If you have ever been fortunate enough to roll from central London, England, to the heart of Heathrow Airport for a flight to wherever in the world you want to go, you will know how easy it is. At the busy but orderly Paddington railway station, you step aboard the quietly purring Heathrow Express, stash your luggage on a low-level shelf, and settle yourself on a comfortable clean seat for a 15-minute glide to the airport.
There’s a train every 15 minutes; the journey itself takes the same amount of time – 15 minutes from the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world to the middle of an airport with tentacles reaching every major city on Planet Earth. Just enough time to check your latest electronic gadget for e-mails courtesy of free wi-fi throughout the train.
Some 100 years ago, a traveler living in Victoria, British Columbia, could have enjoyed the similar ease of connected travel. The journey itself may have lacked the clean comforts we demand on our modern public transports, conversations would be limited to fellow travelers, speed would be slower, the ride itself perhaps a little less smooth. But, in the early years of the 20th Century, a traveler could climb on board an electric train in downtown Victoria and get off at a place called Tatlow where, in 1914, the BC Electric Railway Company built The Chalet to feed day trippers or more leisurely vacationers. It’s just a little north and west of Sidney and close enough to the airport to call it neighbour
A few days ago, I was reminded of another once vital transportation connection between Victoria and its suburban neighbours when Premier John Horgan downgraded old proposals to restore what was once a vital railway link between BC’s capital city and the western communities, now called the West Shore. The premier said he would prefer to see the historic Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway right-of-way used as a fast bus and possibly multi-passenger car lane, rather than see it reborn as a light rail rapid transit system.
The dream of a modern transportation system to service the growing West Shore population would have to wait, and while waiting, the old right of way, owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, could be used to get some heavy traffic off the main highway into special bus lanes where it could continue to speed up global warming and increases pollution at will.
That’s an interesting proposition promulgated by those who have never heard – or never want to be reminded – about the Victoria and Sidney Railway (1892) or the BC Electric Railway Company’s once famous Interurban Railway Line (1913). Wikipedia tells us the early negotiations between Victoria City Council and V&S Railway involved “certain tax concessions and various loans” before construction of the line connecting Victoria and Sidney started in 1894.
In the early years, the V&S prospered but aging equipment and the challenge in 1913 of BC Electric’s Interurban Line offering ultra-modern equipment plus faster and more frequent service proved too much. In 1919, V&S ceased operations and its line was abandoned – although a few spots like “Veyaness Road” remain on street maps, inadvertent historic markers that “a railroad once ran here.”
The Interurban Line didn’t survive much longer, although it was often praised for the beauty of its route out along Burnside Road, Interurban Road, Interurban Road Rail Trail, West Saanich Road, Wallace Drive, Aldous Terrace and Mainwaring Road. One section of the old track is now an airport runway; another section is part of the old Experimental Farm now known as the Sidney Centre for Plant Health.
In 1923, the Interurban Line was officially shut down. “Tatlow Station” no longer exists but Tatlow Road does and still leads to The Chalet with its continuing five-star claim to fine dining.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for we southern Vancouver Islanders if the Interurban Line right of way had survived intact and been developed as a clean energy 21st Century light rapid transit system with transfer stops at the airport, the ferry terminal, downtown Sidney – and of course, before the return run home – The Chalet for lunch or dinner?
Maybe Premier Horgan should consider the lessons of the past and the times and costs of missed opportunities.