Island rail proponents upbeat on revived E&N


DECEMBER 25, 2013
E&N rail service between Victoria and Courtenay was halted in 2011 because of poor track conditions.
The return of passenger rail on Vancouver Island is inching closer to reality amid positive negotiations with Via Rail, say Island proponents.
“I’m feeling really good about it,” said Mary Ashley, co-chairwoman of the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the railway track from Victoria to Courtenay.
“The frustrating part now is getting all the details done and starting on the improvement of the track so we can get passenger service up and running.”
Both sides are exchanging proposals and clarifying language, after stalled talks this fall required the intervention of provincial and federal ministers.
“We do know that they are going back and forth on a regular basis to put the agreement together, which is definitely progress from trying to get [Via] to the table,” Ashley said.
Via Rail is technically negotiating with Southern Railway of B.C., which would operate the trains on behalf of the Island Corridor Foundation.
Passenger rail service on the Island’s E&N line was suspended in 2011 due to unsafe track conditions.
The Island Corridor Foundation cobbled together more than $18 million in regional, provincial and federal funding to fix the track, but the money remains contingent on a new service agreement with Montreal-based Via Rail.
The two sides appeared far apart a few months ago.
Via insisted it would only consider restarting Island service if it did not cost the Crown corporation any more money. Via has lost between $973,000 and $1.93 million annually on the Island route.
The Island Corridor Foundation wanted to reverse the direction of service, so that trains would leave Nanaimo on weekday mornings and travel into Victoria before heading up to Courtenay.
Previously, trains left from Victoria each morning, frustrating those commuters who wanted to ride the rail into the city to avoid morning traffic.
“We’re convinced starting from Nanaimo is definitely the way to go, and we’re still pushing for that, and so is Southern,” Ashley said. “But I can’t tell you for sure.”
If negotiations continue to make progress, Ashley said she hopes a deal could be signed in early 2014.
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