LETTER – The cost to provide modern rail service is a bargain compared to the alternative

File photo of the Island Rail corridor, formerly known as the E&N Railway. The Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island advocate for multi-use pathways from Courtenay to Victoria.

File photo of the Island Rail corridor, formerly known as the E&N Railway. The Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island advocate for multi-use pathways from Courtenay to Victoria.

Dear editor,

Why is Friends Of Rails to Trails-Vancouver Island (FORT-VI) taken at face value?

What motivates people to misrepresent what the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation (SNA) v. Attorney General of Canada and Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) court rulings mean?

The 2020 SNA v. AG of Canada and ICF decision indicated use it (for a railway purpose) or lose it: “[139] …If, for example, ICF had plans to tear up the tracks and use the Lands for a non-railway purpose or if ICF ceased its efforts to resume rail traffic, then the court could find the Lands were not being used for a railway purpose and declare the right of way extinguished.”

In September, 2021, the BC Court of Appeal set a deadline of March 14th, 2023, after which, the BC Supreme Court would hear arguments to extinguish the rail right of way, placing the responsibility with Canada: “[100] …I consider a period of 18 months from the date of this judgment sufficient for Canada to determine whether it will approve funding for infrastructure improvements on the segment of the corridor that includes the SFN Reserve. If it determines not to approve funding, or does not make a determination on or before that time, the appellant will be entitled to return to court to enforce its right of reversion.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has provided perhaps the best legal opinion available on the matter by refusing to hear the case.

This has been pointed out to the folks at FORT-VI repeatedly, in the media and directly by the ICF, yet they continue to ignore reality as though the court decision either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. Why suggest that we can “railbank” the corridor even though it is clear that railbanking is an American phenomenon that is not applicable in Canada’s regulatory environment?

FORT-VI has often been asked to work with the ICF to explore trails alongside rail, however, nothing short of tearing up the only available transportation corridor on the Island will satisfy them.

The ICF is equally owned and governed by First Nations and regional districts. The business case did not include provisions for reconciliation because restitution for the entire E&N land grant is up to Canada and each First Nation individually. Why does FORT-VI disrespect the Indigenous people who have been instrumental in preserving the corridor, and those who would benefit from affordable, green, community-supporting passenger and freight rail?

Whatever the cost to provide modern rail service, it is a bargain compared to adding lanes to the already congested Island Highway, especially through Goldstream Park. The repairs to 80m of retaining wall, and 50m of one lane, on Tunnel Hill, compromised by last year’s atmospheric river, are taking over 18 months to complete, and are projected to cost $24 million.

Kerry Davis.

Vice President , Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition

Letter to the Editor

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