Opinion

Passenger rail back on track

The train will go to and from, instead of from and to, and that might make all the difference.

Passenger rail service will return to Vancouver Island’s tracks, as the Island Corridor Foundation announced Wednesday it has reached a tentative agreement with Southern Railway and Via Rail. The foundation can now spend $20.9 million on badly needed track maintenance over the next nine months, and the train will be reborn sometime after that.

Nanaimo – the Hub City, after all – is the new grand central station. Exact scheduling is still to be determined, but the train will roll out first thing in the morning for Victoria. For Nanaimoites, that’s an improvement, one that re-establishes rail as an option for commuters.

It should work for tourism, too, or even just running errands – more transportation in and out of our city will be appreciated and hopefully utilized.

Passenger rail isn’t – and shouldn’t be – about nostalgia. When integrated into public transportation, it can be a environmentally conscious, modern way to be on the move. If we don’t maintain our train tracks now, then they’ll fall further into disrepair, and we won’t ever have the future option of forward-thinking rail transit.

Is that what we’ll be getting, when passenger service gets back on track? Maybe not – aside from the train’s direction of travel, there isn’t a whole lot about this new business model to suggest it will succeed where the previous model failed. Tickets will cost a lot more than a bus transfer, and that’s on top of the tax dollars we’re committing to track upgrades and inevitable subsidies in one form or another.

There’s a chance – a likelihood? – that passenger rail will be derailed again a decade from now, for the same reasons as last time. But for now, it’s in the best interests of ICF, Southern and Via to try to make it work, and they’re saying, like the Little Engine That Could, “I think I can.”

We hope they can.

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