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Whistler is Next Stop for Whistle Poke Railway

Steve Berry, The Vancouver Province, June 20, 2001

Doug Blamey is president of the Whistle Punk Railway. It's a railway built on little more than a dream - there's no track, no rolling stock, no rights of way.

But what a dream.

The Maple Ridge man is proposing to build a rail line from Pitt Meadows to Whistler. And he's advancing one small step at a time.

"My friends and colleagues thought I was nuts," he said in an interview with The Province. "But they're coming around".

Blamey, who has worked for CP Rail as a mechanic for 21 years, has been studying the project for seven years. He figures his 125-kilometre line would get skiers, tourists and freight from Vancouver to Whistler in 1 ½ to two hours.

The current B.C. Rail route takes two hours and 45 minutes from North Vancouver. And the Sea to Sky Highway takes about two hours from Vancouver - if you make it alive. The road, dubbed The Killer Highway, is notorious for its yearly carnage.

"Why throw more money into that road when we can get people to Whistler safely by train," Blamey said.

He has B.C. government operating permit #6631 allowing him to run a railway to Whistler. "I've got a lock on it," he said. "Nobody else can build there."

He needs access to Crown lands; an extensive environmental review; permission from forestry, municipal and parks branches of government; agreement from numerous native bands; and about $200 million.

Blamey said any number of large companies have shown interest, but he can't move until the government grants him access to the Crown lands the railway will pass through. Only then will he take on partners and conduct the required surveys and impact studies.

A preliminary UBC engineering study conducted as a grad project has shown the viability of the idea, he said.

Blamey said the West Coast Express trains which lie idle in Vancouver for much of the day could be used on his proposed line. They would run from downtown Vancouver, through Pitt Meadows and to Whistler. Travelers could elect to come back the same way, or take B.C. Rail back on the existing line.

But West Coast Express spokesperson Trish Webb said Blamey "has not approached us in any kind of detailed way." She said his plan for the trains is a virtual non-starter.

Blamey said the line would have a half-dozen stops, including one at the north end of Pitt Lake where he envisions an old-west style town built on land owned by Niho Land & Cattle Co. of New Westminster.

Company owner Rudy Nielsen said the idea has merit, but the difficulty of building in the area can't be underestimated.

"I don't give him much more than a slim chance of doing it, but if he ever pulled it off, it would be the best route to Whistler. And it would be a big boost to the economy."

Blamey hopes to get government go-ahead within the next few years. He figures the line will take three years to build. "Somebody else might eventually build the railway," he conceded, "But it was my idea. Nobody can take that away from me."