Ottawa reluctant to enter Vancouver Island rail rift

The federal government appears unwilling to intervene in a dispute between Via Rail and the Island Corridor Foundation over passenger train service on Vancouver Island.
Transport Canada, which oversees Via, says it’s leaving it up to the Crown corporation to negotiate an Island rail contract, even as local foundation officials accuse Via of bad-faith bargaining.
“As a Crown corporation, Via is responsible for running its own day-to-day affairs, such as negotiating commercial agreements and how to deliver its services efficiently,” the federal ministry said in a statement to the Times Colonist.
Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt was not available for an interview, but does have a speaking engagement in Nanaimo on Monday.
She has also been briefed about the railway negotiations within the last two weeks by Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP James Lunney, his office said.
Raitt’s ministry said the government supports a rail network that makes “efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”
“Via is responsible for providing services in as cost-effective manner as possible, with the funding available,” the ministry said.
The federal government has $7.5 million on the table, toward a total of more than $18 million the Island Corridor Foundation could use to fix Island E&N track safety if it first manages to cut a new service deal with Via.
The Island Corridor Foundation has said it needs to finalize negotiations this month or risk losing the funding.
Via has yet to formally reply to a service proposal sent in April, which would set up an early-morning weekday train run to shuttle workers from the mid-Island into Greater Victoria.
Via has said it won’t consider any proposal that increases its costs, and the government appears to agree.
“Via has indicated that all reasonable changes to the operating scenario would be considered, as long as the service could operate within the funding envelope available,” the Transportation Ministry said.
Vancouver Island’s lone cabinet minister, North Island MP John Duncan, has said he’s not getting involved in the dispute.
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