The Comox Valley Regional District and four other regional district members of the Island Corridor Foundation are being asked to contribute $3.2 million toward repairing 48 bridges along the E&N line between Victoria and Courtenay.
Last spring, senior levels of government committed $15 million for railroad infrastructure in an effort to rebuild the Island railway. Improvements will provide an incremental approach to restoring and expanding passenger and freight service on the Island. The plan resulted from a 2010 Ministry of Transportation study.
The regional contribution is essential to maintain rail services and to provide an alternate mode of transportation, says ICF co-chair Mary Ashley. She said federal and provincial funding is in jeopardy without the regional funds.
Re-establishing a viable rail service has been a priority for Island communities since 2004 when districts, municipalities and First Nations rallied to save the railway from closure.
The first step was to form the ICF and acquire ownership of the railway. The second step was to partner with a rail operator. The third step is incremental rebuilding.
An improved railroad would allow a new train service agreement to be negotiated with VIA Rail. Improvements include upgraded passenger cars and scheduling changes. It would also encourage Malahat commuters to leave vehicles at home.
Ashley said the $3.2 million represents 43 cents per $100,000 of assessment. The cost for a $400,000 property, for example, would be $1.72 per year for five years.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula, a member of the ICF board, supports the idea of a tax levy. Noting the railway is both a transportation and recreation corridor, he said an improved service can help the tourism sector, as well as farmers and business people in terms of moving freight and products.
“There’s just so many possibilities for that railroad,” Jangula said, noting the advantage of transporting goods by rail rather than truck. “If we don’t fix it, we will lose it for good, and if we lose it for good we’ll never get it back.”
Jangula also notes the availability of a steam locomotive that could be used on the line.
Along with regional districts, the ICF is approaching private industry and lenders, among other possible funders.