There could finally be some movement on plans to return rail service to the Island after a meeting on Dec. 10.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said the province organized the meeting and almost every mayor, regional district chairman and First Nations from all along the 220-kilometre E&N rail line that stretches from Victoria to Courtenay attended, as well representatives from the Island Corridor Foundation which owns the rail line.
He said it’s the first time all the major stakeholders in the rail line met as a group with Premier John Horgan and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Clair Trevana.
“I got the real sense at the meeting that the government wants to do something with the railway, and that they are taking it seriously,” Siebring said.
“There seems to be more desire to get the rail service between Langford and Victoria completed first, and we’re not opposed to that, but the Island Corridor Foundation has to look at the whole rail line from Victoria to Courtenay, with connections to Port Alberni, and we need a long-term plan and a commitment for all of the line.”
Larry Stevenson, the CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation, which has long been committed to resurrecting rail service on the Island, said the ICF has talked with Trevena since the meeting and she advised that she, and the premier, clearly heard the views of the participants.
He said the province is committed to moving forward and, as a first step, will work with the ICF to do an assessment of track and bridge conditions on the entire corridor.
“It was agreed this process needs to start immediately so we will be meeting early in January to develop a plan to complete the assessment,” Stevenson said.
“Although this is only the first step in what promises to be a multi-step process, we view this as a significant step forward. We are very pleased the province is moving forward and look forward to working with them to bring rail back to the island!
Passenger train service on the rail line was stopped in 2011 due to track safety concerns, and freight service has also been discontinued on most parts of the Island.
Both the province and Ottawa tentatively agreed several years ago to fund $7.5 million each towards rejuvenating the aging and dilapidated rail line, with local governments, including the Cowichan Valley Regional District, agreeing to come up with approximately $5 million.
The ICF presented a $42.7-million proposal to revive a major section of the railway to the new NDP government late in 2017, with the hopes that senior levels of government would split the costs of the major track upgrades between Nanaimo and Victoria, which is considered to be phase one of the overall project.
Neither the province nor Ottawa have committed to the plan at this time.
Siebring said time is slipping away and the rail line continues to decline, making any repairs increasingly expensive.
He said many of the local leaders at the meeting, including himself, made it clear that they were not in a position to go back to their taxpayers asking for more money for the project without a long-term plan in place first.
“At the end of the meeting, the premier, transportation minister and the government officials took the input we gave them and said they would get back to us,” Siebring said.
“The ball is now in their court.”