A Window Into the Past: The Royal Hudson Steam Train
There’s something magical about watching thick clouds of steam billow from a locomotive, or hearing a train whistle pierce the air. For many British Columbians, the Royal Hudson steam train was a window into the past — a relic from their parents’, or even grandparents’, era.
The train inspired a sense of nostalgia for simpler times, when the marvel of steam travel was a new innovation.
A Brief History of the Royal Hudson
When mentioning the Royal Hudson, most people are actually referring to a specific engine, #2860, but the name was really a catch-all for semi-streamlined steam engines used on the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR). From 1937 to 1960, these engines ran along transcontinental routes, primarily for luxury passenger service.
However, they didn’t get their name until 1939, after King George VI and Queen Elizabeth took a month-long tour of Canada on a special 12-car train. As the story goes, King George was so impressed by the steam engine’s performance, he gave them the “royal” designation — the only time a train outside the United Kingdom received such an honor.
For about 20 years, the Royal Hudson trains enjoyed distinguished service across the country, up until the late 1950s. At that time, diesel trains began to replace steam, as they were faster and more efficient. Using steam trains for longer passenger service was phased out in exchange for freight or commuter routes.
Although the Royal Hudson trains nearly went extinct during this time, the #2860 train was eventually bought by the BC Department of Travel and Industry and restored for service on the British Columbia Railway. From 1974 to 1999, this Royal Hudson operated as an excursion train between North Vancouver and Squamish.
Does the Royal Hudson still run? The train was a popular tourist attraction in BC up until 2001 when all passenger services were halted by the government. Since then, the #2860 has undergone many restorations, but hasn’t seen much travel. A few brief special events and excursions were scheduled from 2006 to 2010, but eventually the maintenance work became too much of a burden.
Where to Find the Royal Hudsons Now?
In total, four Royal Hudson steam trains have been preserved. Most are kept in various museums across North America, however, if you want to see the #2860, it’s currently on display at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, BC. Tours of the engine car are available during special events such as last year’s celebration of the Royal Hudson’s Jubilee Tour 40th Anniversary.
In 2015, a fundraiser was also launched to raise money for extensive restoration to the train’s wheels and running gears. While thousands of dollars have been raised so far, it’s unclear the total amount necessary for repairs. Seeing as it took over $1 million to get the engine up and running again in 2006, it’s very likely the Royal Hudson still has a long way to go before it’s brought back to life for future excursions.
Similar Steam Trains in Service
While you won’t get to ride the Royal Hudson anytime soon, there are a number of other steam trains operating across Canada that offer similar excursion-style services.
Alberni Pacific Steam Railway
Within British Columbia, you can head to Vancouver Island for a ride aboard the Alberni Pacific steam locomotive. Its 35-minute route begins in Port Alberni and passes through Alberni Valley before ending up at Mclean Mill Historic Park. Tickets are $35 CAD for adults with discounted rates available for students and children.
While normally primarily operational during major holidays, unfortunately train operations were suspended for the 2019 season but will resume in the future. Check the McLean Mill website for updates.
Fort Steele Railway Co.
Located within Fort Steele Heritage Town (a living history museum), a functioning steam train acts as one of the primary attractions. The train itself is a museum and offers visitors a peek into the lives of the people who used the railway during its heyday. Tickets range from $7-12 CAD and include a 20-minute train ride to a viewing platform of the town.
While the route is significantly shorter than some of the other steam railways, there are steam engines and train equipment on display for those curious about the mechanics of the train.
The Kettle Valley Steam Railway
On select holidays from May to October, 50-minute steam train excursions run along a preserved section of the Kettle Valley Railway’s original route. Located in Summerland, BC, tickets cost $29.99 CAD and also include a special “run past” opportunity, where you can hop off the train and take photos or video alongside it.
Kamloops Heritage Railway
Another steam railway that operates primarily during major holidays, the Kamloops Heritage Railway offers specialty excursions. Most rides last one to two hours and tickets range from $5-39 CAD. Ride the train to a private fireworks show during the summer, experience the spooky ghost train for Halloween, or enjoy caroling and visits from Santa on their Spirit of Christmas excursion.
Beer, wine and high tea trains are also available to adults during the summer and fall seasons with complimentary food pairings and live music.