Election raises hopes for E&N

Monday’s federal election of a Conservative majority added steam to a drive for $15 million in Island rail upgrades, a valley railroad executive said.

Graham Bruce, Island Corridor Foundation’s executive director, and 10 colleagues with the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities, were stoked with hope about gaining track-and-ballast upgrade bucks after meeting B.C. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom in Victoria on election day.

“Lekstrom is very open to helping make this work,” said Bruce of the $15 million that would be split between Victoria and Ottawa.

“We asked Blair to undertake our request to his new federal counterpart because we need an answer as soon as possible.”

That’s because the Island passenger line’s now closed due to safety worries.

Island freight trains are also running slower pending track repairs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to name his cabinet, including Canada’s transportation minister, in 30 days following Monday’s election of a Tory majority.

That majority includes Tory MPs James Lunney (Nanaimo-Alberni) and John Duncan (Vancouver Island North) whom the AVICC also aims to enlist in the campaign to upgrade the aging passenger and freight lines.

Those tracks would initially be greased by $15 million while Bruce and company chug toward $103 million in total ICF track fixes for hauling freight, Via Rail commuters, tourists and others along the worn E&N line.

“I believe the Tory majority will help,” said Bruce. “It’s good Lunney and Duncan have both been returned to office because they’ve been good allies in our request for $7.5 million  and they’ve ridden on the E&N line too.”

Monday’s other good news heard Lekstrom assure Bruce and the AVICC group he’d carry their $7.5-million request to B.C.’s Treasury Board for discussion.

“We clearly made some headway,” Bruce said of the huddle with Lekstrom.

Meanwhile, Bruce was optimistic about province rail dollars if the Raven Underground Coal Project, proposed for near Fanny Bay, passes an environmental review.

“If they get approval and ship coal to Port Alberni, we want it done by rail. It would be good revenue for the railroad and for capital improvements.”