Transportation minister pledges to speak to Via Rail about Island train service


AUGUST 20, 2013
Canada’s transportation minister has promised Vancouver Island rail proponents that she will talk to Via Rail about a protracted dispute over the future of local passenger rail service.
Lisa Raitt quietly met with Island Corridor Foundation officials on Monday during a trip to Nanaimo, where she was attending a ports conference.
“She hadn’t spoken to Via Rail, but will be talking to Via in the next few weeks, and this is one of the issue she’ll be discussing,” said foundation president Graham Bruce, who met with Raitt.
“She understands the constraints we’re working under … and indicated she’d be meeting in the next several weeks with Via. Clearly, with that type of action, it gives us room to keep moving things along here.”
Publicly, Raitt told reporters she appreciated the community support for restarting Island passenger rail service, and is taking the issue seriously, but that it’s up to Via Rail to decide on a new service contract.
Bruce, however, said he was optimistic the minister’s interest in the situation could spur Via to respond to an April proposal the Island Corridor Foundation submitted to restart rail service.
“Any time a minister responsible for a part of government puts on her agenda an item to be discussed, that usually spurs on that agency involved to be proactive,” said Bruce, a former B.C. finance minister.
“It was a very good meeting.”
Passenger rail service on the Island E&N line was suspended in 2011 due to unsafe track conditions. The Island Corridor Foundation has cobbled together more than $18 million in regional, provincial and federal funding to fix the track, but it is contingent on signing a new service deal with Via.
The foundation has proposed a new deal to run trains from the mid-Island to Nanaimo each day, and limit Via’s annual losses, but said the Crown rail corporation is bargaining in bad faith by not responding to its proposal.
Via has said it won’t restart Island train service if a new deal costs additional money.
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