British Columbia

'He could have frozen to death': B.C. town calls on VIA Rail to build shelter for passengers

Valemount, B.C., residents are calling on VIA Rail to build a shelter at its train station for tourists who are often left stranded in subzero temperatures overnight.

Valemount residents sound the alarm after finding tourists freezing, waiting for late train

The train station in Valemount is an open platform next to a VIA Rail sign. The village is pushing for an enclosed shelter to be built. (Silvia Jungo)

Each morning, staff at the Valemount Swiss Bakery are hard at work getting baked goods ready for customers.

But lately, they've had another job: keeping VIA Rail passengers warm when they're stuck outside waiting hours for delayed trains in –30 C weather.

Silvia Jungo, co-owner of the bakery in the small village southeast of Prince George, arrived at work before sunrise recently to find two frozen tourists huddled in her shop.

Her husband, who works nights, had plucked them from the streets on his way in and kept them warm in the bakery overnight.

"They were actually waiting for a train," Jungo said. "There's no [train stop] shelter, and that unfortunate night, it was –34 C."

The Valemount Swiss Bakery has been taking in people waiting in the cold for their train, but it would like to see a permanent shelter, so they don't have to shoulder all the responsibility. (Valemount Swiss Bakery)

Too cold to speak

The VIA train from Valemount to Vancouver was scheduled to leave just before 9 p.m but the pair waited hours outside for a train that never arrived that night. The station is an unsheltered, concrete platform next to a VIA Rail sign near the bakery. 

CBC reached out to VIA Rail for comment but did not receive a response.

"The gentleman was wearing shoes like he would wear with a tuxedo going to a wedding and a very thin jacket," Jungo told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"The lady [had] running shoes with a little bit better jacket, but no tuque, no gloves. So, really not dressed for that weather."

Jungo said the man was so cold he could not speak.

"I am not a doctor but I wasn't happy to see the state of the gentleman. He could have frozen to death."​

The Village of Valemount has contacted VIA Rail about building a sheltered station. (The Canadian Press)

Plans for a shelter

Shortly after that incident, Valemount's village council contacted VIA Rail to express its concern that tourists were waiting in subzero conditions for late trains, with no shelter structure provided.

Mayor Owen Torgerson said he's pushing for a new, enclosed shelter to be built at the train station and the council is looking at models in other cold cities that include things like heated benches.

"As a small local government, we rely heavily on our corporate partners to pull up their socks and see what they can do as they are the carrier," he said.

The village is waiting for a response from VIA Rail.

In the meantime, Jungo said the Valemount Swiss Bakery will continue to provide warmth for people stranded in the cold, but she wants to see swifter action. 

"We're not a train station. It can't be our sole responsibility to look out in the nights for everybody and take them in," she said.

With files from Daybreak North and Andrew Kurjata