The Railways of Canada Archives -- The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway

The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway

Written by Tyler Welsford
Edited by Paul J. Crozier Smith

Brief History

           Here’s the E&N Railway’s original owner, Sir Robert Dunsmuir.

            Incorporated in 1883 under the control of Robert Dunsmuir the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway operated 72 miles of rail between Russell’s (Esquimalt) and Nanaimo using nine locomotives, five 4-4-0 Americans, three 4-6-0 ten-wheelers and one 0-6-0T switcher. In 1886 the E&N was finished, and the last (golden) spike was driven at Mile 25, at a station called “Cliffside”, even to this date the E&N Passenger train will stop at Cliffside. In 1888, the E&N was extended into downtown Victoria to its present location with a much larger station and to mile 77, Wellington, which became mile 0. A barge slip was built at Oyster Bay, later renamed Ladysmith by Dunsmuir to bring the goods and equipment over from the mainland. For this railway to be constructed massive land grants that total a quarter to a third of Vancouver Island.

            In 1900, the E&N had one of its first accidents, 4-4-0 no. 1 was reported to have arrived at Ladysmith when in fact it was several miles away, apparently the dispatcher saw Wellington Collieries No.1 and assumed that it was E&N No.1.  Therefore, the dispatcher let No. 10, a much heavier, and newer, 4-6-0 leave Ladysmith with a full train of coal bound for Nanaimo. Then, where the Trans-Canada Hiway overpass is the two trains collided, no. 1 was a complete write off where as no. 10 was repaired and sent back into service. A new No.1 was purchased from Baldwin, a 4-6-0 and was renumbered 228 when Canadian Pacific took over.

            1905, James Dunsmuir is premier of BC and Canadian Pacific wants permission to build a line through southeast BC (The Crowsnest line), Dunsmuir agrees, on the condition that the CPR take the money stricken E&N Railway from the Dunsmuirs. Canadian Pacific agrees to the terms, the railway and the land grants are transferred over to Canadian Pacific. Canadian Pacific transfers over some newer locomotives, 4-6-0 10- wheelers and 2-8-0 L1 and L2 Consolidations (some even deckless). In 1912, the Roundhouse was built at 253 Esquimalt Road, where it stands today, deteriorating quickly. The Port Alberni Subdivision was built from McBride’s Junction, later renamed Parksville, to Port Alberni at mile 37 on the west coast, in 1914. Two years later the Victoria Subdivision was extended to Courtenay at mile 139.9, also in 1911 the Lake Cowichan Subdivision was constructed from Hayward Junction to Lake Cowichan at mile 18. Major upgrades were done to the railway, the wooden trestles over Niagara and Arbutus Canyons were replaced by steel structures.

            1925, the E&N reaches its financial peak, finances have never been the same. 1947 an MLW S-1 was tested on the E&N Railway successfully. In 1948 Canadian Pacific purchases their only thirteen Baldwin DRS-4-4-10(00) for service on the E&N, in 1949 the DRS-4-4-10 units arrive and replace all twenty steam locomotives. The Russell’s Roundhouse is used to service the DRS units. 1953 the Wellcox yards are built and operations on the E&N are moved to Nanaimo, with the Roundhouse serving trains that run out of Victoria. The barge slips at Ladysmith and Nanoose bay were abandoned. When the aging wooden cars badly needed replacement Canadian Pacific assigned an RDC-3 and an RDC-1 to the E&N, called Dayliners they ran on trains No. 1 and No. 2 , later No.2 was discontinued and only No. 1 continued to run, its north trip as No. 1 and its south trip as No.2. In 1957 the Port Alberni Passenger service was also discontinued leaving the Victoria-Courtenay run as the E&N’s last passenger route.

            In the 1960’s after Canadian Pacific became CP Rail; a petition was put in to discontinue the E&N’s last remaining passenger service, also during the 1960s the Kettle Valley Railway’s passenger service was discontinued leaving the E&N as the only branchline passenger service in BC. When CP Rail put in the petition to discontinue the E&N Dayliner an investigator was sent out to see what the train was like. The inspector was appalled to find that overflow passengers were seated in the baggage compartment of the lone RDC-3( and after the inspector’s foot fell through a rotten board on the platform) . The CTA ordered CP Rail to improve the service . In 1979 VIA Rail took over and went through a number RDCs before settling on RDC-1s 6133 and 6134, one of these cars served the E&N during its CP career, 6125 (ex-CP 9199). Also, during the 1970’s the Baldwins were retired and replaced by a rotating supply of GP7Rs and GP9Rs.

            The 1980s were a time of drastic change for the E&N, traffic dropped heavily and by 1990 the Russell’s Roundhouse faded from importance except to service the RDCs that run on the passenger train. Passenger traffic saw a drastic increase in the summer of 1986 and RDC-9 6007 was brought in as the mid-train car on the three car trains which ran for a while. Passenger traffic dropped again after that. The GP7Rs and GP9Rs were replaced by rebuilt GP7Ru, GP9Ru, GP30, GP35, and GP38AC units. In 1996 E&N Railfreight was formed from the E&N Railway, the GP30s, and GP35s were gone by the early 1990’s, so was 6134 replaced by 6135 and 6148. 1998 Canadian Pacific entered into negotiations with Rail America over the sale/lease of the E&N Railway to RA. In 1999 the ENR(Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway Company (1998) Ltd.) took over the operations from E&N Railfreight. Here is Mr. Dodge’s speech from the formation of E&N Railfreight.

            E&N Railfreight is part of CP Rail, but it is also a separate business and operating unit. It will be marketed and managed by people working and living here on Vancouver Island. We have separated the new railway from our old Vancouver Division and given it its own management headed by Marty Cove. Marty and the E&N Railfreight Team will manage the railway from its new headquarters here in Nanaimo. The creation of E&N Railfreight comes as a result of two years of internal study and a lot of hard work. It also comes after a lot of dialogue with and listening to the various government, community, employee and citizen interests with views about our business on Vancouver Island. Many of the people we talked to and worked with are here today. We also consulted broad public opinion, by surveying Vancouver Island residents, in order to ascertain their views directly and to determine what their aspirations for the E&N were. Our aim is quite simple... keep E&N Railfreight viable and work in partnership with our employees and the communities on the Island to build a sustainable, growing business that provides secure employment, while serving our existing customer base and growing the business as aggressively as we can.

            It's a new railway, with a new look.

            Before we move on, it is important to recognize some of the people that helped make E&N Railfreight a reality. First I would like to thank the Premier and his staff and associates who have shown leadership by addressing railway taxation issues and improving the investment climate for railways in B.C. This has contributed to our ability to move forward and make E&N Railfreight a reality. The Premier and his staff have consistently emphasized the importance of rail infrastructure to the economic health and future development of Vancouver Island and its various communities. I would also like to thank the E&N Steering Committee for their input, involvement and civic leadership in facilitating opportunities for individual Vancouver Island residents to come out to public meetings and express their views and aspirations about the E&N. The views of our customers on Vancouver Island have also been very important in our thinking in deciding to establish E&N Railfreight. And lastly, a special thanks to our employees. This new era could never have been launched without our belief in their cooperation. Today's announcement ends a period of uncertainty for our employees on the Island. The future is here and you are part of it.
Our success will depend on the active involvement of our employees, in partnership with E&N Railfreight management, with Vancouver Island communities and with the local, provincial and federal governments. But ultimately the success of the new E&N Railfreight business will be in the hands not just of the employees and management of E&N Railfreight, but also of the industries and businesses on Vancouver Island. E&N Railfreight really is a team effort. It will succeed if our management and employees approach the future by seeking to work in partnership to build the business. We are confident that this approach will be successful.

            Maintenance of the RDC’s was until recently carried out by CP Rail, however due to their poor quality of work Point Hope Shipyards have received the contract and is currently renting the roundhouse from CPR for servicing the RDC’s. However, this is most likely by the end of November as Point Hope Shipyards will be maintaining the RDC’s at the Graving dock at mile 3. It is the author’s impression that the RDC’s will still be stored at the roundhouse.

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Map of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway on Vancouver Island, BC.


The E&N operates two Subdivisions and one Spur:

The Port Alberni Sub(37 miles)
The Victoria Subdivision(140 miles)
The Wellcox Spur(3.2 miles)

The tracks that run from Victoria to Courtenay (Victoria Subdivision) are in satisfactory condition, using 85-pound rail and wooden ties, the Port Alberni Sub right-of-way is in somewhat better condition, having 20 plus loaded cars running over it daily but Sunday.

The Road master for the ENR told me that the E&N was able to withstand 265 Imperial tons.


            Traffic on the E&N is divided by type and direction. For example the VIA Rail  train has top priority over all others, any other train  has to pull over at the nearest siding to let the VIA Train pass. The East West Port Alberni turn comes next, followed by the Courtenay/Victoria Turns. The passenger train runs as one daily return train from Victoria along the Victoria Subdivision to Courtenay and return. The Port Alberni Turn runs six times per week from the Wellcox yards to Port Alberni and back to the Wellcox yards. The Courtenay Turn operates on Tuesdays only and runs with GP10 1001 and GP20 2099 and four or five cars . It leaves the Wellcox Yards at 0630. The Victoria turn runs every Thursday from the Wellcox Yards, leaving at 0630 and switching at Superior Propane before heading south to Victoria with a small load, usually three to four cars. However some traffic may come when the Metchosin Gravel pits close(Metchosin was on the old CNR Rail line). Rail America would probably send over some more GP38s and they would most likely be based out of the Russell’s Roundhouse in Victoria.

            Maintenance shops for the E&N are located at the Wellcox Yards in Nanaimo and the Russell’s Roundhouse in Victoria, smaller yards are located in Parksville and Courtenay, however the Courtenay yards are rarely used. The Russell’s Roundhouse is located at 253 Esquimalt Road in Victoria while the Wellcox Yards are located at 23 Espalande Road in Nanaimo, the passenger train is currently based out of the Russell’s Roundhouse  but that may soon change, the Graving Dock spur near mile three has been restored and Point Hope Shipyards will be sending the RDCs to be maintained at the Graving Dock. The current customers include MacMillan Bloedel in Port Alberni, Superior Propane in Esquimalt, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Parksville.  ICG propane in Cassidy. A grain silo(different animal feeds) in Duncan. Freight traffic to Superior Propane, especially in Esquimalt receives very little traffic, MacMillan Bloedel in Port Alberni is the largest customer on the E&N Railway, with 20 + cars. Freight runs on the whole system, all freights originate and terminate in Nanaimo. Currently the ENR employs 48 employees from office workers to section crews.

            Motive power on the E&N consist of four Second-Hand GP38s 3809, 3870, 3876, and 3877(re# from 3809, 344, 2796, and 2813) one GP10* (GP9u) no. 1001 all in the Rail America scheme with an E&N railway logo usually on short hood and a GP20 (2099) in a RaiLink scheme. The VIA Rail equipment are four RDCs, 6130, 6133, 6135, 6148. 6130, 6133, 6135 are RDC-1 units whereas 6148 is an RDC-2m, 6130 is being leased off of FarmRail for the time being, 6133 is on lease to BC Rail, 6135 is in active service, and 6148 is out with two blown transmissions, on December of 1999 6133 hit a tree that had embedded itself between the rails and has been gone since. The Pacific Wilderness Railway operates three ex-Ohio Central GP10*(GP9u)s which were rebuilt from GP9s by the Illinois Central and Gulf. Nos. 703, 705, and 706, PAW also operates 11 coaches used on the trains. Trains run during the summer only and left Victoria at 0900, 1200, and 1500.

Here are some images of E&N motive power:


ENR (Rail America) GP38 3809 and GP10 1001
pull a passenger extra. *GP10 units are rebuilt from GP9 units
by Conrail, Burlington Northern and Illinois Central & Gulf

Leased RDC-1 6130 from FarmRail still in the VIA Rail paint
heads north out of the yards on the passenger train(199).

Pacific Wilderness GP10(GP9u) No. 705 pulls the train southbound
through Langford, when the PAW was running the trains as
push-pull trains. 706 and 703 are at the other end of the train.

PAW Train heads north on Niagara Canyon. With Locomotives
706 and 705 pulling. Photo by William Slim.

RDC-1 6130 passes 706 southbound. Photo by William Slim.

           Four companies are involved in operations on the E&N Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway (owns 90% of the Victoria Subdivision, and 6/10 of a mile on the Port Alberni Subdivision, from Stamp Ave. to the Station. CPR also still owns the land grants and the right-of-ways for the Lake Cowichan and Great Central Lake Subdivisions. Rail America owns the Post Alberni Sub, 10% of the Victoria Sub, the Wellcox Spur, and lease the rest. ENR, operating division for Rail America operates the freight and supplies crews for the VIA RDC trains. VIA Rail operates one or two RDCs on the Victoria Subdivision from Victoria (Mile 0) to Courtenay (Mile 139.9). VIA Rail pays a tariff on an axle-per-mile basis to the E&N Railway Company. The Pacific Wilderness Railway runs tourist trains up to Malahat at mile 20 during the summer months, from Victoria. Rail America has allowed Ross Rowland, CEO of the Pacific Wilderness Railway  to use all 181 miles of the E&N Railway, including the Wellcox Spur. In a few years Ross Rowland will run a 3-day excursion to Port Alberni, however before that happens the speed limit for the  Port Alberni Sub will have to be increased from its present ten miles per hour.

           There are rumours that VIA Rail will be contracting operation of the train to a private company(ENR, PAW, Vancouver Island Railway Society, etc.) There is talk that a Port Alberni passenger train might start operations from Parksville when the service is contracted out, there is also talk that a gravel train might start operations from a gravel pit near Courtenay to Victoria if and when the Metchosin gravel pit closes.

E&N Railfreight GP38AC 3005 sits in the Wellcox Yards,
Nanaimo, BC after being repainted. William Slim photo.

RDC-1 6135 and RDC-2m 6148 are the first rain
over the reconstructed Thetis Lake Overpass.

RDC-1 6135 heads over the Thetis Lake Overpass in
View Royal, just north of Victoria. Mick Hall photo.


©2000, Tyler Welsford, all rights reserved.

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