over operation of CPR's passenger train service (called "The Malahat") in 1978 while CPR demarketed its freight operation, claiming that freight traffic was declining. In 1996, CPR reorganized the E&N as an "internal short line" named E&N Railfreight while the railbarge operations were sold to Seaspan Intermodal. In early 1999, shortline operator RailAmerica purchased the route from Nanaimo to Port Alberni, and leased the balance of the line. This RailAmerica subsidiary was named E and N Railway Company (1998) Ltd. and used the reporting mark ENR (the reporting mark EN was still owned by CPR), thus maintaining the historic name associations for the Vancouver Island line.


Despite the purchase by RailAmerica Inc., freight traffic continued to decline and the future of the E&N was still in doubt. RailAmerica sought a sale for its acquisition due to unprofitability. Restrictions from Canadian Pacific on the lease/sale agreement, and significant taxpayer investments in public highways during the 1990s, including a major reconstruction of Highway 1 from Victoria to Nanaimo and Highway 19 from Nanaimo to Campbell River, led to reduced driving times the full length of the E&N. This development also affected the privately owned rail line, which did not have the benefit of the provincial subsidies accorded to its competing highways. Freight traffic dropped to about 2000 carloads a year after the loss of their largest freight customer, a Catalyst Paper pulp mill in Port Alberni.

In the summers of 2000 and 2001 a tourist operation ran out of Victoria three times a day in 2000 and twice a day in 2001, called the Pacific Wilderness Railway. The Pacific Wilderness, run by Ross Rowland, was not successful and shut down halfway through the 2001 tourist season.

Island Corridor Foundation

The not for profit Island Corridor Foundation is a partnership between First Nations and local governments along the SVI line. After years of work and negotiations, the ICF came to agreements with both the Canadian Pacific Railway and Rail Americia, to hand over its Island rail assets to the foundation.

In February 2006, the Canadian Pacific Railway donated its 234 km (139 miles) portion of the SVI right-of-way, which averages 30.48 m (100 ft) in width between Victoria and Courtenay, to the Island Corridor Foundation. The donation was estimated to be valued at $236(C) million and encompasses 6.51 km² of land, six historic railway stations and a number of trestles. In addition, CPR also supplied $2.3-million in "seed money" to the Foundation.

On March 22, 2006, Rail America handed over ownership of the Port Alberni to Nanaimo portion of the SVI to the Island Corridor Foundation. On July 1, 2006 Southern Railway of British Columbia began operations of the railway under contract from ICF using the name Southern Railway of Vancouver Island reporting mark|SVI.

Freight and VIA Rail passenger service continue, and commuter rail between the southern communities of Victoria and Duncan will be studied in the future.


*cite book
author = Daniel Francis "(Editor)"
title = Encyclopedia of British Columbia
publisher = Harbour Publishing
year = 1999
id = ISBN 1-55017-200-X

*cite book
author = Reksten, Terry
title = The Dunsmuir Saga
publisher = Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre
year = 1991
id = ISBN 0-88894-742-9

*cite book
author = Donald F. MacLachlan
title = The Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway - The Dunsmuir Years: 1884-1905
publisher = The B.C. Historical Railway Association
year = 1986
id = ISBN 0-9692511-0-6


External links

* [ Island Corridor Foundation]
* [ Southern Railway of Vancouver Island]
* [ History of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway]
* [ VIA Rail "Malahat" service]
* [ VIA Rail "Malahat" schedule]
* [ Lewis Metzler Clement: A Pioneer of the Central Pacific Railroad]

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