Jack Peake, former Lake Cowichan Mayor and long time resident of the area, is skeptical about funds that have been allocated to the upgrading the E&N railway track that runs from Victoria to Courtenay. Peake has lobbied the provincial and federal governments to get on board with this project for a number of years. When the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) first took over the railway, it conducted a study, which Peake says identified that $105 million would be needed in order to properly rehabilitate the rail line. At that time, Peake says the funding would have been split three ways: $35 million from the province, $35 million from the federal government, and the remaining $35 million coming from the ICF itself. “That would have brought the main line, from Victoria to Courtenay, right up to first class standards.”
But Peake is not just concerned with making the rail service first class. He says that the $105 million would have gone into new ballast, ties, and track. Peake’s feels that the $15 million combined federal and provincial funds of $7.5 million each, is not enough. “At the moment, passenger service has been discontinued due to the poor condition of the track. One of the biggest problems with this road bed is it’s still some of the original road bed built by the old Dunsmuir Family, and E&N/CPR, and there’s more dirt in it than ballast. It grows trees and weeds really well.” And even though at the time of the original ICF report the many bridges along the route looked like they were in good shape, Peake says he is anxious to see the current bridge report which was due on March 1, of this year. The bridges, if not structurally sound, will have a hard time dealing with passenger, tourist, and gravel train traffic. “This report is key to the future of this railway,” says Peake.
Peake feels that in order to ensure passenger safety and provide a well functioning rail service, the rail line needs to be upgraded incrementally, starting from Victoria and the western communities and working north. Sections of the track have been upgraded over the years, for example the section that crosses the intersection in south Ladysmith at the top of Chemainus Road, but Peake feels this is not enough. “This $15 million, although it’s beautiful and wonderful and all the rest of it, first of all has to be well used, and is only the beginning.”
The liberals project that the line will be in use is early 2013, but Peake doesn’t see how this could be possible. “The executive director of ICF keeps talking about the work itself not getting started until Sept./Oct. Now you’re into another winter. You have gone all summer with very little train operation so the road bed is continuing to deteriorate. If you work through the next winter with only $15 million there’s no way you’re going to get that up and running with passenger service, which (the current president) says may be possible by the following spring or fall.”
Peake also says he would like to see the train run both north and south between Victoria and Courtenay, allowing the many passengers who commute the ability to get into Victoria from northern parts of the island.
The Budd cars, as Peake calls them, belong to VIA Rail and the ICF owns the land the track is on. The cars were supposed to be refurbished, but Peake does not know where the trains are, or if they have been refurbished. “They are still in Canada, whether they’re being refurbished or not, I don’t know. But you know, those particular types of equipment are available all over North America in large numbers.” He says that in Washington and Texas there are warehouses full of these Budd cars waiting to be leased or purchased.
Peake’s long term plans include eventually get the line running out to Lake Cowichan once again, but that is a ways down the road and he is taking things one step at a time. He feels that the broader issues, such as the E&N rail line, effect the Lake Cowichan community, and he hopes that local residents can see that upgrading the Island Corridor route also helps to preserve a part of the island’s history.