The majority of Nanaimo city councillors agreed to support Friends of the Rails to Trails Vancouver Island, a group that wants to convert the E&N rail corridor into a multi-use trail. (The News Bulletin)

City council supports initiative to pull up train tracks for trail use

Councillors vote to support Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island

Nanaimo city council is throwing its support behind a different dream for the E&N rail bed.

The majority of city councillors agreed to support Friends of the Rails to Trails Vancouver Island, a group that wants to convert the E&N rail corridor into a multi-use trail.

The city will also ask the Island Corridor Foundation to co-ordinate with the organization’s volunteers toward accomplishing the goal.

A similar decision was made at the Regional District of Nanaimo last month.

Coun. Bill Bestwick made the motion, which he said to the News Bulletin is to get the conversation started to entertain an alternative use for the existing rail corridor that’s not currently being used to any significant capacity for its intended use and which he believes won’t be used to its capacity in the future.

“Therefore what else might it be used for?” he asked.

It’s not the first time the City of Nanaimo has supported a group on the issue of a rail trail, but the Nanaimo Region Rail Trail Partnership, which launched its fundraising campaign in 2014, wanted to create a seamless connector alongside the E&N railway. Its vision was to fill in missing trail in Nanaimo before broadening the reach to look at building a potential Island-wide pathway.

When city council learned last year it would cost $7.2 million for a two-kilometre section of E&N trail downtown, it opted to wait for certainty around rail and a representative of the partnership said it would put its capital toward whatever municipality makes the rail trail a priority.

Bestwick now calls the cost for that section of trail absurd, pointing out there’s already a rail bed surface there and it’s just a question of taking the rail and ties up to convert it into a walking, cycling, usable, functional trail.

But he also told the News Bulletin he doesn’t want to say one is exclusive over the other when it comes to taking out rail for trail or building trail alongside it and said there might be combined efforts. He’d prefer to see rail converted to a cycling and pedestrian option as opposed to what it’s currently operated as today, he said.

Five councillors supported the motion Monday including Jim Kipp, who said the rail has been unsuccessful for a number of years and he doesn’t support the dream of the train right now. He does, however, support multipurpose modes of transit that could fit on such a trail.

Coun. Diane Brennan opposed the decision, saying she’s a strong believer in the corridor from Victoria north. She sees no reason why there can’t be rail and trail, while Coun. Ian Thorpe said he feels the corridor is a valuable asset to connect communities up and down the Island and should be a multi-use corridor.

He also said there are opportunities for the rail line to be used effectively and to support the economy.

“Trails with the rail yes, but limiting our options simply to trails I cannot support,” he said.

Mayor Bill McKay told the News Bulletin the rail to trail group members are campaigning to lift the trail from Parksville north and while he understands they are getting some reception from local governments, they are not getting the same level of acceptance of their idea throughout.

McKay is no longer on the board of the ICF, but said the corridor foundation does not object to a group like this seeking support because it seeks direction from its stakeholders. If the group were to convince the majority of stakeholders that this is the direction ICF should take, the board has no alternative but to follow that direction, he said.

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