LETTER – Rail service north of the Malahat is simply not sustainable

Dear editor,

The Nov. 7 article Rail Lines on the Horizon for the Island, is extremely optimistic if not misleading. ICF CEO Larry Stevenson knows that reinstating a railway north of the Malahat makes little sense; this has been the case for much of the E&N’s history. Mr. Stevenson admitted last fall he had no business plan for Island rail and stated he had no interest whatsoever in further studies to determine the actual cost. He also stated clearly that he expects a blank cheque from government to implement his plans. His rationale is that rail on the Island should be paid for and subsidized by the government just like BC Ferries and BC Transit.

This is absurd. BC Ferries currently moves nearly 2 million people a month. Transit systems in greater Vancouver and Victoria are also moving millions of riders. The E&N train transported 15-20 people a day on average during its last years.

It’s not like BC Ferries! The cost to reinstate the railroad on the existing E&N corridor was estimated in 2011 at $600 million, with large annual subsidies required to keep it afloat. Eight years later you can easily double those costs. Mr. Stevenson references a 10-km rail project in Surrey approved at a cost of $2 biillion. The E&N corridor is over 300 kilometres long! And, since it was built below standard in the 1880s, the tight curves + over 200 level crossings added since then mean high-speed service is not an option. The best it can be on the existing corridor is 60 kph.

Rail is a useful and efficient means of transportation in highly populated areas where revenues can support operations. But it makes no practical, financial or economic sense on Vancouver Island, at least north of the Malahat. It’s time to rethink “best use” for this valuable and neglected corridor. A continuous multi-use trail from Courtenay to Victoria can be accomplished for a fraction of the cost of rail and offer economic opportunity to everyone along the corridor. Obsolete rail corridors throughout North America continue to be successfully converted to use as trails. They benefit local economies through tourism and provide safe alternative routes for all off road users. Plenty of similar conversions exist here in BC and one need only look to the Riverway Trail and the One Spot Trail for local examples.

Train service in the greater Victoria district? Sure, a case can be made for that. But Malahat north it’s time to put this corridor to use – a better use.

Jim Smiley,

Courtenay

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