Talks buoy hopes for better VIA rail service on the Island

Recent face-to-face meetings between Island Corridor Foundation’s Graham Bruce and government leaders could engineer cash for crucial passenger-rail upgrades by year’s end.

  • Jan. 31, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Recent face-to-face meetings between Island Corridor Foundation’s Graham Bruce and government leaders could engineer cash for crucial passenger-rail upgrades by year’s end.

Upbeat Bruce met last week locally with federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl about plans to revamp rails between Victoria and Courtenay — spanning Cowichan — toward realistic daily service for commuters and others.

MP Jean Crowder wrote Strahl Dec. 2, urging “serious investment” in the aging E&N line.

Line upgrades are strategic to the Island’s economic and social development, noting the population between Victoria and Nanaimo warrants federal rail kale.

Phase one of the $15-million revamp of rail ties and ballast for passenger rail would see Via’s main terminus moved to Nanaimo from Victoria, and offer early-morning southbound service.

It would end with a late afternoon run from the capital to Nanaimo, explained Bruce.

“I’m a very optimist guy and it’s going through the process of funding applications provincially and federally,” the ICF’s executive director said of $15 million the ICF — owner of island rail lines — applied for.

That taxpayer grant would be split between Ottawa and Victoria.

Bruce was amped about “good discussions” with Strahl.

“I had an hour with him and everything was face to face.”

“He was aware of our desire to see Via rail service turned around.”

Current Via passenger service is basically aimed at tourists and day-trippers, not folks traveling daily to Victoria for work.

“We just want to have people ride the rail and see what we’re talking about,” he said of political networking.

“Once you see it, it makes common sense — it’s a natural to be enhanced.”

Via president of Via, Marc Laliberté, has also taken the train with Bruce “and he was most enlightened by our plan.”

B.C.’s transport minister Shirley Bond has ridden the train to Victoria, Bruce said, and was likewise impressed by its scenic efficiency that could pull carbon-spewing vehicles from the highway.

Crowder agreed, noting better rail service would spell needed jobs.

“Rail will provide an important, environmentally sound commuter option that’s in keeping with Canada’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint,” she wrote Strahl.

Next, Bruce is trying to meet with federal minister of state, Rob Merrifield, who’s responsible for Via as a Crown corporation.

To Bruce, it helps to personally inform government bosses.

“You can’t take for granted people just know about this,” he said of ICF’s project.

He also wants three of Via’s freshly refurbished cars for island passengers’ use. Those cars would carry everything from snacks to bikes.