ICF RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN
Since its inception the ICF has been focused on the restoration of full rail service on the entire rail corridor. In order to accomplish this goal the Foundation needs the financial assistance of the Provincial and Federal governments. There have been a myriad of studies completed by the Province and the ICF as well as by private interests who also see the value in an operable rail system.
It is generally agreed that restoration of rail service should be undertaken on an incremental basis. A funding proposal for the first phase of upgrades was completed in 2015 and funding of $7.5 million was committed to by the Provincial government. This funding would have formed part of a $20.5 million project budget that would have combined Provincial funding with matching Federal funding along with local municipality funding. The project would have restored intercity passenger service for a minimum of ten years between Victoria and Courtenay. Federal sign off on the project was delayed due to the Federal election and in the interim a lawsuit filed by the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation asking for the return of approximately 1 mile of the corridor which was expropriated when the railroad was built in the late 1800’s. It is our expectation this issue will be resolved by mid 2019.
In December of 2018 the Provincial government called a meeting of the stakeholders to discuss the future of the rail line. The meeting involved the ICF as the owners of the corridor, First Nations, Regional Districts, and Municipalities. Virtually all of attendees voiced the view that rail has to be a key part of any transportation plan for the island and provides considerable economic, social, and environmental benefit to their communities. Those in attendance stated very clearly, they want rail service restored on the entire island and that the Province should work directly with the ICF and do so with some urgency to make it happen.
In January of 2019, the Provincial government announced, that as a first step in restoring service they will be undertaking a new study of the condition of infrastructure on the corridor. They expect to have the study completed by October of 2019 following which there will be recommendations put forward as to how to proceed.
RAIL SERVICE PLANS
Incremental Approach to Restoration
It is generally agreed that rail service can and should be reintroduced on an incremental basis, it should be targeted at the areas with the highest need, and it must also take into the account the unique needs of each of regional areas on the island. While we agree with this approach, as the owners of the corridor, we have a duty to all island residents to see that rail service is implemented on the entire corridor, so any plan moving forward must include a plan for the entire island.
Given the current congestion and traffic issues within the Capital Region District it is likely that any plan to reintroduce rail will focus on the implementation of a commuter type rail service between Westhills and Victoria.
Intercity Commuter Train – Salish Express
Once rail has been restored in the CRD work will begin on intercity commuter service between Westhills and Nanaimo. This service would be designed to provide regular scheduled service and will be the connection to the places we live, work, learn and play. It will specifically be designed to meet the needs of those who commute on a regular basis and will reduce the vehicle congestion on the Island highway. It will also provide a much-needed alternative to those who need it the most.
Operating costs, ridership, the train type, fares and integration with bus service are all part of the research being done.
The opportunity for dedicated weekend schedules from one location to another as an excursion train becomes more plausible with the introduction of Inter-city commuter trains. There may be demand for a weekend ski train to Mt Washington originating from Nanaimo or Victoria during the winter or wine tasting excursions from Victoria to the Cowichan Valley. The only limit to the possibilities is our imaginations.
Tourist Feature Trains
Tourism has become the single biggest economic driver on our island. The cruise ship business continues to grow and thrive on Vancouver Island. The Nanaimo Port Authority has recently completed its new cruise ship terminal at the Nanaimo Harbour. As the cruise ship business grows there is a natural opportunity to operate a feature train from the port to any number of destinations on the island. This will allow visitors to the island to experience the island, its people, and its heritage, in a new and exciting way.
Rail Freight Business
Track improvements will also allow for an aggressive campaign to attract more rail freight business both locally and internationally. The infrastructure investment will give local businesses the confidence in rail service as a reliable means for moving goods and resources. Perhaps more significantly, rail service will help our ports in Port Alberni and Nanaimo become more competitive with other west coast ports. This will assist in the reduction of ships parking in waters around the island while they wait for access to Vancouver.
We can move rail cars by barge from the port of Nanaimo a new rail barge facility at Annacis Island on the mainland. This location connects Island trains with four class one railway companies that move product all through North America. It will become a vital link for economic growth on Vancouver Island.
Moving Freight by Rail
Southern Railway of Vancouver Island (SVI Rail Link), ICF’s rail operator since 2006 and a division of Southern Railway of British Columbia (SRY Rail Link), moves freight on Vancouver Island and beyond. Through SRY’s connections to the North American rail network, shippers can access domestic markets in North America and export markets throughout the world. Animal feed, propane, industrial and forest products are among the many goods SVI Rail Link handles on and off the Island.
To get to the Lower Mainland and connections with North American and export markets, rail cars are shipped by SVI sister company, Seaspan Coastal Intermodal, via SRY’S new Annacis Rail Marine Terminal. At its New Westminster interchanges, SRY provides connections to four Class 1 railways – CN, CANADIAN PACIFIC, BNSF and UP – allowing customers to reach North America and export market destinations.