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RDN unlocks money to resurect Island railway

Nearly one million dollars has been unlocked by regional district directors vying to bring the railway back to life.

At Tuesday night’s Regional District of Nanaimo meeting, directors voted to contribute the money to the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) project in the hopes of bringing rail service back to Vancouver Island.

The board committed $945,000 to the project representing the RDN’s portion of the $20.9 million required to re-start passenger service that stopped in 2011 due to safety concerns.

While the board passed the motion, the decision was based on a weighted vote (strength by population) where most rural area directors voted against it while most Nanaimo councillors voted to see the money pushed through.

Parksville coun. Marc Lefebvre, who voted against, said he did so “in the interest of due diligence and in defense of the taxpayer.” Adding he doesn’t believe the money will be enough to resuscitate the railway leaving taxpayers “at risk.”

“Despite the Lac Megantic tragedy which has resulted in rail safety standards and liability insurance requirements both being increased, the increase in fuel costs, and the need to build a new train station in Victoria and a repair facility in Nanaimo, $20 million dollars continues to be the total amount required,” said Lefebvre skeptically. “The City of Parksville, over the years, has made its objections clear to the ICF’s $20 million dollar proposal for returning a passenger rail service to Vancouver Island — originally Victoria to Courtenay and now Nanaimo to Victoria.”

Lefebvre vowed to continue voting in opposition despite being “mindful that we on this board who oppose the ICF/SVI plan will never achieve a majority vote.”

He said Parksville will “nervously await the day and time when ICF/SVI roll the dice and get the $20 million dollar maximum project underway.”

Echoing Lefebvre’s sentiments, directer Julian Fell, who represents Coombs and Errington, said “it will either be futile or they will be back with a hat out asking for more money.”

Director George Holme, who represents Nanoose Bay, sided with his fellow directors stating “the railway became defunct because it was running the wrong way — this new plan is still running the wrong way.”

On the other hand, Nanaimo mayor John Ruttan made a last minute plea urging directors to support the railway in what might be the only chance. Ruttan said he understood why there was “dissent from communities north of Nanaimo” but asked directors to “look at the bigger picture.”

“It’s taken us four years to get here and it’s make or break right now,” said Ruttan. “If we wait, the moment will pass — it’s now or never in my opinion.”

The weighted vote passed despite seven directors voting against, including Lefebvre and Fell. The board also allocated $68,000 in grant money from the province, reducing the total required.

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