The rusting E&N rail line will remain idle a little longer after a federal transportation committee opted not to recommend upgrading the track.
Last Thursday, York South-Westson MP Mike Sullivan (NDP) asked the government to create a “rail infrastructure investment program” in this year’s federal budget, specifically citing the Victoria-to-Courtenay passenger line.
Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison (NDP) also spoke at the meeting, pressing the need for the federal government to match $7.5 million pledged by the province to help repair the ailing E&N.
“Having a functioning E&N is vital to helping alleviate commuter problems on the lower Island, particularly with hundreds of new jobs coming at Esquimalt dockyards,” Garrison said. “We need the E&N running so we can help these shipbuilders get to work.”
The motion didn’t specify dollar figures. The federal committee voted down the program request, with the single Liberal and four NDP members out numbered by Conservatives.
“I talked about why it was an important investment, important for passenger service, but also for freight and commuter rail in the future,” Garrison said. “This (money) is an important first step needed to get it going.
“The committee doesn’t really understand how it works on Vancouver Island, none are from B.C.,” he added.
The Island Corridor Foundation, the non-profit which owns the E&N rail line and corridor, estimates $15 million would allow it to upgrade the track and replace 104,000 rail ties between Victoria and Courtenay, allowing a few Budd cars to run again. It reckons $100 million would allow a major overhaul of the entire track and rail bridges.
Had the transporation commitee approved the resolution, there is no guarantee the federal government would commit the money — the committee can only make recommendations.
Garrison argues the motion would have added pressure on Transportation Minister Denis Lebel to dedicate funding to the E&N in the upcoming federal budget, expected in the last week of March.
“The idea is about trying to build a case here. We want the feds to match the money soon or we’ll miss the whole construction season.”
On the bright side, he pointed out the minister has never said “no.” “The minister says they’re looking at it. They’ve never said ‘no.’ If they really didn’t want it, I think they would say so. I think it’s being actively considered.”