NDP MP for the Skeena Bulkley Valley Taylor Bachrach embarked on a 4,500 kilometer train ride from Toronto to Smithers, making a brief stop in the Robson Valley to visit his parents in Dunster. Shown above with local photographer and train buff Matthew Wheeler. /SUPPLIED

Spencer Hall, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

Dunster-born NDP Member of Parliament for the Skeena Bulkley Valley Taylor Bachrach took traveling home for the holidays to a new level this year by embarking on a 4,500km train ride from Toronto to Smithers in hopes of gathering information to improve passenger rail in Canada.

During a short visit in Dunster, Bachrach told The Goat the impetus for the trip was to experience travel by train in Canada firsthand and speak with other passengers along the way about the state of the country’s passenger rail system.

The federal NDP transportation critic’s trip kicked off on December 17th, four days after the first reading of Bachrach’s Rail Passenger Priority Act — also known as Bill C-371 — which aims to amend the Canada Transportation Act, requiring freight trains to give passenger trains the right of way on shared railway tracks.

“We have multibillion dollar rail corporations that make a lot of money moving freight and control priority on the tracks. So passenger trains frequently have to pull off onto sidings and let freight trains pass. That’s the specific issue that my private member’s bill seeks to deal with,” Bachrach said.

A private member’s bill is a bill introduced in the House of Commons by members who are not Cabinet ministers, according to the Parliament of Canada.

Bachrach said freight trains having the right of way on the track makes it difficult for Via Rail to maintain a predictable schedule and shorten travel times.

According to Bachrach, several decades ago, it would take three and a half days to travel by train from Toronto to Vancouver. He said the trip now takes four and a half days due to delays from freight traffic.

“There are certainly people out there who are okay with a bit more travel time, as long as they’re able to, as long as they’re able to depend on the schedule and know that they’re going to arrive at a certain time,” Bachrach said.

“This isn’t meant to suggest that freight traffic isn’t important for our economy, and we need to find ways to ensure that freight gets to its destination efficiently. Part of that might require the government to invest in building more sidings, so there are more opportunities for trains to pass.”

Public affairs manager for Canadian National, Tyler Banick said the company supports the growth of passenger rail in Canada on infrastructure designated for passenger rail.
“Managing freight and passenger traffic on the same rail infrastructure often leads to scheduling and capacity issues,” Banick said.

CN declined to provide further comment.

Bachrach said a key takeaway from the trip was how fond passengers were of traveling by train.

“A lot of people either remember a time when passenger train service in Canada was a lot better than it is now, or they’ve traveled to other countries around the world that have high-performing passenger train service, and they want that for our country,” Bachrach said.

Bachrach’s trip ended on December 24th in Smithers after arriving in the Robson Valley on December 20th and departing in the afternoon of the 22nd.

The Railway Passenger Priority Act currently sits outside the House of Commons order of precedence as it is a private member’s bill and can’t be debated unless Bachrach’s name is selected via a random draw and he chooses to bring the bill forward for debate. A second reading has not been scheduled.

Bachrach says very few private member’s bills actually become law, but is hopeful the act will move forward and be adopted by the federal government.

“Private members’ bills have a long and challenging road in the House of Commons, but they’re an important way to bring forward ideas. We’ve seen many cases in which the government of the day has taken the ideas from private member’s bills and pushed them forward in the House of Commons,” Bachrach said.