A group concerned the Island Corridor Foundation is heading in the wrong direction on re-establishing the E&N Railway is officially forming to serve as a watchdog.
Jack Peake, co-founder and former co-chairman of the ICF, and Jim Sturgill, who operated trains on the E&N route for more than a quarter century, claim they’re worried about the board’s decision making and planning for the railway, and that the current approach by the board will jeopardize the possibility of passenger rail revival on the Island.
They announced the formation of the E&N Action Group – which also includes Glenn Migneault, a founding member of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association, and Patrick Hind, a railway historian who has published articles on the E&N for 50 years – on Thursday.
Peake said the ICF board is shutting out input from the public and railway professionals that have, in the past, contributed to the decision making process, and that the new action group will push for increased transparency for decision making and financial statements.
“I am concerned that the ICF, a public non-profit organization, is not presenting any detailed plan for the future of the E&N,” said Peake. “I fear that without input from the public and professionals who have been involved with the railway for years, the E&N could be lost. With the VIA Rail cars having been removed from the Island Nov. 5, this concern has never been more real.”
Last January, ICF executive director Graham Bruce notified the Rail Operations Advisory Committee, chaired by Peake and consisting of railway professionals, that its input into the decision making process would no longer be considered.
In May, the ICF decided to remove the cars from storage inside Vic West’s Roundouse to the Nanaimo Wellcox Railyards, where they were stored under tarps.
That move drew criticism from Peake and Sturgill, who claimed damaging mildew would form from trapped moisture.
Also drawing criticism from the action group is the ICF’s plan to ask for $7.5 million from the provincial government, with matching funds from the federal government, to begin repairs on the aging line to bring it pack to passenger rail standards. VIA Rail removed the Budd cars from the Island because the railway was deemed unsafe last spring for passenger service (freight service is still allowed).
In 2008, with Peake as co-chairman, the ICF announced it was making a funding request of $103.8 million, for which a detail plan was presented to senior levels of government.
But the current board’s decision to ask for only $15 million – the province will provide funding only if the feds do, and Ottawa has yet to commit – enough to repair an adequate number of ties to resume the passenger service, led Sturgill to say he fears it won’t be enough to fix the entire Victoria to Courtenay line, and that future funding could be jeopardized.
“Originally that $104 million was going to be spread out over five years but when Graham Bruce came on as our new executive director he said we’d never be able to get that much money up front or even over five years,” said Sturgill. “He said we needed to go for smaller amounts … and then all of a sudden he came back over a year ago saying $15 million is all we need. We questioned that and shortly after we were told out committee was no longer needed. I think $15 million is a good start, but it’s not nearly enough to repair the whole line.”
Bruce was not available for comment.
But Graham Hill, an ICF director, said the entire 12-member board is comfortable with the direction the organization is taking to rejuvenate passenger service along the rail line, and that incremental steps are necessary to receive senior government funding rather than one large project.
In 2010, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation released a viability study and concluded that due to limited volumes of freight and passenger service along the E&N did not support significant infrastructure investment.
“The awareness of the $104 million, which was a robust model, was one that was supported by some 6,000 signatures and all members of the ICF board at the time,” said Hill. “The reality was that the province indicated to us, and so did the federal government, that they were not prepared, they couldn’t find, that kind of money. And so a choice was made … so we ended up with a platform of decision making that was more acceptable to the province justified around the notions of individual lines of business.”
Hill said that being a former B.C. cabinet minister, Bruce is well-versed in how the province operates and how it funds projects.
He also welcomed the involvement and interest of the E&N Railway Action Group.
“Jack Peake is a very significant community resource in the original work that went into shaping and forming the ICF,” said Hill. “We are only going to be as effective in drawing the attention of the federal government to the well-bneing of our Island and our interests, and the ICF is significant to the well-being of the Island, through having good public support and communication.”
The ICF acquired the E&N Railway in 2006 as a donation from Canadian Pacific and RailAmerica.
The E&N Railway Action group can be found online at www.saveislandrailway.org while the Island Corridor Foundation can be found at www.islandrail.ca.