Taking the Scenic Route on the Southern Vancouver Island Railway

Never heard of the Southern Vancouver Island Railway? You're not alone -- it's one of BC's best-kept, and most beautiful, secrets

Credit: Kathy Sinclair

The quaint one-car Malahat runs daily passenger service across Vancouver Island

What is it about train travel that so captures the imagination? The Southern Vancouver Island Railway will fuel your daydreams as it traverses the island’s most scenic terrain

“C’mon, let’s go!” the conductor said, rushing me up the platform.

I jolted out of my reverie and climbed the steps onto the train car, the last to board. Somehow, in my dreamy state of waiting at the station in Parksville, BC, I’d forgotten the crew had a schedule to keep.

I found a window seat on the right, put my feet up and turned on my iPod as the Malahat began its afternoon run south to Victoria. Within minutes, I’d re-entered my daydream, watching the world go by.

The Vancouver Island Train: BC’s Best-kept Secret?

Never heard of the Southern Vancouver Island Railway? You’re not alone. Once known as the E&N (Esquimalt & Nanaimo) Railway, it’s one of BC’s best-kept secrets – and perhaps its loveliest commute.

VIA Rail runs daily passenger service on the Malahat, a quaint one-car train, from Victoria to Courtenay in the mornings and the return trip in the afternoons – making it an ideal mode of transport for a daytrip or weekend getaway. The total journey from end to end is about four and a half hours – the same as the bus, and much more scenic.

The train swayed back and forth as we passed through the southern Vancouver Island communities of Nanoose Bay, Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Chemainus, Duncan and Cowichan – along with a few hamlets I’d never heard of (Starks, South Wellington or Hayward, anyone?)

Scenic Views from the Train

As we made our way alongside the ocean and through the forest on the crisp, sunny fall day, I marvelled at the contrast of the bright golds and yellows against the dark pine trees – they beat the sight of the Island Highway’s big-box stores anytime.

The train passed alongside scenic Shawnigan Lake. A few minutes later, we crossed a bridge trestle 70 metres above Arbutus Canyon, and soon after, the Niagara Canyon Bridge. The train slowed so that we could all gape and take photos of the magnificent views.

An hour later, we reached the outlying communities of Goldstream and Langford and arrived in downtown Victoria. Civilized, indeed.

Intrigued? Book your ticket online, or pay cash on-the-spot at one of the train’s scheduled stops (Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo, Parksville or Courtenay).

A one-way trip from Courtenay to Victoria, or vice versa, is about $55. And bring your own snacks – no food is sold onboard.

Kathy Sinclair is a Vancouver-based writer who is dreaming of her next trip.