By Graham Bruce
When Native and municipal leaders came together to protect and acquire the E&N Railway corridor they understood the complexity of the task at hand.
In forming the Island Corridor Foundation they created a structure that could accept the land transfer from CPR and work to achieve eight objectives one of which is ‘to contribute to safe and environmentally sound passenger and freight rail services along the Railroad’.
The ICF realized the necessity to have a capable short line rail operator to manage railroad operations. To their credit the ICF was able to engage Southern Railway of British Columbia (SRY), one of the best short line operators in North America.
A subsidiary of SRY, Southern Rail of Vancouver Island (SVI) worked with ICF to develop an overall long term infrastructure plan that forecasted a $100 million cost for upgrades to the line.
Discussions with the provincial and federal governments lead to the BC ministry of transportation commissioning a study to review the necessary upgrades and the potential for passenger and freight growth.
The report concluded there was potential but that the ICF should take an incremental approach to infrastructure investment while improving rail service and building demand.
With the professional services of SVI, the ICF developed a $15 million infrastructure plan and improved VIA Rail passenger schedule as phase I of improving rail service and building demand. The plan was released in October 2010 and submitted to the federal and provincial governments.
$10,565,000 would replace approximately 104,000 ties and 974 switch ties; $2,364,000 for ballast, lift (average 2”), tamp, re-line, regulate and trim complete Victoria subdivision, and Wellcox spur; $920,000 for removal and replacement of full toe joint bars with good relay toeless style bars complete with new track bolts, nuts and heavy spring washers; $651,000 bridge re-decking and $500,000 for an engineering inspection and assessment of 48 railway bridges between Victoria and Courtenay.
In June of 2011 Premier Christie Clark announced the $7.5 million provincial contribution and the unconditional release of the $500,000 necessary to complete the bridge and trestle engineering audit.
The bridge and trestle engineering audit will be complete by mid February of 2012. The report will detail the current weight loading for each structure, what will be required to bring each structure to a freight weight rating and, maintenance and capital necessary over 10, 20 and 30 years to maintain the structures.
The phase I plan for passenger service improvements released in October 2010 and presented to VIA Rail described the home terminus to be moved to Nanaimo. This would allow for an early morning southbound train to Victoria before the 8am run to Courtenay, returning in the afternoon to Victoria with a late afternoon train back to Nanaimo.
Ridership on the Malahat VIA train had experience a 10% growth over the last three years of operation despite the general public opinion that it was operating in the wrong direction.
VIA Rail is considering the new schedule and the additional gross operating cost of approximately $500,000. Increased passenger revenues are expected to cover the additional operation cost.
VIA Rail has committed a new three car train that includes a baggage car with the capacity to carry bicycles and a small refreshment galley.
This new train could be available in late spring if the federal government approves the $7.5 million funding application soon.
Barring any unforeseen ‘red flags’ in the bridge and trestle report a concerted effort will be undertaken for a timely federal funding decision.
Over the past several years the ICF Board of Directors has worked hard to meet the varied objectives of the Foundation and to evolve into an efficiently run organization while managing competing demands and interests.
For more information about the ICF, phase II plans and freight opportunities, the new Nanaimo Station, trail building plans along the corridor and to sign up as a ‘Friend of the Corridor’ Islanders can go to www.islandrail.ca .
Graham Bruce is the Chief Operating Officer of the Island Corridor Foundation and a former Minister of Municipal Affairs 1991 and Minister of Labour 2001