Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples was impressed with her first-hand assessment of the railway tracks between Duncan and Nanaimo on Oct. 10.
Larry Stevenson, CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation which owns the E&N rail corridor, and other railway officials took Staples in a hi-rail, a truck that rides both highways and rails, on the railway corridor so she could have a close look at its condition.
“We made it all the way to Nanaimo with no problems and it was a very smooth and easy ride,” Staples said after the tour.
“I was under the impression from all the rumours out there that sections of the track would be missing or destroyed, but that wasn’t the case at all. The track itself was fine but there was some wear and tear on the ties, so some would have to replaced. There has been no maintenance on the line for some time but once the costs of getting it where they want it to be are covered, then there should only be the costs of regular maintenance.”
Stevenson said the plan is to bring all the mayors of communities along the rail corridor on similar fact-finding rides.
Barb Dejardins, mayor of Esquimalt, and Stewart Young, mayor of Langford, have already taken similar tours on their sections of the railway, and North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring is expected to be invited soon as well.
“The government is conducting an assessment of the railway corridor which we expect will be completed by the end of the year, so we wanted to get the mayors out to see the condition of the railway before then,” Stevenson said.
“We want the mayors to know what is meant by railway tie replacements and other terms they will see in the assessment so they will have a better understanding of what the assessment will say and recommend.”
The government is conducting an assessment of track and bridge conditions on the entire 220-kilometre E&N rail corridor to determine if the railway could be upgraded and if the province should invest in it.
Passenger train service on the rail line was stopped in 2011 due to track safety concerns, and freight service has also been discontinued on most parts of the Island.
Both the province and Ottawa tentatively agreed several years ago to fund $7.5 million each towards rejuvenating the aging and dilapidated rail line, with local governments, including the Cowichan Valley Regional District, agreeing to come up with approximately $5 million.
The ICF presented a $42.7-million proposal to revive a major section of the railway to the new NDP government late in 2017, with the hopes that senior levels of government would split the costs of the major track upgrades between Nanaimo and Victoria, which is considered to be phase one of the overall project.
Neither the province nor Ottawa have committed to the plan at this time, but proponents hope the assessment will lead to the province agreeing to help fund the track upgrades, which could also bring in federal money as well.
Stevenson reiterated Staples’s comments that, unlike the perception held by many, the condition of the track is not bad.
“A lot of people think the track is falling apart and deteriorated beyond repair, but that’s not true,” he said.
“The railway has been there for many years and it does need work, but it’s far from being a disaster. When we took Barb Dejardins out, reporters were asking us how far we think we were going to have to walk during the trip, but we didn’t have to walk at all.”
Stevenson said that while he strongly believes that railway can be revived and upgraded, the ICF still has no idea as to what the government’s overall plan is.
“We have no agreed upon vision for the railway with the government at this time,” he said.
“We can throw around numbers all day long, but until we understand what the government wants to do, we can’t do anything.”
Staples said she found her trip “relaxing and beautiful” and saw the value of having an interaction of rails and trails on some sections of the track.
“I really miss the train,” she said.