Victoria-area mayors call on B.C. for south-island rail commitment in 2019 budget

The Capital Regional District mayors want immediate action on rail connection between Victoria and Langford. .
The Capital Regional District mayors want immediate action on rail connection between Victoria and Langford. . Island Corridor Foundatin

All 13 mayors of Vancouver Island’s Capital Regional District (CRD) have signed a letter calling on B.C.’s NDP government to put south-island rail on track.

The mayors want a specific commitment from Victoria on the E&N rail line in this month’s budget, along with rapid bus lanes on Highway 1, which they say will reduce greenhouse gases and regional gridlock.

The letter cited a stakeholder meeting in December, at which “most people present expressed overwhelming support for rail use of the corridor,” and said open dialogue has taken place with First Nations about the issue.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island passenger rail soon to be back on track

The letter goes on to demand “immediate action” to get a train running between Langford and Victoria, along with a commitment to expand it to the entire corridor through a “phased approach.”

“While we understand the need for more study for the sections of track beyond Langford, we feel that delaying action on the Victoria-to-Langford segment of the corridor will result in potentially losing federal government funding,” the mayors warned.

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“While you undertake your larger study, please do not delay any further Bus Rapid Transit and the E&N between Victoria and Langford. These two projects do not need further study; let’s fix the track, let’s complete the bus lanes, and let’s get moving people in the CRD.”

WATCH: (Aired: July, 2014) E&N passenger rail plans

The E&N corridor is nearly 290 kilometres long, running between Victoria and Courtenay, with connections to Parksville, Port Alberni and the Nanaimo waterfront.

It is owned by the non-profit Island Corridor Foundation.

Passenger service was scrapped on the line in 2011 due to safety concerns and growing costs to maintain the tracks.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island passenger rail soon to be back on track

The foundation said it met with Ministry of Transportation staff in January; they laid out plans for an assessment of the corridor to be completed by October 2019.

However, it believes that assessment would then be fed into the South Island Transportation Study in 2020, and that any realistic rail service wouldn’t be in place until 2021.

The foundation said it believes a rail construction company could assess the line in full within three weeks, and that design work could be completed in time to have trains running by some time in 2020.

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Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena, told Global News in a statement the passenger rail service on Vancouver Island was discontinued under the former government’s watch and she said they failed to get service reinstated.

She said they are working on finding the best use of the corridor.

“This is no simple undertaking and it comes with many challenges. The tracks have been sitting unused for years, which means they will require significant upgrades. Any solution will require cooperation and respectful dialogue between communities along the route, First Nations, the ICF and the province,” Trevena said.

 “The letter from the 13 mayors acknowledges the importance of ensuring that the process puts reconciliation top of mind. Partnership with First Nations is key to this work and must be in line with government’s commitment to [the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] UNDRIP. It’s crucial that the [Island Corridor Foundation] ICF, as the owner of the line, engages in consultation with Indigenous governments.”

Trevena said before decisions are made around investing money, an up-to-date and in-depth track and bridge assessment is necessary.

“This includes the cost of imperative safety work, including a seismic risk assessment and rock fall review to ensure any passenger rail service meets current day safety standards. This work is happening. The ministry anticipates the assessment to take six months.”