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Comox Valley Regional District gives preliminary OK for grant to railway

Comox Valley Regional District directors have unanimously supported a plea from the Island Corridor Foundation to save the E&N railway line between Victoria and Courtenay.

Tuesday at regional district committee of the whole, directors gave preliminary approval to a one-time grant-in-aid of $392,000 to the ICF, which has asked for assistance from five Island regional districts to repair the decayed line. Support was unanimous.

The ICF is asking for a combined $3.2 million to repair 48 bridge structures. According to Southern Railway — which would operate the passenger service under contract with VIA Rail — a study shows the structures are in better condition than originally thought.

"We're at a crossroads here," Courtenay director Jon Ambler said. "The railway is part of what made Canada. We suffer from the tyranny of distance. We've lost them (other rail lines) at our peril."

Support is subject to approval from the other districts, and to comments from elected officials in Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland to whom a staff report will be forwarded.

"We're very pleased," ICF chief operating officer Graham Bruce said. "This is a big decision."

Districts in the Cowichan Valley, Alberni Clayoquot and Victoria regions have approved the request. All but one member of the Nanaimo Regional District approved a $945,000 request at the committee level.

Approval is contingent on the foundation’s ability to secure a commitment from VIA Rail to reinstate passenger service along the Island rail corridor. The board is to vote on the item next week.

Bruce credits all Island communities and First Nations for banding together to save the railroad, especially in Alberni-Clayoquot where repairs are not necessary.

"They recognize it will benefit the entire Island," Bruce said.

Pending approval next week from the CVRD board, the $392,000 will be funded by a tax requisition. The amount is likely to change pending assessed property values.

According to the district, the public overwhelmingly supports the railway project. Ambler also noted most emails he receives regarding the issue are positive.

"We need to protect what we have here," Area B director Jim Gillis said. While he figures their share will exceed $392,000, Gillis said it's a start.

Last spring, the Province and federal government committed a combined $15 million for railroad infrastructure in an effort to rebuild the Island railway. Improvements provide an incremental approach to restoring and expanding passenger and freight service.

If targets are met with VIA Rail, Bruce foresees construction possibly beginning in the spring, with passenger service possibly going by next October.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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