Group set up to explore options for Langford-Victoria rail service

After years of talking about commuter rail service in Greater Victoria, four mayors from the region and Transportation Minister Todd Stone gathered Thursday to reveal that they will keep on talking.

The politicians called reporters to Admirals and Colville roads in Esquimalt to announce the formation of a “working group” to look at the options for a 15-kilometre stretch of the E&N Rail corridor from Langford to Vic West.

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The group, which will include representatives from local governments, B.C. Transit and the B.C. Safety Authority, will contribute to a ministry analysis of the plan.

Stone said the government is “turning the five to seven years of talk into action,” but announced no new money for the project and gave no firm indication that the B.C. Liberals will even support it if they win re-election in May.

“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,” he said.

NDP critic Doug Routley said the location of the press conference seemed designed to give Esquimalt Mayor and Liberal candidate Barb Desjardins a bit of pre-election publicity at taxpayers’ expense.

“They should probably pay for it from the Liberal Party’s funds, because it’s purely politics and it’s terribly cynical,” he said.

Routley said Premier Christy Clark pledged in 2011 to help get the entire E&N Rail line back in service by covering half the estimated $15 million cost of repairing damaged track.

“This time they’re going to study whether 15 kilometres is feasible or not,” he said. “It’s a bit like their [liquefied natural gas] promise - spiralling downward.”

Desjardins, however, insisted that the politicians are making progress.

“We have all the partners sitting at the table to make something happen,” she said.

“I feel strongly that this work will move forward and that we will see commuter rail in the capital region in the near future.”

The announcement of a working group follows a decision last year by developer Ken Mariash and his company, Focus Equities, to commit $300,000 to $500,000 to develop a business case for reviving the service.

In December, Mariash estimated capital costs, such as track repairs, at no more than $10 million.

He said the project would need a subsidy to defray annual operation costs of between $3 million and $4 million, since fares will cover about half.

Stone said the plan has merit and committed his ministry’s resources to studying it further. “We haven’t been at this place in a very, very long time,” he said. “We are on the cusp of something pretty special, but we’ve got to finish the work together.”

 - with files from Amy Smart

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