Talk about resuming Vancouver Island train service continuing

It doesn
It doesn't seem like trains will roll into the Courtenay station anytime soon.
— image credit: File photo

The Island Corridor Foundation had hoped for railway track repairs to begin in the fall of 2013, but an agreement has yet to be finalized with VIA Rail.

The ICF, which owns the Island railroad, has secured $20 million from three levels of government for track and trestle improvements. Funding depends on passenger rail service being re-established.

Both sides say negotiations are ongoing.

Foundation chair Mary Ashley says Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, the ICF rail operator, has been quietly working with VIA to develop a train service agreement that will restore passenger rail service for the Island.

VIA Rail and the ICF have been exchanging documents in an effort to provide necessary language to complete the agreement. Ashley is confident the parties will be able to meet the constraints of VIA and the wishes of the people of Vancouver Island.

“It has taken a great deal of patience and perseverance for everyone to get where we are," Ashley said in a news release. "It would be a wonderful gift for Islanders if the parties could complete the agreement early in the New Year."

Southern Rail has made a long-term commitment to the foundation, she added. Ashley notes the company continues to operate freight, and believes there are bonafide rail opportunities for excursion, commuter and inter-city service.

A return train used to run daily from Victoria to Courtenay. An improved service calls for an early morning train from Nanaimo to Victoria and then the Victoria — Courtenay return schedule with a late afternoon run from Victoria back to Nanaimo.

VIA Rail spokesman Jacques Gagnon said the service was interrupted due to security concerns.

"That remains the paramount element of discussion," he said, adding the company would not incur an additional operating cost deficit, which was $1.4 million in 2011.

"If we were to resume service, taken that the tracks would be declared safe, we wouldn't want to go beyond a $1.4 million operating deficit for the service, because we are a non-mandatory Crown corporation with a commercial mandate, and we have to be accountable to the government of Canada — i.e., taxpayers — and we have to manage our operations accordingly."

Gagnon said Vancouver Island is not the only Canadian region where VIA Rail is experiencing security issues. The same thing is happening in the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, where the track is not deemed safe for passenger travel.

"It's concern for our employees and passengers, especially in 2013 with all the tragic accidents that have taken place," Gagnon said, noting the company serves 450 communities. "We have our challenges ahead of us constantly."


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