As rail supporters want to get rolling, critics skeptical

Rail supporters welcome news of an operating agreement to resume passenger rail service on Vancouver Island, while critics remain skeptical.
The document itself, a rail agreement between the Island Corridor Foundation and Via Rail, which pays for the service, still needs to be signed by Via Rail board of directors and the ICF boards.
That is seen as a minor detail by Don McGregor, Southern Rail Vancouver Island’s railway, infrastructure and improvements project manager. He calls the deal, reached earlier this week, a “big accomplishment,” with the final signatures more of a formality compared to the time it’s taken to reach the agreement.
Passenger cars last rolled on the Island in the spring of 2011.
McGregor can’t share scheduling details yet, but said communities north of Nanaimo will get service, and the new agreement gives Islanders considerably more control over scheduling than ever existed in the past.
The deal calls for the Crown corporation to contribute $1.45 million a year toward operating costs, far short of the $3 million annual contribution ICF executive director Graham Bruce wanted. Bruce could not be reached for comment.
Parksville Mayor Chris Burger, one of the most vocal critics, said this latest announcement is what Via has offered all along, and the real test will be whether the $21 million improvement fund will be enough to fix the railway.
“I don’t get all excited with announcements and agreements,” Burger said. “What happens, when they run out of money half way through? Who’s going to pay for it?” McGregor, a veteran railway man, insists fund is enough.
“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever. The total is $20.9 million, including all the track and bridge work. We’ve looked at it very closely, we’re confident we can that up and running with safe service for our 10-year target.”
For McGregor, the biggest obstacle is getting the agreements signed as soon as possible, so service between Nanaimo and Victoria can start in spring, followed by Parksville, then Courtenay by fall, 2015.
To do that, construction needs to start in early fall, and “we’d need a little bit of lead time for the tenders,” McGregor said.

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