At first glance, restoring passenger rail service on Vancouver Island is a positive move.
A well-run service would ease pressure on the heavily-used Malahat Drive and provide a more environmentally friendly transportation option, getting residents out of their cars.
But a lot of questions still don’t have answers, including whether the service is even viable on the Island.
The Regional District of Nanaimo gave preliminary approval this week to a request by the Island Corridor Foundation for a $945,000, one-time, grant-in-aid, contingent on ICF’s ability to produce a solid commitment from VIA Rail to reinstate the passenger service.
The money is part of $20.4-million for railway upgrades that would allow a daily passenger service to run between Courtenay and Victoria.
The RDN is one of five regional districts asked to pony up so work can get started on the upgrades. Three have already approved their portion of the contribution.
On top of regional district contributions, the provincial and federal governments have kicked in $15 million collectively, the rail operator is paying $500,000 and the foundation would pursue financing from lenders for the remaining $2.2 million.
The ICF is asking taxpayers to invest in passenger rail, but the question remains whether the Island has enough people willing to use this service to make it a viable business venture in the long-term.
And is this the end of the money train?
Current funds would bring the track up to safety standards for the next 10 years, but then what?
The foundation needs to show this is a solid business, one that taxpayers won’t be continually asked to subsidize.