The City of Port Alberni is hoping to bring back its tourist train for shortened runs this summer.
During a budget meeting on Tuesday, March 10, city council proposed putting $97,800 in the 2020 budget so that the train can run 34 times over 10 days this summer on a shortened track from Argyle Street to Stamp Avenue. This price tag also includes funding for insurance, repairs and track maintenance.
The funding will come from some unspent expenditures carried over from 2019. City CAO Tim Pley explained on Tuesday that city staff had discovered a surplus of $183,948, resulting from unused contingency funds in 2019.
The Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (WVIHS), which operates the railway, had provided three funding options to get the train back on track. The first and most expensive option (at $170,732) would pay for 162 runs on the shortened track, while the third and least expensive option ($30,000) would only cover track repairs.
Council opted for the second option, with Councillor Helen Poon noting that 162 runs seemed “optimistic” for this season.
“If we can get any train on the track this year, it’s a good thing for us,” she said. “We’ll build momentum for future years.”
WVIHS director Ken Rutherford said that the city’s 1929 Baldwin steam engine is still undergoing repairs, but didn’t know when these repairs would be completed. A static pressure test on the boiler was scheduled for this week.
“We can run with the small diesel locomotive until the steam engine is up and running,” said Burt Simpson, another WVIHS member.
The WVIHS envisions a ridership of around 4,000 people this summer, with lower ticket prices, but Mayor Sharie Minions was concerned that the WVIHS would not be able to get enough riders to meet its expected revenue.
Rutherford admitted that the WVIHS’s budget was largely based on “educated guesses,” but added that the society would look at holding special events (like Beaufort Gang train robberies) to try and attract ridership.
On Tuesday, city council also proposed putting $76,390 into this year’s budget (from the same surplus) for a Day Care Space Creation. Up to $4 million in grant funding is available from the provincial government, but in order to apply for the grant, the city needs to retain contractors to develop a project plan. The $76,390 would cover this cost.
Councillor Ron Corbeil suggested that the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) could contribute to this grant application.
Minions agreed, but pointed out that the ACRD’s budget talks are “well underway.” The grant application, she added, is time sensitive.
“We have one child care space in the community for every six kids in need of child care,” said Minions. “We are in a pretty dire situation in the community and I think that’s only going to continue to get worse.”
The two proposals from Tuesday’s budget meeting will be brought forward to the city’s next regular meeting of council (March 23) for a final decision.