More than $700 million in upgrades and maintenance would be needed to get the Island Rail Corridor – formerly the E&N Rail – up and running again and even more to implement commuter service.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) released an assessment of the rail corridor on April 28. The entire length of the track was assessed to provide information for use by the government on future potential investment on the route owned by the Island Corridor Foundation.
According to a summary report, overall results show that the railway corridor is in poor to fair condition, with the Victoria section in the poor to fair range and the Port Alberni section in the poor range. Main issues include uncontrolled vegetation in and near the rail corridor and the number of decayed ties exceeding regulations set out by Transport Canada.
The report says single shoulder plates and angle joint bars used on the corridor are also considered “older technology” and negatively impact track performance.
Bridges are anywhere between poor to good condition depending on the age, location and type of bridge. At-grade crossings are in a fair condition but in some cases, are overgrown with vegetation or require improved warning systems.
Improvements have been recommended based on a phased approach which was developed as part of the MoTI study. It entails three phases.
The first phase includes costs to upgrade infrastructure to re-establish freight and passenger service of about two to four passenger trains per day and two to four freight trains per day. This phase is estimated to cost $326,448,391.
The second phase would further upgrade infrastructure and accommodate increased freight and passenger volumes at higher speeds. There would be four to eight passenger trains per day and four freight trains per day with up to 4 million tonnes in weight per year or 133 cars per day total. This phase, combined with the initial phase, is estimated to cost $552,023,932.
The third phase would support even higher freight and passenger volumes and is optimal for the implementation of a commuter rail service, which has its own costs. This phase, including the costs of the two previous phases, would bring the total to $728,778,304.
Implementing commuter rail service would add an additional estimated $595,029,867. It would involve work such as signalling upgrades, land acquisition, a maintenance facility and phased improvements on the Victoria to Langford corridor.
MoTI is currently developing a South Island Transportation Strategy, focusing on the efficient movement of people and goods. The strategy will look at all modes of transportation across southern Vancouver Island, including rail, and is expected to be released in June.