Will Rail Survive on Vancouver Island?

By Graham Bruce
On the 125th anniversary of rail operating on Vancouver Island it will be decided whether rail will continue to operate or be shut down.
In October of 2010 the owners of the railway corridor, the Island Corridor Foundation, (ICF), a Foundation of regional districts & First Nations, presented the federal and provincial governments with a $15 million infrastructure investment request to secure the future of Island rail.
As things stand today without a commitment for the $15 million investment by late spring of 2011, ICF will have to develop a plan for an orderly shutdown of rail service.
What does the $15million investment give us? It will replace over 100,000 ties, track re-ballasting and provide $500,000 for a comprehensive bridge and trestle assessment. It maintains 26 rail crew jobs and provides construction and enhanced operational employment.
Not only does this secure the future of rail on the Island it allows for an enhanced VIA passenger service with an early morning southbound train from Nanaimo to Victoria. VIA Rail has committed that three newly refurbished cars will be operating on this line by March of 2012.
These new passenger cars will have bicycle carrying capacity, handicap lifts and a small refreshment galley.
It would also make it possible for a pilot intercity passenger service to be considered between Cowichan and Victoria. A business case is currently being developed by the ICF and BC Transit with cooperation of the Capital Regional District, Langford, View Royal, Esquimalt and Victoria.
Equally important it reinforces the efforts of our rail operator, Southern Rail of Vancouver Island, (SVI), to attract new freight customers to make this a profitable rail operation and provide ongoing maintenance revenues.
One of the contractual obligations SVI has with ICF is to maintain the track at the current or improved grade level. SVI currently spends approximately $1 million annually.
SVI through its sister companies has also recently completed a new rail barge terminal at Annacis Island to improve rail barge service between Nanaimo and the mainland.
Because of the vision and leadership of several Chiefs, Mayors and interested parties this railroad was returned to the people of Vancouver Island in the early 2000’s.
Prior to the corridor being transferred to the ICF the railway had been allowed to deteriorate with the natural result of slower passenger service and less freight being shipped by rail.
In spite of this, rail service improvements have continued to be made and ridership has increased. A new train station at Nanaimo is under construction, a new four mile bridge is in operation and numerous rail crossings including the $5 million crossing at Admirals Road have been completed.
It is ironic that with the substantial railroad improvements and service enhancement opportunities we are in danger of losing a viable transportation option for the people of Vancouver Island.
The debate is not rail versus car or bus, the discussion needs to be about better utilization of existing transportation alternatives. It needs to be broader then our momentary current view. It needs to recognize the end of cheap oil and the reality of higher gas prices. It needs to include the costs of additional land for road right of ways that will be needed and how that simply encourages more of us to continue to drive one person per car.
A $15million investment in Island Rail to secure the continuation of rail service could very well be one of the most cost effective and important socio economic decisions we can make for the future of Vancouver Island.
If you agree, let your MP and MLA know, write the federal and provincial ministers of transportation, email the Prime Minister and Premier, call your Mayor and regional district chair and talk to your Chief and council. Ask your favorite Island federal candidate to publicly support the $15 million infrastructure investment.
If you agree but do nothing, then that is clearly a decision to end rail on Vancouver Island. Your action will make a difference.
Graham Bruce is the Executive Director of the Island Corridor Foundation and a former Minister of Municipal Affairs 1991 and Minister of Labour 2001.

7 thoughts on “Will Rail Survive on Vancouver Island?

  1. Graham,
    I don’t know how you maintain your optimism most days. I fear this whole process will go down the road of the DODO bird if these govt.’s don’t kick in and see the potential, or should I say, untapped potential here ?
    I’ve written several emails and their standard response is we’re working on it ? Obviously , not hard enough. Having participated in all of the ‘get on the train’ conferences, I can say beyond reasonable doubt, there is a alot of talent and enegy to carry this through, If they cough up the funding to make it come to fruition.
    What else can we do ? who else can we bug about this program, I really don’t want to see this fail ! Maybe we need a rally somewhere to get some fire back in the boiler and wind in someones sails ? Ready to go !
    John Hosie
    Rail Enthusiast

  2. When I heard the news that the rail corridor was being “Donated” to the ICF, I predicted that the passenger service that had been part of Island life for over a century would come to an end. The Vancouver Island Corridor has lost money for many decades and with out the vision to creat a true commuter/ freight service, the governing bodies should let it die. This may in turn open opportunities for private parties to do what the Foundation could not accomplish. Please do not get me wrong, I beleive that the Province should step in and provide the funding needed, but remember this is the same Government that divested the Province of BC Rail, and it made the Province money. I think Mr. Bruce you are right,,, call you MLA’s, write the Premier, though I somehow think it a futile effort.

  3. Will rail survive on the island? NO, not unless someone gets on with the the project and just does the work.
    I offered $500 toward the purchase of 1500 feet of used rail, ties and plates. A very small amount I know, the material sold for $2300, a definite deal and I heard nothing from Mr Bruce.
    There seems to be the drive to rebuild with only new materials and upgrade everything to the best european rail standards. It’s not realistic. We have a very old, neglected system that needs help just to survive.
    Let’s go to the recycle store and get what we need cheap in order to keep it running long enough to see if it will catch on going in the correct direction with schedule changes.
    $15 million? I don’t doubt it but it can be a lot cheaper. Try http://www.adamscole.com Railroad ties for re-lay track projects:7/9″ X 8′ ft. Lengths & 6/8″ X 8′ ft. lengths Grade#1. Re-lay ties $25.50 each. That’s US dollars. Let’s buy from them, not sell to them!
    $2.6 million for ties leaves a lot remaining for reballast, track and wages. Used ties would probably give a 10 to 15 year life span seeing the current ones have been in place for 30 years or more.
    As for $500k for more studies on the bridges? what happened to the previous studies with multi million dollar costs? I’ll save you some of the cost, the bridges need work. The steel ones haven’t had any maintenance for 20 plus years and very much need some protective paint at the minimum, you get it, I’ll help put it on. As for the wood structures, may I suggest Macdonald & Lawrence Timber Framing Ltd. the guys rebuilding the kinsol trestle. Seems they have some experience.
    We need the rail system, the 22 hour highway closure April 16th is a great example. Could have moved a few people during that time I think. Or better yet move the millions of litres of fuel that go over the Malahat each week by rail?
    I want to live next to a railroad not a bike path, but just in case I’m checking my tire pressure….
    Paul, 45 years of living on the wrong side of the tracks.

  4. It would be a shame to see this railway disappear when it has so much potential in the future. If the funding comes through I can see a bright future for passenger service along this corridor. The population of Vancouver will only increase in the years ahead and this track connects all of the major cities along the east coast spine of the island.
    As President of Transport Action BC, I’ll do all I can to put pressure on the government to fund this important project. I’ve already sent letter to the Premier and Prime Minister.
    I feel we should highlight all the work that has been done recently in this corridor such as:
    – new bridge at 4 mile road
    – improved crossings at Phipps, Admiral, Sitkum roads
    – new bus exchange near Langford station
    – Nanaimo station being rebuilt
    – the Cowichan Station Area Association adopting a mile
    – the people who voluntarily cleared the Port sub
    – and many more

  5. It’s cp rail’s and espacially railamericas fault that the e&n is in such bad shape. Cp wanted to rip up the tracks and rail America did no maitenace on the track

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