Passenger rail service off track

Ladysmith Chronicle reporter Nick Bekolay weighs in on the debate over the future of passenger rail service on Vancouver Island.

While cycling to Maple Bay with Dave Steen and Tom Sharpe (see ‘Triple gold’ in our sports section) last week, our conversation turned eventually to the return of passenger rail service to Vancouver Island communities.

Sharpe, an avid cycling tourist, mentioned that he would prefer to see the rail line transformed into a cycling corridor along the lines of Greater Victoria’s Galloping Goose and Lochside trails, an opinion shared by Ladysmith resident Michael Smith in an Aug. 27 letter to the editor.

In today’s issue, a letter from Chronicle reader Robert Johnson questions whether or not sufficient demand exists to justify spending millions of dollars in public funds to restore rail service to southern Vancouver Island.

I became a huge fan of passenger rail service while living in South Korea (ROK). Summer weekends routinely involved me cramming my climbing and camping gear into a backpack in anticipation of hopping on a Saturday morning train to Gurye, the closest stop to Yongseo Pokpo, my favourite Korean crag.

Trains were often full to capacity, meaning demand for rail service is alive and well in the densely populated ROK.

But the ROK is home to more than 50 million people living in an area three times the size of Vancouver Island. That translates to more than 500 people per square kilometre, 20 times the density created by Vancouver Island’s 750,000 residents.

Simply put, I doubt we have the people power needed to populate new passenger trains.

On top of that, cycling infrastructure is cheap: Portland spent as much on its entire system of lanes and trails as it routinely spends on an average mile of freeway.

I think it’s time we all weighed in via a referendum.

—Nick Bekolay