Plans are afoot to evaluate track conditions for Vancouver Island’s main rail line to determine if train service could return.
The Island Corridor Foundation – a non-profit owning the E&N corridor with rail line that runs through Nanaimo from Victoria to Courtenay and Parksville to Port Alberni, with stops in both Ladysmith and Chemainus – was part of a Dec. 10 meeting with local and provincial governments and First Nations to discuss the rail line’s the fate. In an e-mail, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said the government committed to “an updated engineering assessment of the corridor,” which it will lead along with First Nations and ICF.
Money for the work will come from the province, but details of the assessment are still in discussion and no dollar amounts are currently available, the ministry said. Passenger service was discontinued in 2011 due to poor track conditions.
Alec McPherson, Regional District of Nanaimo representative on the ICF board, was at the meeting and said there is potential in passenger rail service from Nanaimo to Victoria again. It is dependent on cost however, as he estimates repair work could be in the “hundreds of millions.”
“That is going to be the thing is what the costs estimates are and how much can you move forward … how do you continue to pay for maintenance?” said McPherson. “You need to be able to get revenue coming in whether it’s from freight, whether it’s from your tourism, whatever, that is sufficient to maintain those tracks and not just let them deteriorate by five or seven per cent every year. So there’s a lot of moving parts in this, a lot of moving parts, and so it will be interesting. The first step is to get this study that everybody can read and agree upon to say, OK, now this sounds right.”
Larry Stevenson, new ICF CEO, said getting an assessment is important given there are a “multitude” of figures out there for cost of track improvements. He said he’s seen one study that estimates it at $200 million.
“There’s been a bunch of numbers floated back and forth, but one of the things that’s readily apparent, is that there is no vision as to what this thing is that’s been agreed upon by anybody,” said Stevenson.
“I went out and did town halls across the Island and people were very quick to say, ‘Well where’s your business plan?’ and my response to that always was, you can’t do a business plan on something [if] you don’t know what you’re going to do. My struggle here is the numbers are so different depending upon what you build and what you want.
“Until you get to a shared vision as to what it is we’re actually going to build, and when I say shared vision, I mean a vision that’s been shared with province and the stakeholders as to what’s required, you can’t really put a price tag on it.”
Speaking on behalf of the ministry, Mitzi Dean, MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin who sees the line running through her riding, said an assessment is important.
“It’s a really valuable asset and it’s so unique,” said Dean, adding that a railway is a difficult thing to quantify. “What we want to do is go through due process so we have a really good assessment so that we make good, well-informed decisions that meet the transportation needs of communities across the Island as a result of this assessment.”
Stevenson said he will meet with ministry officials next week to set parameters of the assessment and move forward with putting a request for proposals together.
“I don’t expect this is going to take long,” said Stevenson. “This isn’t going to be a five-month study. This is going to be something that’s going to happen very quickly.”