Railway or trailway, should E&N switch tracks

News that upgrades to idled line may cost more to make it safe for passenger service raising questions

News that it could cost more than originally estimated to get passenger service running again on the E&N Railway has raised questions about the future use of the line.

A Ministry of Transportation and BC Safety Authority commissioned report by RTC Rail Solutions says $15 million allocated for improvements along the 289 kilometre of track would be “pushing the limits of safety to the extreme.”

Graham Bruce, CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the E&N corridor, said the report is based on “wrong assumptions” about the speed of the trains that would be using the reactivated line.

He also said “a tremendous amount of work and study” on the E&N line has been conducted since the RTC study findings were compiled.

An unnamed spokesman from the Ministry of Transportation is quoted in the Nanaimo Daily News as saying “discussion is ongoing” as to whether or not the province wants to go ahead with the project.

Passenger service along the E&N was discontinued in March, 2011.

Some in the Ladysmith-Chemainus area say the line should be decommissioned and repurposed; others, that it is an asset the Island cannot afford to lose, which could be used by commuters and tourists.

In a letter to The Chronicle Mike Smith said the total bill for getting the E&N Railway up and running has not been fully costed, and taxpayers could be on the hook for a lot more once all the work is done.

“The point is, all this expense is to be incurred to provide a service for a handful of tourists and another handful of commuters each day, whose numbers will diminish dramatically after tourist season,” he said.

Smith would like to see the line decommissioned and turned into a “beautiful trail corridor which would link all communities from Victoria to Comox.” He said that could be achieved at a fraction of the cost and would result in a facility which “if you build it they will come.”

“All that would be required is to fill in between the existing rail with suitable gravel, put up a few signs, and watch the peddlers and pedestrians hit the trail in their hundreds every day,” he concluded.

Not everyone – not even walkers who frequent the trails along the E&N line – are convinced that’s the way to go.

Marlie Kelsey thinks coastal communities would lose big time if they give up on the E&N Railway. “I want to see the train operating because we don’t really have any good transportation from the south to the north. I think it would be a boon to the whole north of the Island from Mill Bay up,” she said.

A reopened rail line could boost the economy and open up the region to more tourism, she said. “I can’t believe our provincial government and our tourism on the Island haven’t gotten one hundred percent behind getting it done.”

Delaying is reducing the chances of ever getting the trains on the rails again. “The longer they leave it, obviously the more disrepair is going to happen, it’s going to get more and more expensive,” she said. “It’s just a big stall.”

Manager of the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce Mark Drysdale said, “The Ladysmith Chamber would hate to see that land lost as a corridor. If we lose the land that connects these communities, we’ll never get it back.”

So no matter what, the corridor should be preserved.

But whether or not it should be used for passenger rail remains an open question. He is waiting to see a financially viable plan for passenger rail. “But I haven’t see that business case Yet,” Drysdale said.