Pilot project the only way to gauge support for up-Island train service
BY GRAHAM BRUCE, TIMES COLONIST
SEPTEMBER 28, 2011
A recent report about commuter rail service between the Cowichan Valley, the Western Communities and Victoria is an unfinished study.
The limited study into establishing a pilot commuter service between Cowichan, Langford and Victoria was initiated by the Island Corridor Foundation with B.C. Transit. Due to a freedom-of-information request, the report was released unfinished without comment by the foundation.
The report is primarily a collection of baseline details that will be used for a more rigorous assessment in due course.
The foundation’s focus is to sustain and improve freight and passenger rail service for Vancouver Island. To that end, a $15-million rail infrastructure application was put before the federal and provincial governments in October 2010.
The province approved a $7.5-million contribution last June. The federal government is still considering the request.
The investment will replace 104,000 ties between Victoria and Courtenay. The improvements will allow for a new VIA passenger service with new passenger cars and an improved schedule, originating in the early morning southbound from Nanaimo and then travelling to Courtenay and returning to Victoria with a final late-afternoon run back to Nanaimo.
The foundation is hopeful the new service will be operating by spring 2012.
However, the purpose of this study was to investigate the feasibility of a pilot passenger commuter service for the Western Communities that might help alleviate traffic congestion.
The foundation needs to review the data collected and test some of the assumptions in the report.
Ridership assumptions and forecasts are difficult to prove, thus the initial idea of a pilot project.
Certainly with the resumption of passenger service and an early morning southbound train into Victoria, there may well be an indication of the ridership interest.
This, however, will not truly reflect ridership potential between the Western Communities and Victoria.
The type of rail cars that could be used is also critical in the assessment of undertaking a pilot project. Using a three-car bi-level model, the train could move about 800 people per trip. The initial concept called for carrying 125 people per trip.
Since most private vehicles on the roads appear to carry only one person, being able to remove 500 or more of them during the peak afternoon and evening rush hours between Goldstream and Victoria might have a significant impact on travel time.
This, of course, is only conjecture – thus the need for a more detailed assessment.
Any solution to the transit issues of the Capital Regional District will be costly, as the $950-million light rail transit plan indicates.
The concept of the pilot project is not to be an alternative to the light rail plan, but rather an opportunity to complement existing transportation systems at a fraction of the cost and offer timely congestion relief.
While the foundation appreciates the public discussion about rail line opportunities, one shouldn’t be in a hurry to write off what this publicly owned transportation corridor might offer, certainly not from an incomplete report.
In co-operation with the Ministry of Transportation, we have started the assessment of 48 trestles and bridges between Victoria and Courtenay. This will provide information on the state of repair, life expectancy and weight loading for each structure.
When this work is complete and federal funding is confirmed, we will replace the 104,000 ties and resume passenger service. We will also look at moving aggregate from the north Island to the CRD by train, and at the possibilities of hauling dangerous goods over the Malahat by rail.
Residents who feel strongly about maintaining an operating railroad on the Island should write to federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, encouraging them to approve the $7.5 million needed to sustain rail.
The south Island commuter pilot project is incremental to providing an operating railroad for all residents of Vancouver Island. Further unbiased analysis and a finished report will determine whether there is merit in this concept.
Graham Bruce is the executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation. He has also served as minister of labour and minister of municipal affairs.
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