Southern Railway of Vancouver Island (SVI) expects passenger train service to return to the Island by the end of next year or early 2017.
The operator of the E&N Railway said Friday it has sign-off on all funding except $7.5 million from the federal government, which was held up because of the election.
But the company expects an agreement in principle will be signed by early-2016, after which it can go to tender and rehabilitate the track. The plan is to replace 9,000 rail joints, renew 110,000 wood ties, add 56.5k tonnes of ballast, and lift and resurface the track.
“We have an agreement with Via Rail to be the operator of the Island passenger intercity service, and they have spent over $5 million upgrading three Budd Rail diesel cars for the SVI operation,” said J. Singh Biln, director of community relations at SVI.
“The service will be based out of Nanaimo and entirely in our control in terms of schedule and where we operate. Our initial schedule is intended to reach as many clients as possible but the schedule can be easily adjusted as needed by demand. Our mandate is to increase ridership.”
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. The initial service schedule includes Courtenay on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
SVI is also considering other excursion potential using vintage equipment from the West Coast Railway Association in Squamish.
The Island Corridor Foundation owns the E&N Railway. Via Rail halted passenger service in 2011 due to security concerns.
Senior governments and five regional districts along the E&N line — including the Comox Valley Regional District — have committed $20.9 million to the project. The money is expected to pay for the first step of an incremental plan to improve the line and resume service. But the agreement still needs to be ratified by boards of the three parties.
Via Rail has said it will resume service when the state of the tracks meets its safety requirements.