Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan (Vancouver Island North) and Langford Mayor Stew Young are all smiles after Duncan announced the federal government would chip in $7.5 million to help rehabilitate the E&N track.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan (Vancouver Island North) and Langford Mayor Stew Young are all smiles after Duncan announced the federal government would chip in $7.5 million to help rehabilitate the E&N track.

Feds commit $7.5 million for E&N rail line

The federal government will chip in $7.5 million to help fix the E&N rail line between Courtenay and Victoria

The federal government will chip in $7.5 million to help fix the E&N rail tracks between Courtenay and Victoria, a deal that officials describe as critical to restoring rail operations on Vancouver Island.

Dozens of dignitaries packed Langford’s modest rail kiosk Tuesday morning as Conservative MP John Duncan (Vancouver Island North) pledged to match $7.5 million committed by the province last June.

“This will be a positive impact for communities and businesses the length of the Island,” said Duncan, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. “This will help restore passenger service and open freight options for Vancouver Island.”

The $15 million purse will allow the Island Corridor Foundation to replace 104,000 rail ties along 225 kilometers of track and reestablish a VIA Rail passenger service based out of Nanaimo. Last April the track was deemed unsafe and passenger service shut down, although a few low-speed freight runs remain.

“This is a historical corridor and a historical rail system,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young. “This is the day rail service was saved on Vancouver Island. I don’t think we could have let it go for another year.”

Getting the E&N on Ottawa’s radar

Duncan played a crucial role in lobbying his federal colleagues for the $7.5 million, but it wasn’t by chance the announcement was made in Langford. At Duncan’s request, Young made a quiet trip to Ottawa last November to press the business case with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office. The mayor described his trip as a “last ditch attempt” to save the E&N.

“We presented the case from an economic and green perspective, and the fact that if we didn’t do this, we’d lose the (E&N) forever,” Young said.

“I put my two cents in as best I could. We were received so well by the Prime Minister’s staff. They were very receptive to what we were saying. To me, the best move we did was to go back there (to Ottawa).”

Duncan wouldn’t say what was discussed in the meeting with PMO officials, but noted Young’s trip to Ottawa took place at a critical point in the effort to secure funds.

“Being the business man that he is, having (Young’s) support was important,” Duncan said. “His vision is the freight side of the rail line. There is a good case for freight on the E&N.”

Young envisions building truck-to-train transfer stations for commercial freight on either side of the Malahat to help remove heavy traffic from the highway.

“(The E&N) is the best corridor to get people up Island and for job creation,” Young said. “But forget economics, it’s worth it just to save lives. It’s a dangerous road. It was a scenic tour in the 1950s. Now its a deathtrap. We need to get heavy trucks off the Malahat.”

Currently, Southern Railway runs freight from Nanaimo to Duncan and Parksville four days per week, mainly industrial products such as fertilizer, propane, grains and latex barged from the Mainland.

Southern Railway president Frank Butzelaar said repairing the track and reestablishing passenger service signals to business and industry that rail shipping will be viable and affordable, especially for bulk items.

“Certainly we expect to see a resurgence in freight now that certainty exists,” Butzelaar said. “Those that use commercial freight shipping on Vancouver Island knows we are here for the long term and can plan to use rail.”

Fixing the track

ICF chief operating officer Graham Bruce expects the rail operator, Southern Railway, to start repairs by this fall. With any luck, a VIA passenger train could be on track by mid-2013.

Graham estimates about $12.5 million is needed to replace the 104,000 wooden ties and gravel ballast between Courtenay and Victoria. The steel rails themselves will not be replaced.

The ICF also needs to upgrade a number of bridges and trestles with money yet to be secured. Details of a bridge and trestle engineering audit are expected for release on Friday, but Bruce said passenger service won’t resume until a bridges between Nanaimo and Victoria are repaired. Some 48 structures in all need some level of updating.

It’s not clear where that money will come from – the federal government’s contribution comes with the stipulation that the ICF won’t ask for more funds.

Butzelaar, with Southern Railway, estimates repairing the track to be a nine or 10 month process, and expects “a year before trains are rolling.” He described the bridge and trestle repair as an order of magnitude smaller than repairing the track.

“I think everyone is very pleased with the condition of the bridges,” he said. “The work that needs to be done isn’t significant.”

When the track is deemed safe for passenger travel, Graham said VIA Rail has committed a refurbished three-car train. The tentative plan is to run the train from Nanaimo to Victoria early in the morning, make a round trip between Victoria and Courtenay, and then leave Victoria again in the evening to Nanaimo.

“Depending on how things go, perhaps by this time next year we’ll have a passenger VIA (Rail) system,” Bruce said. “Passengers from Nanaimo south can visit Victoria for the day and return in the evening. We think this will greatly improve ridership.”

At the same time, Bruce and the ICF will work on a business case for freight hauling gravel aggregate over the Malahat, and a case for a basic commuter rail service based out of Nanaimo.

The federal shipbuilding contract will only add traffic headed toward CFB Esquimalt, and the pressure is on for some type of intercity rail service. Bruce expects to approach communities along the E&N track with an initial plan by this fall.

“We’re working on a commuter system of sorts,” Graham said. “There is lots of growth on the West Shore. There is an opportunity to help take a bite out of that morning rush hour.”

125 years of history

Dignitaries at the announcement touched on the history of the rail line built by Robert Dunsmuir in the 1880s in exchange for a huge swath of Vancouver Island land, known as the E&N land grant.

Judith Sayers, Chief of the Hupacasath First Nation and chair of the ICF board, reminded the audience the creation of E&N line had deep ramifications for First Nations communities in terms of land rights and treaties.

”What we are trying with the ICF is to take away that negativity, to take something that was bad news for First Nations communities and make it to something that is good,” Sayers said.

“The ICF is about connecting communities. This is a dream come true today. Today the federal grant completes the dream. Now we can dream of commuter rail for (southern Vancouver Island) and maybe that bridge we need downtown,” she said to laughter, referring to the now dismantled Johnson Street rail bridge.

“The E&N has been here for 125 years , we’ve had a train on Vancouver Island for 125 years starting in the old coal mining days of Robert Dunsmuir,” added Mary Ashley, vice-chair of the ICF board. “Today we can see a future for rail, both passenger and freight for Vancouver Island.”

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

Just Posted

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Victoria police continue to look for missing man Tyrone Goertzen and are once again asking for the public’s assistance in locating him. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police put out another call for help finding missing man

Tyrone Goertzen, 33, was first reported missing June 4

Rachel Rivera (left) and Claire Ouchi are a dynamic art duo known as the WKNDRS. The two painted the new road mural at Uptown. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Artistic mural at Uptown brings creativity, fun to summer shoppers in Saanich

Road installation the largest of its kind in Greater Victoria

Kathy and Doug LaFortune stand next to the new welcome pole now gracing the front entrance of KELSET Elementary School in North Saanich. LaFortune completed the piece after suffering a stroke with the help of his wife and son Bear. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
KELSET school in North Saanich unveils welcome pole on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Carver Doug LaFortune completed pole with the help of his son, wife after suffering a stroke

Colwood council is looking at potential summer weekend closures to traffic of a section of Ocean Boulevard at Esquimalt Lagoon, to allow for more of a park-like setting during summer events such as the popular Eats & Beats event, shown here in 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Mayor lobbying for summer weekend closures of beachfront Colwood roadway

Rob Martin to bring motion forward to June 28 council meeting

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

Most Read