Vancouver Island’s last rail logging operation has ceased, less than a year after a fatal train derailment tragically killed three workers.
Western Forest Products announced the closure of its Englewood logging train, which is headquartered in Woss, a small village on Northern Vancouver Island, located about 75km southeast of Port McNeill.
“It’s the end of an era, not only for our community, but for logging on the whole coast,” said Dave Rushton, a retired logger who represents the village on the Regional District of Mount Waddington’s board of directors.
Western said via a Nov. 7 press release that the “logs will be transported by truck at a lower cost to create efficiencies in the transportation of logs to its mills from northern Vancouver Island forestry operations.”
The railway was first constructed in 1917 and was the only remaining log transport railway systems on British Columbia’s coast.
At peak operations, the train employed 34 workers with the line running 90 km from Vernon Lake, through Woss, and past Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park to Beaver Cove.
In their press release, Western stated, “as a result of the closure of the train, these positions will be eliminated,” but the company will identify “opportunities for the impacted employees to transition to other positions within its operations” anticipating the reduction in jobs to be less than 15.
“It’s a devastating blow but it wasn’t unexpected,” said Rushton, adding, “It kind of feels like a prizefighter who has been knocked down, we get up and it’s like another sucker punch after the incident in April.”
In April 2017, the Englewood logging train derailed near the centre of Woss, killing three workers and injuring two more.
Western then halted operations on the train line, out of respect for the workers and their families, according to a joint statement from Western and their union the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937.
Rushton said although the closure of the train “was expected with the rumours going on”, it will still impact the entire village, which has a population fewer than 200.
“We are a small very tight knit community – we celebrate everyone’s fortune and we mourn their bad fortune, so it affects everybody,” he said, adding that some of the workers are second or third generation residents. “They have kids and grandkids here and if they have to relocate it’s tough.”
Western said it is committed to working with its employees in a fair and equitable manner.
“The company is focussing today on working with our impacted employees and discussing options with them to look at other positions, retraining opportunities and other options that may be available,” said Western’s Communications and Government Relations Director, Amy Spencer via email.
Rushton noted a transition would be hard for some workers as “the guys that work on that road are in their late 50s and it’s tough to re-train and go back to school,” but he hopes that “they’ll be something encouraging for them all.”
The closure of the logging train operation, also has implications for road conditions on Highway 19, with Rushton stating he’s not sure if Western will use the highway exclusively but, “It will definitely be an adjustment for everyone that uses the highway there is no doubt about that.”
He noted that there are a lot of questions still left to be answered, but “we are a resilient group, I am sure that we will recover.”
Western employs over 3,500 employees and contractors on the coast, of which 600 are directly employed on northern Vancouver Island.