Island MP says he won't intervene over future of Island rail service

Conservative MP John Duncan has no plans to intervene in the dispute between Via Rail and the Island Corridor Foundation over the future of passenger rail service on Vancouver Island. “At this point, I don’t see it as a political issue,” Duncan said Friday. “I see it as an issue between the Island Corridor Foundation and Via Rail.”
The Vancouver Island North MP said Via Rail operates at “arm’s length” from government.
“I know that’s the way I’m treating it, in any case,” he said. “We gave Via a budget to look after the rural rail, and they’re supposed to allocate it on the best priority basis. So that puts everybody on notice that they’ve got to make a strong business case.”
But the NDP’s Randall Garrison said the issue is too important for federal politicians to sit on the sidelines. The Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP wrote Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt last week, urging her to help resolve the dispute and get passenger service up and running again. The service was halted in 2011 due to deteriorating track conditions.
Garrison said he’s hopeful that a new minister will bring fresh eyes to the issue and find a solution.
“The government cut money away from Via Rail, which is making it hard for them to meet their mandate,” he said.
“So on some days, it’s at arm’s length and some days, it’s not. I think the service is so important on Vancouver Island it should be one of those days when it’s not.”
The Island Corridor Foundation accused Via Rail last week of negotiating in bad faith and failing to respond to a service proposal to restart rail service on the E&N line from Victoria to Courtenay.
The proposal was submitted in April.
Via Rail has denied the allegation, saying it responded to the proposal verbally.
The foundation has warned that it could lose $18 million in regional, provincial and federal money if Via fails to sign a new rail service contract by the end of August.
But Duncan dismissed the idea of a looming deadline.
“There’s been deadlines before,” he said. “Like, what’s a deadline? Somebody says there’s a deadline in order to try and get a decision. But I don’t know that there is a deadline.”
Duncan said he’s optimistic that the corridor will be kept alive. But he said the foundation needs to make a strong business cases.
“I think they need to involve some very strong business-oriented people,” he said.
“I know my earlier dealings with Mayor [Stew] Young in Langford were very positive. They’ve got a no-nonsense approach to getting things done. It seems to work well. So he would be one of my first choices to lead a business exercise to get it done.
“I know he’s been involved, but I think he needs to get more involved.”

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