The bridges on the Island rail corridor need $5.4 million for passenger service upgrades to operate over the next decade, according to a report conducted by Associated Engineering on behalf of the Transportation Ministry and the Island Corridor Foundation.
The federal government announced recently it will provide $7.5 million to help restore the E&N Railway service from Courtenay to Victoria. The contribution matches that of the province, which last year announced it would provide the same amount for infrastructure improvements, conditional on federal funding and an engineering audit of 48 structures on the rail line.
Passenger service had been suspended when the line was no longer deemed safe and funding was not available for repairs. The report suggests $34 million is needed over 30 years.
The ICF will cover bridge upgrades through other sources such as the Island Coastal Economic Trust, said chief operating officer Graham Bruce, but will be able to undertake the necessary rail road repairs with the government contributions.
The rail tie replacement project and bridge repairs would complete Phase I of the ICF’s incremental rebuilding plan to improve passenger, freight, and excursion and tourist service. Repairs are estimated to take a year to complete. A new VIA train and schedule will then originate from Nanaimo.
“Instead of running in the morning from Victoria to here, there’s going to be probably two trains run out of Nanaimo.
“So one will go south and one will go north,” said Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula, who represents the Comox Valley Regional District on the ICF board.
VIA Rail has committed a renovated three-car train that will include bike carrying capacity, baggage storage and a refreshment centre.
Southern Rail has developed a plan to transport coal by rail if the Raven Coal mine proposed for Baynes Sound is approved.
Trucking coal to Port Alberni is among the complaints of people opposed to the contentious Raven proposal.
“If this coal mine were to happen, it would be logical that there’ll be some discussion here,” Jangula said. “Why in the world would we run those trucks over that Malahat, which is a very busy and at wintertime quite a dangerous piece of highway, when you’ve got a railway line there?
“Once we get this done we’ll be back up to a heavy freight capacity,” Jangula added. “That means we can haul gravel, we can haul lumber, we can haul grain, we can haul anything.”
And more passengers, added Jangula, noting the profit potential of double decker passenger coaches rather than single coaches.
Besides the Courtenay to Victoria run, the railway line extends from Parksville to Port Alberni.
“Putting $20 million in perspective, when we build a new police station it will cost $20 million,” Jangula said. “I think it’s a pretty good bang for the buck.”
He notes the possibility of getting a steam train on track.
“People love steam trains. It’s a romantic thing. People of all ages are attracted to them.”