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Little locomotive revives Vic West railyard

Rail cars will be featured at the residential and retail E&N roundhouse project; locomotive will be used to move those rail cars
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Jim Sturgill, left, a retired E&N conductor, helps son Jim Sturgill Jr. to deliver a 1956 switcher locomotive to the Bayview Roundhouse on Wednesday. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

It’s short and stocky, but it’s ­nimble and packs a lot of power.

A little locomotive is expected to breathe new life into the once-bustling terminus of the Esquimalt Nanaimo Railway in Vic West.

Focus Equities, the developer behind Bayview Place and future development around the historic E&N roundhouse, took delivery of a small switcher locomotive on Wednesday — a 25-ton, 450-horsepower engine that will be used to move cars and locomotives around the site as it develops.

Jim Sturgill Jr., president of Pacific Northwest Railway Services and a consultant on the Bayview site, said the little engine will be used to bring rail cars in and out of the ­roundhouse, where boxcars will be used as shops and displays.

About half a mile of track remains on Bayview’s 20-acre site in the Songhees off the ­200-block of Esquimalt Road, along with the roundhouse, which was completed in 1913 and remains virtually untouched. It was named a National Historic Site in 1992.

The E&N roundhouse is on the site of the original 1886 railway terminus for Victoria. It was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to serve as the primary servicing facility for steam — and later diesel — locomotives and rolling stock of the E&N until 2011, when passenger ­service was discontinued.

Sturgill said Bayview developer Ken Mariash already has a 1948 baggage and mail car on the site, as well as two heritage boxcars from the 1950s.

The site also contains two other historic red brick buildings — a car shop and a stores building, all in their original state.

The switcher locomotive was built by General Electric in 1956 and originally purchased by the Alberta Sugar Corp., which used it to move cars and locomotives in and out of industrial plants. It was last used in Fort McMurray.

“When these types of ­locomotives become available, you have to get them while you have the chance,” Sturgill said Wednesday. “There aren’t too many available out there.” No purchase price was disclosed.

Sturgill said small switcher locomotives were used at numerous locations on the Island during the rail era, and this locomotive will be the first to operate at the E&N Roundhouse in two decades.

Sturgill said Bayview has plans to eventually move a 120-ton diesel locomotive from Nanaimo to the site in Vic West, although the timing is dependent on the rail line, which is currently not in service.

Residential towers are envisioned for the Roundhouse at Bayview Place project, according to a master plan from Focus Equities, updated last April. The roundhouse will be the centre and focal point, with new buildings surrounding Turntable Plaza and the site carved into six “character districts.”

The developer’s guidelines say the historic buildings will be the “character-defining elements of Victoria’s next great neighbourhood,” where a mix of retail and residential uses, including rental and affordable housing, are connected with publicly accessible open space and amenities.

dkloster@timescolonist.com