A segment of the Island Rail corridor, formerly known as the E&N Railway. File Photo

A segment of the Island Rail corridor, formerly known as the E&N Railway. File Photo

Friends of Rails to Trails pleads for support to transform Island’s dormant rail line

Group wants to see E&N track removed, corridor repurposed as multi-purpose trail

The Friends of Rails to Trails-Vancouver Island (FORT-VI) is asking Vancouver Island officials to support a high-level cost study to convert the E&N corridor to trail.

The non-profit FORT-VI was formed to investigate and encourage the repurposing of unused rail lines as multi-use trails between Victoria and Courtenay.

In a March 30 presentation to the Comox Valley Regional District board, group member Denise Savoie spoke about economic opportunities for businesses along the route. She said converting the corridor to a multi-use trail would be about six per cent of the rail-with-trail cost being proposed by the Island Corridor Foundation.

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FORT-VI chose the Pennsylvania GAP (Great Allegheny Passage) as a comparison to the E&N, due to its similar length, settlement pattern and population. The trail, constructed from 1986-2013, is estimated to draw a million visitors a year. On average, a visitor spends U.S. $185 per day on food and lodging.

“Right now, Tourism BC is looking for projects to invest in to support the sector hit hard on the Island by the pandemic,” Savoie said.

A 2020 report confirmed the prohibitive cost and low returns — a projected ridership of 11 passengers per day from Courtenay — to reinstate rail service on Vancouver Island, Savoie said. She also noted the E&N corridor features prominently in the development of the CVRD’s Active Transportation Plan.

“It is the obvious and only safe north-south active transportation route in the valley. Public support for this trail is high, with over 1,500 signatures on a petition, just from the valley here.”

FORT-VI says that First Nations are crucially important, and must be involved in decisions about managing the rail right of way. Some support the route passing through lands, while others want it re-routed.

“We believe both conditions can be achieved,” Savoie said. “We believe that corridor lands transecting reserve lands can revert to the First Nations when trail replaces rail. This can be part of the reconciliation process.”

Savoie said the proposal could be a comparative study, conducted by FORT-VI or another party.

“We think that it’s key to making a knowledgeable decision,” Savoie said. “We would love for you to advocate for such a study…This corridor is far too valuable to be left in decay.”

The Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the railway, would need to grant permission for FORT-VI to access the corridor for a study.

The board will consider FORT-VI’s request at a future meeting.

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