Parts of the E and N Railway. File Photo

Parts of the E and N Railway. File Photo

Friends of Rails advocate multi-use trail

A group advocating non-motorized use of the E&N railway foresees business and tourism opportunities if the 224 kilometre stretch from Victoria to Courtenay becomes a multi-use trail.

“When the population warrants, when the demand for freight warrants, perhaps then would be time to consider a train,” said Denise Savoie, a former Victoria NDP MP and member of Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island. “It is highly unlikely that we’re ever going to return to this kind of heavy gauge train. So during this interim, why not have a trail that could generate economic opportunities?”

The Island Corridor Foundation owns the E&N line. Via Rail, which halted passenger service in 2011 due to safety concerns, says it will resume service when the state of the tracks passes regulatory inspections and safety requirements. Local and senior governments have committed millions to restore the service, though the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) has withdrawn its commitment of nearly $1 million.

An RDN report suggests there are 41 sections from Nanaimo to Courtenay where train service, with a trail alongside, is virtually impossible. Savoie also notes a Transportation Ministry report that says the freight market is relatively small.

But before discussing costs, the ‘Friends’ are asking government for a cost-benefit study for a multi-use trail.

The group will be making a presentation to the ICF board.

“The mandate of the ICF is to preserve the corridor, improve rail service and build trails. They’re combinations that need to be looked at. There may be sections of rail more feasible for train service than others, but I’m not sure we’re at that point yet,” said ICF CEO Graham Bruce.

The ICF board is updating its business plan. Bruce notes a lawsuit with the Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation also “plays into how one approaches thinking about any types of improvements.”