The Cowichan Train Station, and no doubt the museum in the same building, would see action again if efforts to revitalize the E&N Railway are successful. (File photo)

Revived train service would boost economy

E&N Railway repairs long overdue

It’s been more than three years since a train made its way through downtown Duncan on the E&N Railway.

And it still may be a long time before we see one again, if at all, as the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the railway, continues its struggle to restore the increasingly dilapidated 220-kilometre rail line that stretches from Victoria to Courtenay.

The ICF has been wading for years through the bureaucracy of numerous layers of governments and First Nations in its ongoing efforts to gather support and raise the money needed to restore train service on the Island but, despite commitments, hardly any government money has been forthcoming to date.

It appears the main fear is that the cost estimates of repairing the tracks and the line are wildly out of sync with reality, and government would be stuck with the skyrocketing costs if they commit to the project.

A Ministry of Transportation report written in 2009 found restoring rail infrastructure on the E&N would cost $216 million, but those figures are now eight years old, with the track continuing to deteriorate as the years go by, and many consider them well below what it would cost today.

The ICF’s board has been meeting this summer to form a new business plan with the latest and up-to-date budgets.

Personally, I hope they are successful.

I was on a passenger train once from Nanaimo to Courtenay and I was astounded at the beautiful scenery and views the trip afforded.

There’s so much natural beauty to see here.

Vancouver Island is, so far, largely untouched outside of its populated centres and the vast majority of the Island is still wilderness.

That’s a natural selling point to many Americans, Asians and Europeans who live in areas of urban sprawl and would relish the opportunity to ride a train through areas humans have only just begun to discover and develop; for better or worse.

I can only imagine how many tourists from all over the world a refurbished rail line and passenger cars would bring to Vancouver Island if marketed well.

And I’m not alone in wanting the railway returned.

According to public feedback recently compiled by the ICF, 62 per cent of 429 responses from across the Island were supportive of the return of rail service.

In fact, in the Cowichan Valley, the survey found that 78 per cent of the respondents were in favour of the return of rail and I believe those numbers would be even higher if there were some sort of trail program as well to accommodate all the hikers and mountain bikers that have begun using the rail line itself and its adjacent trails for recreation since the trains stopped running.

A group recently formed in Duncan, called the E&N Railway Roundtable, is focused on just that.

The Cowichan Valley’s Jack Peake, the former chairman of the ICF and now the chairman of the ENRR, said be believes the expanded body representing both trail and rail advocates will help the process along.

“This is an opportunity to take advantage of the rail assets we have that are currently being wasted,” Peake told me during an interview last week.

“The trail systems are a key component to the railway line’s revival and we are not opposed to them.”

Peake said he’s also optimistic there may be a new impetus to kick-starting the process with a new NDP government in power in B.C.

“Members of the new government have said they support the E&N Railway and are interested in working with us,” he said.

Let’s hope they finally make some headway on this much-anticipated project.

It would go a long way to boost tourism on the Island and show, once again, why we are consistently rated as one of the best islands in the world to visit.

Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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