Since February 2006, community ownership of the E&N rail corridor by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) has generated an opportunity to create a larger system of rails-with-trails, linking communities and rural areas along the 290-kilometre corridor.
Local and regional governments along the corridor support the development of rail-with-trails, particularly as it will increase options for active, non-motorized transportation routes within and between Vancouver Island communities and regional districts. While providing a unique outdoor recreational potential, the trail is expected to connect with transit, park and ride systems to enhance commuter use and help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Rails-with-trails can make efficient use of rail rights-of-way, transforming often under-utilized spaces into active, non-motorized, multi-use transportation corridors. Benefits of rails-with-trails include:
- Reduced pedestrian trespass coupled with reduced injury and fatalities: Rail rights-of-way have long been used as informal, illegal pathways for pedestrians as they typically offer the most direct route through communities. These trails are typically located either on or directly beside the active railway trackage. Well-designed trails with adequate separation can help to keep trespassers off the operating portions of the rail corridor thus ensuring safety for both pedestrians and railway operations. The number of illegal track crossings can also be reduced through the design of channelized at-grade or grade separated crossings.
- Beautification and maintenance including reduced petty crime (vandalism, dumping, etc.): Having municipal partners in the care of rail rights-of-way can mean cost-sharing for maintenance (i.e. mowing; weed removal and control) under railway protection. Communities will often feel a sense of ownership and pride in the corridor thus reducing the amount of dumping. Trails within the right-of-way can also provide improved access for specialized maintenance and law-enforcement vehicles.
- Increased public awareness of rail service and the benefits of environmentally friendly transportation: Rails-with-trails can help the public become more informed about the rail industry as well as the economic and environmental benefits of rail service. The rail operator, following trail development, is seen as a collaborator, not an opponent and this can translate to better cooperation between all parties to increase rail business.
If well designed; with appropriate setbacks, separations and crossings; rails-with-trails can provide many benefits to both operators and the communities through which the rights-of-way run. Along with this opportunity comes the task of ensuring consistent and ICF Trail Guideline, covering all aspects of trail development with the additional challenge of ensuring safety for both rail and trail users.