|It has been a few months since we last provided and update on the activities of the Island Corridor Foundation. It has been an exciting but also challenging few months for us!
The Premier called a meeting of the “Stakeholders”, to discuss the future of the corridor, which was held on December 10, 2018. The meeting was attended by First Nations, Regional District Representatives, and Municipal leaders. As the owners of the corridor, we were pleased to be invited to this meeting. There was a very robust discussion with several views and visions put forward. There was no consensus as to what the future of the corridor should be as it became clear that in order to be successful any development of the corridor needed to address the differences in the regions where the corridor runs. That being said, overwhelmingly participants did agree on the following points:
a) The reinstatement of rail to the entire island is a critical infrastructure project that will provide long term economic, social, and environmental benefit to the residents of Vancouver Island.
b) A commitment is required from the Province to move forward with reinstatement of rail service on the entire corridor including Victoria to Courtenay and Nanaimo to Port Alberni
c) It is understood the project can be completed in phases and the first phase should concentrate on the urgent needs of the Capital Regional District with work continuing until rail service is reinstated on the entire corridor.
d) The project must move forward quickly to avoid delays emanating from the Federal election.
e) The Province needs to work collaboratively with the Island Corridor Foundation and other agencies to bring this project to completion.
Shortly after the Stakeholders meeting we were very pleased to be contacted by Minister Trevena, wherein she advised the Province had heard the Stakeholders, and were prepared to move forward with the ICF to do an assessment of the corridor, to ascertain its current condition. We readily agreed as an assessment is required as a critical first step in getting this project off the ground.
Early in January we met with Ministry staff wherein they introduced an outline of an assessment, that in our view is far more in-depth than is required and will take far longer to complete than it should. This was an RFP based on the same RFP that resulted in the IBI study from 2010. They advised that the assessment would not be as in-depth as the IBI study however it would still take until October of 2019 to be completed. In addition, once completed, the assessment would then be fed into the South Island Transportation Study, slated for completion in March of 2020, to determine if rail is even required. Assuming there is a decision to reinstate rail, there will be another round of RFP’s for the design of the service and likely another for the actual upgrades to the corridor. Given this timetable, with no delays, we do not see rail starting until at least the spring of 2021 or later.
While we agree with the need for the assessment, we certainly do not agree with the approach, or the timing. We believe any railroad construction company can complete an assessment of the corridor within 21 days. In addition, we also believe that service design can and should be completed in parallel to the assessment. If that approach were taken, we could see rail service in place on the island well before the release of the South Island Transportation Study.
In recent public comments the Minister stated, “The ministry is also committed to working with members from indigenous communities up and down the corridor to ensure all governing partners are a part of any future decisions surrounding this corridor.” Certainly the ICF understands the concerns of our First Nations partners, and the governing partners the Minister refers to. The ICF is constituted with the 14 First Nations along the corridor, and each of the Regional Districts on the island, they share equal numbers of seats on our Board. We own the corridor, and we represent the parties to which the Minister refers, so she can be assured by working with the ICF, any future decisions surrounding this corridor are being carefully considered by those she mentions.
So what are the next steps?
We have been working with our members in an effort to have the Province reconsider its approach to restoring rail service to the island, and also to bring the project timelines into line with the expectations established at the Stakeholder’s meeting.
During our town hall meetings, and through social media, many of you have asked how you can help. Contact your local MLA, the Minister, or the Premier, either by telephone or in writing, to express your support for getting this project moving. Of course, you can also write to local newspapers or community publication in support of moving this project forward without delay.
We know the only way this happens is with your support and we do appreciate it! We will continue to work on your behalf and will keep you posted as to how things progress.