top of page

Island Rail Corridor History and Future

Formerly Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway


The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway (E&N)  was incorporated in September of 1883 by Robert Dunsmuir support Vancouver Island's growing coal, lumber industry's and to support the Navy Base in Equimalt. Construction on the railway between Nanaimo and Esquimalt started in April of 1884. In August of 1886 the Prime Minister of Canada (Sir John A. Macdonald) drove the last spike at Cliffside just South of Shawnigan Lake. The E&N was originally 71 mils from Nanaimo south to Esquimalt, It wasn't until 1888 when the line was extended to the City of Victoria.


1905 was the year Mr. Dunsmuir sold the railway to Canadian Pacific (CP) which brought more extensions and stations. Canadian Pacific extended the Victoria Subdivision from Nanaimo North to Parkville, Qualicum Beach then later Courtenay, the current end of the line. CP added many new subdivisions, the Lake Cowichan sub which spanned from Duncan (mile 41.6 of Victoria Sub) west to Lake Cowichan abandoned then converted to a trail in the mid 1980's, the Port Alberni Sub which spans from Parksville (mile 95.2 of Victoria Sub) West to Port Alberni, Osborne Bay sub later the Crofton Mill spur (which is off mile 47.5 of the Victoria Sub), abandoned late 1980's, and the Great Central Lake sub which ran off the Port Alberni Sub at mile 35.6, abandoned 1953.

Passenger rail service ended to Port Alberni in 1953 after the service could not compete with the highway and bus services. Passenger rail to Lake Cowichan ended prior to that. In the mid 1980's Canadian Pacific transferred the passenger operations to VIA Rail a government company, and they continued to operate the once daily service from Victoria to Courtenay, calling it the VIA Malahat service. 

In the mid 1990's CP rebranded there Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway division to "E&N Railfreight" to market the railways operation's to outside railway operators. In the 1990's just that happened, RailAmerica a US owned company took over all freight operations and bought the Port Alberni Subdivision off CP. 

Due to the mismanagement of RailAmerica on Vancouver Island the track condition worsened, along with the tracks falling into disrepair the railway started to loose remaining customers from the CP era. In 2001 after only a few years of operating the Port Alberni Sub RailAmerica lost the mill in Port Alberni as a customer, marking the end of Rail America's operations in Port Alberni. 

After Rail America expressed there intent of abandoning the Port Alberni sub and discontinuing the rest of there remaining operations on the E&N the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) was founded in 2004 to preserve the railway and keep it running. Following this Canadian Pacific donated the Victoria Sub to the ICF and supplied $1,000,000 in seed money to get them started, after this Rail America donated the Port Alberni Subdivision to the ICF. VIA Rail continued to operate the Dayliner through this, and Southern Railway of Vancouver Island (SVI) a Washington Group company took over freight operations in the mid to late 2000's. 

In 2011 after the track condition had deteriorated to the point where the VIA Budd cars were being damaged and the track condition started raising safety concerns VIA Rail indefinitely suspended there Dayliner Malahat service. Freight continued along the line from Courtenay to Duncan until in 2012 when the service to Courtenay ended, leaving Parksville to Duncan in operation until 2013 when service to Parksville ended, only leaving Nanaimo to Duncan in operation, until 2014 when that ended. Currently only one train runs on the E&N Victoria Sub and it's within Nanaimo. The Alberni Pacific Railway which had been in operation since the CP days running between the E&N station in Port Alberni and the McLean mill just oustide of town ceased operations in 2018. Leaving no current operations on the E&N Port Alberni subdivision. 

Since 1997 the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Division of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association has been dedicated to preserving the history of the E&N Railway, and from the late 2000's to the mid 2010's there volunteers maintained the Port Alberni Subdivision keeping it clear for the purpose of Maintenance of Way. Currently there operations include managing the railway operations at the E&N Roundhouse in Victoria West, a site currently owned by Bayview Place

To learn more about the E&N and/or E&N Division click here:  

Also check them out on Facebook:


Island Rail Corp (IRC) is an incorporated and privately held company that, with identified stakeholders and collaboration, proposes a new vision for Island Rail. IRC is a privately held corporation proposing a new vision for Island Rail operating heavy freight-rail service from Port to Ports (P2P) between the West and East coast ports of Vancouver Island; Port of Alberni, and Port of Nanaimo, respectively, connecting with the Lower Mainland. Bidirectional rail traffic at Nanaimo terminals will connect with mainland Class 1 railway interchanges and the North American rail network via an enhanced high-capacity rail marine service. Expanding terminals at Port Alberni to handle an influx in domestic and international freight with the P2P corridor providing the needed rail capacity while alleviating congestion at Vancouver terminals. IRC also proposes regional freight-rail service to local businesses along the Island Rail Corridor that can benefit from direct rail service. Additionally, as a byproduct of revenue-generating heavy freight service, IRC supports an intercity passenger service between Nanaimo, Victoria, and Courtenay as well as a higher frequency passenger rail service between Duncan, Langford, and Victoria. IRC envisions operating seasonal revenue-generating tourist trains as well between strategic tourism-centric Island Corridor points of interest.


To learn more about Island Rail Corp click here:

bottom of page