CVRD not switching track on Island rail service

The Regional District of Nanaimo is sidetracking it’s support for the Island Corridor Foundation

The Regional District of Nanaimo is sidetracking it’s support for the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), and restoration of passenger rail service along the idled E&N line, but the Cowichan Valley Regional District doesn’t want to derail the process, said CVRD Chair Jon Lefebure; and the ICF board issued as statement Monday, March 28, expressing disappointment with the RDN’s decision.

After an in-camera meeting the RDN gave 60-days notice on Wednesday, March 23, that it was going to terminate its $945,000 contribution agreement to the Island Corridor Foundation for restoration of service, which was discontinued in 2011 due to the poor condition of the tracks.

RDN board chair Bill Veenhof said the decision to pull the funding was unanimous.

“We have terminated the contribution agreement with the Island Corridor Foundation,” Veenhof said. “After five years of waiting for this project to move forward, the board has grown tired of delays and has lost confidence that the day-to-day operations of the ICF reflect the interests of the RDN.”

The decision came on the heels of Island Corridor Foundation CEO Graham Bruce’s meeting with the Cowichan Valley Regional District to update directors on progress getting passenger service up and running again.

A sticking point has been final approval of $7.5 million in federal funding, matching B.C.’s commitment to the project. Regional districts along the right of way had committed $5 million in total.

Bruce told the CVRD that, now the federal election is over, final approval of federal funding for restoration of the service is close to being approved.

“They’re very close to having all three commitments in place,” Lefebure said.

The CVRD’s $488,000 contribution has been placed in a reserve fund, and Lefebure said he doesn’t see any reason to pull out of the agreement. “Our regional district agreed with the plan to re-establish passenger rail service on the line – that hasn’t changed,” he said.

Lefebure was not prepared to say how the withdrawal of RDN funding will affect plans to restore rail service, beyond commenting that, “This move by the RDN is not a positive one for the whole process.”

Citing the complicated jurisdictional and legal landscape that had to be worked through, the ICF board said it understands the RDN’s ‘frustration’, and will continue to work toward re-establishing rail service on Vancouver Island, ‘a vision the ICF is working hard to achieve.’

“The Nanaimo Region stands to benefit significantly with rail passenger service between Nanaimo and Victoria,” said Judith Sayers, co‐chair of the Island Corridor Foundation.

“This project is a major economic and tourism opportunity for communities along the Corridor, and with the rails and trails connection, also provides a substantial benefit to residents as well.”