A $15-million commitment from senior levels of government translates into 10 years worth of passenger rail service from Courtenay to Victoria, says Island Corridor Foundation chief operating officer Graham Bruce.
Appearing Tuesday before the Comox Valley Regional District board, Bruce said matching $7.5 million contributions from the province and federal government enables the ICF to move forward incrementally. The E&N Railway operator will be able to replace one in four rail ties on the decaying line from Victoria to Courtenay, which is sufficient to build out freight, excursion and tourist rail. A repaired line also enables the hauling of aggregate across the Malahat.
Bruce said there are other pieces to the project, such as a rail trail along the line conducive to hiking or biking from Courtenay to Victoria. A refurbished three-car train will be able to carry bicycles.
Another feature is a new schedule. The hub will be in Nanaimo with an early-morning southbound train to Victoria, later heading to Courtenay and returning to Nanaimo.
“We see a broader future, build it as we go,” Bruce said, noting a new station in Nanaimo has set the bar at a high standard. “The community support here in Courtenay has been tremendous.”
At the end of 10 years, Bruce said the board “as owners” might need to make another decision if further improvements are needed.
“It will take time for us to get there,” he said, noting passenger service is the first priority. “I believe we can find our way through these challenges.”
In response to a question from Courtenay director Manno Theos, Bruce said the biggest challenge is dealing with a multi-million-dollar replacement value of 48 structures outlined in a bridge and trestle report, and a train service agreement with VIA Rail.
Bruce and the board met in-camera following the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
The ICF — which owns the rail corridor between Courtenay and Victoria — is a partnership between First Nations, and regional and municipal governments.
Along with the $15 million, another $5 million needs to be raised possibly through the Island Coastal Economic Trust or Vancouver Island Foundation to help restore the E&N Railway service.
Passenger train service was suspended when the line was no longer deemed safe and funding was not available to repair decayed rail ties and loose bolts, among other problems. There had been a self-powered passenger car running daily along with a freight service. The latter has continued to operate.