By Graham Bruce
Should the five regional districts, which are part owners of the Vancouver Island rail corridor, contribute to the rail infrastructure renewal project?
That is the question regional directors of Nanaimo, Alberni-Clayoquot, Comox Valley, Cowichan Valley and the Capital districts will be asking themselves over the course of the next several weeks. It’s also the question Island residents should be asking themselves.
What is at stake is the survival of rail on the Island.
The five regional district members make up half the ownership of the Island Corridor Foundation. The ICF holds the land and rails on behalf of the five regional districts and 13 First Nations. It has secured $15 million in federal and provincial funding and has asked regional districts to contribute $3.2 million as a share of the rebuilding plan. The ICF will fund $2.2 million and the rail company will contribute $500,000.
If the project is lost, freight train service will discontinue and it is likely the rails will eventually be removed, ending 126 years of rail operations.
The ICF has developed an incremental rebuilding plan as a result of the extensive ministry of transportation study completed in October 2010.
It has also negotiated a 25-year operational agreement with Southern Rail of Vancouver Island. The rail company, part of the Washington Transportation Group, will be responsible for all rail operations and maintenance, plus the development of new viable rail services for freight, passenger, excursion and tourism.
Some will argue against the regional contribution. If successful in influencing regional politicians, they will be able to take credit in ending Island rail.
However, if regional board directors hear the voices of support for rail, it may encourage them to fund their $3.2 million share. Based on assessment it would be approximately $0.43 per $100,000 of assessed value. For example, the cost for a property worth $400,000 would be around $1.72 per year, for five years.
The critics will bet there is no future for rail and they may be right. But for the sake of a $3.2-million investment in a $360-million transportation asset it’s not a good bet.
Better to invest the money, repair the railroad, allow 10 years of aggressive rail development by our rail operator and then decide if there is a long-term future.
No doubt personal or regional agendas can easily override this pragmatic incremental approach to determine the future of Island rail. It will take Island-wide voices that speak in support of this common sense renewal plan for Island rail service.
Write the regional district directors and tell them how you feel. You can find their addresses at www.islandrail.ca.
Graham Bruce is the chief operating officeer of the Island Corridor Foundation.