Capital region mayors remain optimistic about the prospects for commuter-rail service on the E&N Rail corridor from Langford to Vic West, despite a pending change in the provincial government.
Langford Mayor Stewart Young said he expects the project to receive strong consideration, whether the existing Liberal government survives or falls to a new NDP-Green alliance.
“I know the NDP support the E&N,” he said. “Pretty well every government has.”
Young stressed the need for a strong business case for the project, no matter which party takes power.
“We’ve got to be really making sure that we have a good understanding of what we think the ridership will be, because that really dictates how much of a subsidy the government gives,” he said.
B.C. Liberal Transportation Minister Todd Stone launched a working group in March to look at options for the 15-kilometre stretch of track and report back following the May 9 election.
“I have said I expect a business case to be completed and on our desks, ready for the next government to consider, so that we can finally move forward with commuter rail here in Greater Victoria,” Stone said at the time.
The Liberals, however, fell one seat short of a majority in the 87-seat legislature, winning 43 seats to 41 for the NDP and three for the Greens. B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark remains in power for now, but NDP Leader John Horgan and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver signed an accord last week to defeat the Liberals and install an NDP minority government once the legislature returns, likely this month.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals in Esquimalt-Metchosin, said the E&N commuter-rail project will be in good hands no matter who forms the government. “The NDP, having been here for a long period of time and representing us, know that this is a significant issue,” she said. “It would be a low-hanging fruit, early win for them.”
Desjardins said it also bodes well that both Horgan and Weaver represent ridings on southern Vancouver Island. Horgan was re-elected in Langford-Juan de Fuca, while Weaver won a second term in Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
“It’s my hope that they really focus some attention to the lower Island and particularly the E&N,” Desjardins said.
“Much of the work has been done in terms of costing.”
Horgan said this week that an NDP minority government would focus on Island issues in ways that the Liberals did not.
“I know the Island Corridor Foundation and E&N corridor is one that I feel very strongly about and have been working on for a decade. I’m going to be focusing on that, for sure.”
The NDP’s election platform promised that the party would “lead and promote efforts to fix the E&N railway tracks so that commuter rail can become an option to eliminate gridlock.”
The B.C. Green Party’s Adam Olsen, who won the riding of Saanich North and the Islands, urged action on the corridor.
“The E&N rail line is one . . . that should have been done a long time ago,” he said during the campaign.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said transportation is the biggest challenging facing the region.
“How do we move more people, more quickly around the region, particularly as the population continues to grow? So the train is an answer, rapid bus is an answer, bike lanes are an answer, but the train definitely needs to be part of it and, hopefully, we’ll see that commitment continue.”
Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton is also optimistic.
“My expectation would be, regardless of who forms government, that the opportunities of utilizing the E&N railline are not studied to death, but looked at realistically as a solution to a number of issues facing the South Vancouver Island commuters,” she said.
Passenger service ceased on the E&N line in March 2011 due to safety concerns with the tracks.