Saturday, May 3, 2014

the little engine that could

I am in Jasper Alberta having travelled here eight hours across northern BC from Prince George by way of the Via Rail train.

It is a trip that takes one back in time through still untrampled wilderness, past bear dens, beaver dams, the wetlands of trumpeter swans, ducks and geese, mountains and the hundred year old telegraph line that follows the railway route closely through this land.

The train cars including the excellent observation car, date back to the 1950s. It seems that since that decade there have been significant cutbacks to this service, even since it became a government-run service in 1977. The last spike of this western-most section of the trans-Canada railway was put in by Fort Fraser BC (west of Prince George by about 150 km) in the year 1914. Once upon a time, rail travel was how people travelled through and came to settle in this area. Now the remnants of their towns lie scattered on the edge of the tracks in the form of dilapitated homes, farms, sawmills that once upon a time, created local employment for the ghosts who likely still dwell out there on the edge of the wilderness as our little (3 car) train passes by. CN Rail owns the rail tracks and controls them fully. In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in the number and size of the freight trains passing through the area... they carry grain, coal and lumber products heading west to the port of Prince Rupert and heading west, large container cars with "Hanjin," "Cosco" and colourful graffiti written on their outer shells.

Frequently this little Via Rail train is held up by the long freight trains which these days always have the right-of-way. Money talks, the profits for these businesses. This human cargo, we passengers, must wait. Three hour delays in the train schedule are not uncommon. One guy mentioned to me, they don't even want us here. They want us to go away. The little blue train seems magical somehow, firmly connected to the history of this area and the significance of the railways through here. It's a tiny thing and yet it continues to chug through, on the edge of this new world order of commodities to ship as quickly and with as much volume as possible.

It seems to me like the story of my childhood, the little engine that could. And there is something inspiring about this little passenger train that still dares to be and travel through here, despite this new world order that doesn't seem to have time for or interest in it anymore.

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