Deal signed to resume E&N rail service; boards need to ratify

NANAIMO — An agreement to restore passenger rail service on Vancouver Island has been signed by Via Rail, the Island Corridor Foundation and Southern Railway of Vancouver Island Ltd., according to Southern Railway president Frank Butzelaar.

The operating agreement must still be ratified by each organization’s board, Butzelaar said, noting that Southern Railway’s board is not scheduled to meet until August.

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The news is the strongest sign yet that rail service along the E&N corridor between Courtenay and Victoria could resume. Service ceased in 2011 due to concerns about the track’s safety.

About $20.9 million in funding has been earmarked by local, federal and provincial governments to replace more than 110,000 deteriorating wooden ties along the rail link, make steel repairs and upgrade bridges along the route.

Negotiations with Via to resume the service have taken years to conclude.

The Crown corporation has agreed to contribute $1.45 million a year to offset the operating cost of the service and will provide three refurbished passenger cars. The goal is to have a Nanaimo-Victoria service by May 2015.

Full service to Courtenay and Qualicum Beach would be phased in by summer 2015.

“Via was looking for someone to step in and underwrite the financial risk of the service, and that’s what we were prepared to do,” Butzelaar said. “Via was looking for [an] operator.”

Island Corridor Foundation president Graham Bruce could not be reached for comment on Wednesday evening.

Via Rail did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Officials from all three organizations had previously said that an agreement was “imminent.”

Map of the E&N route on Vancouver Island.

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