The Bennett Government's Pacific Northern Railway Project and the Development of British Columbia's "Hinterland"
The "Pacific Northern Railway" (PNR) project, a proposed interregional rail link between BC, the Yukon and Alaska, which was initiated by the Social Credit government under Premier W.A.C. Bennett in the late 1950's, was one of the most ambitious provincial transportation megaprojects of the twentieth century. Although the project never really entered the construction phase, its failure merits study for what it reveals concerning the dangerous gaps that may arise in government policy between vision and agenda-setting, on the one hand, and, on the other. questions of feasibility and suitability in terms of goals which ought to be pursued rather than those that are largely politically motivated. The rail project failed primarily owing to the gap that existed between the metropolitan-hinterland philosophy of railway building that the Bennett government insisted on pursuing, despite the fact that it was no longer in tune with the times. Its failure was also due to inadequate study and consideration of the appropriate kind of transportation technology for a project of this nature and magnitude. It likewise proved to be a hard sell in an economic sense; both the powerful Swedish Wenner-Gren corporation, which was to originally finance the construction, as well as the US and Canadian federal governments, whose aid was sought once the former had withdrawn from the project, declined to fulfil this role. The most damaging long-range effects of the PNR failure have been the persistence on the part of governments and private initiative, often acting in conjunction with one another, in continuing to pursue the dream of building an interregional railway in the northwest without due consideration of the limitations and pitfalls of such a project.
Key words: Pacific Northern Railway, W.A.C. Bennett, monorails, northern development, railways