Some Rail Facts Might Help
Graham Bruce, CEO
Island Corridor Foundation
It may be too early to write off rail for Vancouver Island. Here are some points to consider.
First, there are no cost estimates nor is there a business case for converting the rail line to a bus corridor if in fact it could be done at all. Rail corridors were granted for rail purposes and when that use is abandoned significant issues that could impact the integrity of the corridor may come into play. Bridges and signals would all have to be modified or changed, combined with the costly removal of the track and rebuilding of a bus lane. Once removed it is very unlikely track would be re-installed.
Second, VIA Inter-city passenger service is the key to improving island rail use. VIA will provide 3 Rail Diesel Cars (RDC); liability insurance; and an annual $1.4 million operating subsidy. Southern Rail (SVI) has agreed to cover any operating deficiency for a ten year period. SVI will also maintain the track. This means the inter-city service operates without provincial or local taxpayer contributions. Schedules will now be the responsibility of SVI and ICF and better reflect public demand.
Third, the tourist excursion train business case undertaken by the Nanaimo Port Authority and SVI supports an increase of cruise ships that will create a significant positive impact to Nanaimo. Also there are potential benefits to Chemainus and Ladysmith as well as to the McLean Mill & Steam Train attraction at Port Alberni. SVI would be responsible for the operational cost of the excursion train.
Fourth, before the communities of the Capital Regional District give up on commuter train service between Victoria and Langford they should remember the millions of dollars they have already spent on bridge and crossing upgrades over the past 10 years in anticipation of rail being re-instated.
Fifth, using two 3-RDC commuter trains with a passing siding, there is the capacity to move 1200 passengers per hour over the 19 minute route. While these types of trains aren’t very flashy, they are functional for the improved track conditions, easy to operate and available. The CRD or the provincial government would be responsible for operational costs.
Sixth, we are told federal infrastructure funding for track upgrades is available if there is renewed provincial participation. The $43 million Rail Services and Track Infrastructure 2017 Plan can easily be modified if necessary.
Seventh, Southern Rail is one of the best short line rail operators and quite likely the only operator that can make the long term Island rail commitment as they have done. SVI will underwrite the VIA inter-city passenger service, maintain the track and pay a track license fee to ICF.
Eighth, add in the NDP/Green alliance, 13 of 14 provincial Island seats; a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; concerns about climate change; traffic congestion in the CRD; economic opportunities for island communities; much higher gas prices; everyday affordability and rail becomes a real option if you are looking to the future.
Vancouver Island is one of the best places in the world to live. Not fully discovered but it will be and population will increase substantially. Our younger generation today and those who come tomorrow will be glad there is a rail transportation system. So let’s keep buses on the highways and trains on the tracks.