Railways lose money — always have

Dear editor,

There has been some recent discussion and requests for additional funding for the local railroad, the former E&N Railway.

Dear editor,

There has been some recent discussion and requests for additional funding for the local railroad, the former E&N Railway, initiated by the Island Corridor Foundation.

In response, first must come my admission that I am an ardent fan of railways, particularly historic and steam railways. I would love to see the rail diesel car, or RDC, run between Courtenay and Victoria once again.

However, as a pragmatist, I have yet to find a passenger rail operation anywhere on the globe that doesn’t need at least a periodic benevolence from a government at some level. That is to say, almost none of them make a buck.

The railroads of old couldn’t wait to divest themselves of their obligations to maintain passenger service, obligations which were imposed on them in exchange for grants of money and land, and it should be little wonder.

So, despite my deep regret, my integrity requires me to state that there must be a better use for the money being considered and already provided for this purpose.

If the ICF can make a go of it with coal, sheep carcasses, or fine oak barrels with Island single malt, please do so. But for them to sell to its public the idea that they won’t be coming back for another ‘one-time grant’, as most of them have been, is to me short-sighted…to be kind.

The bridges will deteriorate. Those that escaped the engineer’s red X in the survey of 2011 may not do so in just 18 months. More ties will turn to powder. Weeds and brush will still encroach and have to be beaten back.

Those old cars will need parts, some custom-made. And an insufficient revenue from passenger service will make it impossible to justify the budd diesel cars as anything more than a lost cause, an anachronistic symbol of the historical failure of railroads to generate revenue to cover the real costs of passenger service.

About the only credible argument that can be made in favour of passenger service, but which would also be true for freight, is that it would reduce traffic in congested areas between Courtenay and Victoria.

It would make some places safer, at face value. I think of the Malahat. In a small way, perhaps improved with improved marketing, it might generate tourism dollars.

In conclusion, I would love to be proven wrong. So would have the presidents of all the great railroads of yesteryear who contended in vain with this losing facet of the enterprise.

Crandell Overton,

Comox

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