Watchdog wants ICF to focus on Victoria region

NANAIMO – Proposes rail improvements from Langford to Victoria instead of replacing ties along E&N line.

Instead of using its recently acquired $15 million to fix 104,000 rail ties on the E&N Line from Victoria to Courtenay, a rail watchdog group says the Island Corridor Foundation should focus on establishing a commuter rail service between Langford and Victoria.

Jim Sturgill, a railway consultant, retired E&N locomotive engineer and spokesman for the E&N Railway Action Group, says fixing all of the ties and a few key track components will spread the money too thin and won’t cover repairs needed on bridges and trestles.

“Fifteen million is not nearly enough for all of the work that needs to be done on the entire line,” said Sturgill. “The ICF’s plans say nothing about replacing the many worn-out 100-year-old rails on the route. They have not provided engineering documents detailing all of the work required and costs.”

Last December, the group criticized the ICF for not requesting enough money from senior levels of government.

In 2008, with Jack Peake as co-chairman of the ICF, the organization planned to make a funding request of $103.8 million to repair all facets of the line and reinstate passenger rail service on the line.

Graham Bruce, ICF executive director, defended the 12-member board’s move last month saying $15 million will be enough to get the service up and running, and that ridership will determine if governments are willing to fund the project further.

He couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.

Peake, co-founder of the E&N Railway Action Group, said because the railway, bridges and trestles in the Victoria-Langford area are in much better shape than the rest of the line and would only need about $10 million in improvements, the ICF should start there.

“With huge expansion at Victoria Shipyards, commuter rail would give the ICF a viable project and give taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck,” said Peake. “That’s where the ICF should place its focus.”

Last year the province committed $7.5 million in funding for the project contingent on a match from the federal government.

Federal funding came through last month, which gave ICF the green light to go ahead with its plans with the intention of having passenger service reinstated on the entire 234-kilometre line as early as spring 2013.

In April, Bruce said the ICF is taking a responsible approach to re-establishing service on the E&N Railway.

“We weren’t going to take the taxpayers’ money without being able to complete the work,” he said. “We’re taking a very critical, incremental approach to make sure we can meet our objectives.”

Passenger service was halted on the line and VIA Rail Budd cars were removed more than a year ago after the line was deemed unfit to transport people. Freight service continues, but its schedule was reduced, though it is expected to increase again as repairs are completed.

In anticipation of the renewal of the passenger service, ICF announced that renovated, smoother train cars with amenities like bike and ski storage would greet passengers next year, along with a new schedule that will see an early southbound train travel from Nanaimo to Victoria to encourage commuting and tourism.

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