Capital Regional District directors agreed Wednesday to give a one-time $1.2-million grant toward E&N Railway restoration work.
The grant, unanimously approved by the finance and corporate services committee but still in need of ratification by the CRD board, is part of $3.2 million needed from local regional districts to help cover the cost of repairs to railway bridges on the line.
"I think we have to maintain a range of transportation options in the region, and I think rail has to be one of those options," said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, a member of the finance committee.
"By making this modest contribution to maintain our existing rail infrastructure, we will keep that option and grow that option as a choice for the region's residents, which will lay the groundwork for new rail infrastructure."
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins agreed.
"We need to recognize that we are owners in this," she said. "We have spent considerable dollars ... in terms of the rail trail [and] in terms of the infrastructure in rail crossings."
CRD chairman Geoff Young noted that there are a number of possible transportation projects in the region and the E&N should not be considered as a substitute for the Douglas Street corridor between Victoria and Saanich.
However, he said, the E&N corridor is of significant value. "This relatively modest investment in order to maintain this option to keep it viable, open and in place and allow it to coexist with our road system, is one that is worthwhile."
From June 2011 to April 2012, the Island Corridor Foundation, the rail line's owner, secured $15 million in funding - shared equally by the provincial and federal governments - to cover the cost of upgrades to 225 kilometres of rail line from Victoria to Courtenay.
A year ago, it appeared the needed repairs - essentially replacing rotten ties - would begin in the spring, but a foundation study found that about $5.4 million in repairs to bridges and trestles along the route were also needed. The foundation says $3.2 million of that is needed immediately while the balance could be found later, said a CRD staff report.
Failure by the regional districts to fund the work, given the funding commitments from other governments, could mean the end of rail on Vancouver Island, said Graham Bruce, chief operating officer of the foundation. "At this point, if the owners of the rail - by extension the regional districts - aren't at the table, I think there are some significant issues."
To date, funding in principle has been secured from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and the Cowichan Valley Regional District. The Regional District of Nanaimo and the Comox Regional District have yet to consider requests for their share, Bruce said.
If funding is secured, work would begin next fall, Bruce said.
If approved, the CRD grant would be funded in the 2013 taxation year and would translate into $6.77 on the average assessment of $540,164.
Because of the poor condition of the tracks, passenger Dayliner service was suspended in March 2011.
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