Island rail supporters are worried the future of passenger rail service on the Island could be in jeopardy.
The concerns were raised Saturday morning as VIA Rail’s Dayliner cars were hauled onto a barge, headed to eastern Canada for refurbishment. Members of the Island Corridor Foundation said there was no indication from VIA Rail as to when or even if the cars will return to the Island.
Graham Bruce, ICF executive director, said he believes the return of the cars is tied to whether the federal government will commit $7.5 million to the $15-million track repair project.
Graham Hill, a founder of ICF and Mayor of View Royal, said taking the cars off the Island without an announcement of funding from the federal government sends the wrong message. He wants to know when the cars will be back and why Ottawa hasn’t committed to repairing the rails.
“I’m a bit discomforted until I see a plan to have those rail cars back,” said Hill. “If we take the rail cars off this land, we have a risk of losing those cars.”
His sentiments are shared by Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan.
“How long will they be gone? And the most important question: are they coming back?” asked Ruttan.
He said the rail corridor is a vital link for the Island and the federal government hasn’t given a definitive answer about funding to repair the rail despite a commitment by the province.
Dayliner service was discontinued in March due to poor track conditions. Freight service continues with trains running at reduced speeds.
The ICF is currently conducting a $500,000 bridge and trestle engineering assessment it expects to have completed by the end of the week.
Bruce said restoring passenger service is dependent on funding to complete repairs to the track. The province has committed $7.5 million to the project and the corridor foundation is seeking matching money from the federal government.
Hill said the federal government needs to explain why it hasn’t committed to funding rail repairs when the service is a vital part of the Island’s future.
“It was the railways that built Canada. It is the railways that will keep us going and it’s the railways that keep us competitive in an international world where things are tougher all the time,” he said.