The Land

The Corridor

The corridor consists of three distinct segments, Courtenay to Victoria, Parksville to Port Alberni, Duncan to Lake Cowichan. The Courtenay to Victoria and Parksville to Port Alberni segments are still in place to operate rail however the Duncan to Lake Cowichan segment has been turned into a trail.

In total the corridor is approximately 295 kilometers in length with a right of way that generally extends 50 ft. in each direction from the center of the track. In some places the right of way is significantly larger however the 50 ft. rule applies in most instances.

Land Management

The staff of the Foundation is continuously engaged in the management of the land which make up with the corridor. That involves the management, development and implementation of crossing agreements, statutory right of ways with various utilities, contractors, and private interests. In addition, the Foundation deals with the day to day issues that arise on the corridor. Working closely with First Nations, regional districts, and municipalities, the Foundation strives to ensure the corridor is maintained and protected

Vegetation Management

In 2006 an Integrated Pest Management Plan (PMP) was prepared by Streamline Environmental Consulting Ltd. in accordance with the BC Integrated Pest Management Act. Streamline Environmental are specialists in environmental management; environmental regulations; and biology & impact assessment.

Within this Pest Management Plan a careful strategy of herbicide application is identified to control vegetation within the railway ballast. As described in the PMP herbicides will be applied ONLY in on the railway ballast (Zone A) to eradicate weed growth and improve safety. No herbicides will be applied in Pesticide Free Zones identified in the Inventory Report.

Ecological Approach to Vegetation Management

ICF commissioned a report by Mr. David Polster on vegetation management concepts available for the E&N Corridor.  The report outlines the Ecological Approach to Vegetation Management.

Mr. Polster holds a M.Sc. (University of Victoria, 1977) in vegetation ecology and has worked in the fields of restoration and vegetation management since graduation. Mr. Polster was involved in the development of a vegetation management strategy for CP Rail in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and was instrumental in the development of the prototype steam treatment machine.

An Ecological Approach to Vegetation Management

Polster Environmental Services

This report outlines an innovative approach to vegetation management based on an ecological approach (Polster and Landry, 1993). The ecological approach to vegetation management seeks to use the natural ecological attributes of the vegetation to achieve the required corridor management objectives. Understanding the manner in which plants grow and the way vegetation patterns develop allows management strategies to be applied that make both ecological and economic sense.
This report outlines the two components of the Ecological Approach: Thermal Weed Control, and Successional Distancing.

Pest Management Plan

This document details the Pest Management Plan (PMP) completed for the E&N Railway Company (1998) Ltd.  The pest being managed in this case is solely limited to intolerable vegetation.

Expertise and input was sought from a wide array of sources including weed control specialists, plant ecologists, government agents, environmental specialists, vegetation maintenance contractors and the public.

A Review of Alternative Vegetation Control Techniques

The Island Corridor Foundation retained Streamline Environmental Consulting Ltd. to conduct a worldwide review of vegetation control methods to determine whether there were available technologies that could be incorporated into vegetation management on the E&N Railway in order to reduce or eliminate the use of chemical herbicides.
This report provides a brief review of the most common technologies that are being considered globally by railway and other right-of-way vegetation managers.  The review also considers innovative solutions that have been proposed by local inventors for use on the E&N Railway. This report found no commercially viable alternative for vegetation management.

Inventory Data Report

This report has been prepared to accompany the Resource Users Database prepared by Streamline Environmental Consulting Ltd.   The inventory of environmental features along the Victoria Subdivision was conducted by Adam Compton, R.P.Bio of Streamline with the assistance of Bryon Reed and Al Kutaj of E&N Railway Company (1998) Ltd.  The inventory required seven field days, and started in Victoria on February 13, 2006 and concluded February 21, 2006 in Courtenay.  This period provided excellent conditions for conducting the inventory: visibility of features was good as deciduous trees had not yet leafed out, and watercourses were readily identified as winter rains provided high base flows but the inventory was outside of the period of storm or flood conditions.

The main objective of the inventory was to determine the location of features along the railway that require specific consideration with respect to the Pest Management Plan (PMP); in particular, watercourses, wells and water intakes.

Vegetation FAQ’s

What types of herbicides will be applied?
The herbicide to be used is glyphosate which retails under the trade name Vantage Plus. This compound is widely used for weed control throughout Vancouver Island and is available at plant nurseries, hardware stores, drug stores, supermarkets and elsewhere. This is a ‘non-residual’ chemical: it is only effective upon direct contact with weeds. Once the herbicide hits soil, or silt-laden water, it detoxifies rapidly. Best available science confirms that with proper use, this herbicide does not pose a health hazard.
Has a Pest Management Plan been prepared for the corridor?
Yes. Streamline Environmental Consulting Ltd. prepared and submitted a Pest Management Plan in accordance with the BC Integrated Pest Management Act. Streamline Environmental are specialists in environmental management; environmental regulations; and biology & impact assessment. This document can be viewed here: Pest Management Program (PDF).
What about in areas close to streams, lakes and human water sources? What about areas around Certified Organic farmland?
The rail operator has prepared an inventory data report that locates all stream crossing, registered wells, and certified organic farmland. These areas are identified within a GIS database as Pesticides Free Zones (PFZs). Using an onboard control system, no herbicides will be applied within 30 metres (100’) of these areas. This onboard control system uses accurate track mileage based on information contained within the GIS database to determine treatment prescriptions.
How is ICF approaching the problem?
The ICF is currently investigating an innovative vegetation management model based on an ecological approach to vegetation management (Polster and Landry, 1993). The ecological approach to vegetation management seeks to use the natural ecological attributes of the vegetation to achieve the required corridor management objectives. Understanding the manner in which plants grow and the way vegetation patterns develop allows management strategies to be applied that make both ecological and economic sense. Working with, rather than fighting against, the natural processes and patterns of vegetation growth allows management activities to be undertaken that achieve the best management for the lowest cost.
Has ICF researched alternatives to chemical weed control?
Yes. ICF commissioned a review of State of the Art Vegetation Control Techniques in May 2006. This study was conducted by Streamline Environmental and included physical, mechanical, thermal, bio-herbicide and other techniques. The study identified no existing commercially viable alternative to chemical weed control.
Where will the herbicides be applied?
Chemical weed control is restricted to Zone A, the ballast section of the right-of-way (6 m or 19.6 feet centered on the track centerline). This ballast section must be maintained in a vegetation free state in order to ensure the continued safety of rail operations.
How will the herbicides be applied?
Spraying will be completed by a certified herbicide applicator using a high rail truck with a shrouded boom. The shroud and the low height of application will minimize the potential for herbicide to drift beyond the track
What is Successional Distancing?
Zone B: Within two meters of right-of-way adjacent to the edge of the ballast section, a healthy cover of low growing vegetation would provide the most effective end state. Ideal vegetation cover in this section is a low-growing cover of grasses and legumes, low-growing forbs or woody species such as kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). Road crossings or pedestrian crossings would be maintained in a low growing cover that does not block sightlines or hide hazards.
Zone C: The remaining zone, furthest from the ballast section, would have the most successionally advanced vegetation cover available. This might consist in the short term of big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and red alder (Alnus rubra) stands with thimbleberry (Rubus parviflora) and sword fern (Polystichum munitum) in the understory. Later, successional conifers could be established under the deciduous species at the successionally appropriate timing. Specific designs for right-of-way vegetation will need to be developed.
What are the safety issues associated with weeds?
Overall Rail Bed Integrity: Maintenance of proper drainage in the ballast section is one of the most critical requirements for a stable track structure. Vegetation on the track structure degrades the ballast, inhibiting proper draining through the retention of fine soil particles and organic matter. This reduces the ability of the ballast to support train loads making derailments more likely and causing line and level problems. In addition, large trees may fall on the tracks creating a derailment potential.
Ability to Brake: Some species such as big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) can deposit large quantities of leaf litter onto the track rails creating slippery conditions for acceleration and braking.
Inspections: Vegetation limits the ability of maintenance crews to properly inspect the rail line to maintain operation safety. Railway personnel must be able to inspect standing and moving trains from trackside in order to observe defects in wheels, bearings, couplings and brake hoses. Excessive vegetation can hide track defects and thus mask potential problems. In addition, coloured vegetation may be mistaken for or camouflage flagging.
Fire Hazard: Many sources of ignition are inherent in the operation of a railway including sparks from brakes, diesel engines, wheels, overheated bearings and the operation of rail-grinding and other track maintenance equipment. Excessive vegetation can serve as potential fuel for these sparks, leading to fires in the right-of-way.
Signal Function: Vegetation can interfere with the electrical operation of switches and crossing signal systems. Some of the switches and detectors used on the line operate using on line-of-sight infrared scanning and vegetation can block the scans.
Visibility: Sight lines can be blocked at crossings and corners by tall growing species restricting visibility and presenting a greater risk of collisions with motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and wildlife. Trackside vegetation can hide hazards such as fallen trees, wildlife or trespassers that may be injured or killed due to vegetation mowing.
Hazards to Passengers and Employees: Vegetation on the ballast section presents a tripping hazard for railway workers. Some species can also present a hazard to workers as skin irritants (i.e. nettles), allergens (i.e. grasses and ragwort); or with sharp thorns (i.e. blackberry).
How does the Ecological Approach to Vegetation Management work?
Plants grow in response to a variety of physiological and environmental factors. Both the physiology and ecology of the plants are applied to the development of management strategies. Understanding the needs of the vegetation cover (or lack of cover) on the different components of the railway allow management systems to be established that provide for lower management costs while maintaining optimal vegetation conditions. In addition, the optimal vegetation conditions outlined above provide a target against which the current or managed vegetation conditions can be measured. The ecological approach is based on two techniques: Thermal Weed Control in Zone A, and Successional Distancing in Zones B and C.
Why is Vegetation Management important?
Development of an effective vegetation management program is essential for safe railway operations. For this reason, the management of railway vegetation is required by law and is regulated by Transport Canada. Where vegetation becomes excessive, Transport Canada can require the railway to cease operation until the vegetation is controlled or can restrict travel speeds, impacting normal operations.
Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, the operator, is subject to the BC Railway Act. Under the Act, the railway has a responsibility to maintain the line in safe operating condition. The BC Safety Authority, the agency responsible for the delivery and enforcement of the Act, has issued orders requiring the railway to control vegetation that jeopardize railway safety.
What is Thermal Weed Control?
Open flame units as well as handheld steam units are widely used in organic agriculture while a variety of hot water treatments have been developed for the treatment of vegetation. High temperature, low-pressure steam can kill vegetation and seeds in a fraction of a second. Steam kills vegetation by “cooking” the plants but has no off-target effects and does not cause weeds to establish in the right-of-way.
The most promising of these thermal alternatives is the use of high-temperature, low-pressure steam to treat the ballast area (tested by CP Rail in the 1980s and 1990s). Trials of a first-generation machine showed positive results with a significant reduction in weed cover. Unfortunately, funds to the program ceased prior to the construction of a second-generation machine. The ICF is working with technical experts to develop suitable equipment for this purpose. The approach will require significant investment in technological development and fabrication.
Who will apply the herbicides?
Southern Rail of Vancouver Island is responsible for the application of herbicides. SVI will use its own staff who are certified herbicide application specialists.
A qualified environmental monitor will accompany the herbicide application crew to ensure that appropriate procedures are being followed.
How will I know when and where herbicides have been applied?
Where public access areas are to be chemically treated, such as at public road crossings, signs will be erected notifying the public of the planned herbicide use. These signs will be positioned on stakes or poles at public crossings and in public areas where concerns about herbicide application have been expressed. The signs will identify the date of treatment, the trade name of the chemical and a telephone number to call for additional information. Signs will be positioned immediately prior to treatment and be left up for at least 7 days following treatment.

Who regulates vegetation management?

There are ten federal and provincial acts and regulations that define the constraints of vegetation management (Streamline, 2005). These include:
BC Drinking Water Protection Act
BC Integrated Pest Management Act
BC Railway Act
BC Water Act
BC Wild Fire Regulations
BC Wildlife Act
British Columbia Safety Authority Act
British Columbia Weed Control Act
Federal Fisheries Act
Species at Risk Act (SARA)

What is the present status of vegetation management in the Corridor?
For the past 10 years very little has been done to manage the vegetation in the E&N Corridor. As the future of the corridor was in limbo from 2001 to 2006 very little investment was made in track maintenance. This in combination with our excellent climate for vegetation growth and poor quality railway ballast has allowed plants to root and grow vigorously. With these conditions, it is difficult to operate rail safely.
In 2006, the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) obtained ownership of the E&N corridor. One of the first major tasks that the ICF has faced is the need to grapple with this significant maintenance issue.