Shutdown of Vancouver Island passenger rail service could be permanent unless $15 million in repair cash arrives soon from Ottawa and Victoria.
“As things stand today, without a commitment for the $15-million investment by late spring, the Island Corridor Foundation will have to develop a plan for an orderly shut down of rail service,” Graham Bruce, ICF’s executive director, said Wednesday.
Recent replacement of 1,500 worn-out rail ties between Victoria and Nanaimo was hoped to get train service back on track after it was stalled March 21.
But with ICF’s funding requests now in limbo during federal election campaigning – and a possible B.C. vote sometime this summer – Bruce fears Island train service could be history.
“Public service can’t be reinstated without substantial capital improvements,” he told Black Press.
That means replacing about 104,000 ties – not just 1,500 – plus track ballasting and hefty bridge and trestle assessments, to bring the line to safety snuff.
Crews realized how bad the line had deteriorated after initial tie replacement was done.
“It was apparent we couldn’t get the track to the safety standards and be comfortable with it,” Bruce said of inspections after the 1,500 ties were spiked.
“We gave it the old college try.”
Don McGregor, general manager of Southern Rail Vancouver Island, the company contracted to run Island rail freight for the ICF, said his trains continue to roll out of the Nanaimo railyard for customers in Duncan and Courtenay.
But they’re running at a slower-than-usual pace to meet safety regulations due to the deteriorating track conditions.
“That’s not practical on the passenger side,” McGregor said.
With the Dayliner already operating at a reduced speed, the round-trip between Victoria and Courtenay was taking 10 hours.
“It would take two days to get back to Victoria,” if the trains slowed any further, McGregor said.
Bruce has carried the funding football to B.C. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom, and his former federal counterpart Chuck Strahl, optimistic each would kick $7.5 million into the Via revamp.
But it seems ICF upgrades are victims of voter circumstance.
“We need answers now, but I understand the situation,” Bruce said.
He and ICF partners, spanning regional boards and First Nations, are still eager to secure the island’s rail future, and the jobs involved, with a greener option to roads.
“[Debate] needs to recognize the end of cheap oil and the reality of higher gas prices,” Bruce states.
Leaders must also factor costs of more land for future road right-of-ways “and how that simply encourages more of us to continue driving one person per car.”
The $15-million rail fix “could very well be one of the most cost-effective and important socio-economic decisions we can make for the future of Vancouver Island,” Bruce said.
He urged citizens, who are the actual owners of the rail line, to call on government leaders to support the funding nod.
With repairs halting E&N Dayliner service, VIA has arranged chartered-bus service to carry folks between the capital and Courtenay.