Province backtracks on commuter rail study for E&N

A proposed study of commuter rail service from the West Shore to Victoria has been put on hold while the new NDP government examines the future of the entire E&N corridor, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said Wednesday.

Former B.C. Liberal minister Todd Stone promised the study last March at a pre-election news conference in Esquimalt.

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“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 Liberal government followed up by putting out a call for a consultant to examine the feasibility of using the E&N rail corridor between Langford and Victoria as a regional transit route. The request for proposals stipulated that the consultant was to produce a report by the end of July.

But Trevena confirmed Wednesday that the study never went ahead. “We pulled back on the [request for proposals] on that one and just wanted to look at the whole corridor rather than that specific E&N section of it,” she said.

The ministry explained in a follow-up statement that it was unable to move forward with the study because of the provincial election campaign, the extended transition period that followed and because officials were unable to consult with First Nations or award the contract within the announced time frame.

“When the new government reviewed the situation, it was determined that a feasibility study could not proceed at that point without proper consultation with the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations,” the statement said.

“The E&N corridor runs through their traditional territories and communities. And, any decisions on the use of the corridor must include consultation with these communities.”

Trevena said she has asked Esquimalt-Metchosin NDP MLA Mitzi Dean to lead discussions with First Nations and regional governments.

“We’re engaged trying to make sure we have complete First Nations involvement with it,” Trevena said.

“We’ve been having conversations with mayors on it. So it’s very much in my sight line but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Liberal transportation critic Jordan Sturdy called the decision disappointing and another example of the new government’s “analysis paralysis.”

He said the NDP could have examined the West Shore to Victoria corridor without precluding opportunities for the rest of the rail line.

“So it’s not a case of ‘either, or,’ ” he said.

Sturdy noted that regional mayors were keen to get moving on the issue. “And to ignore that consensus seems really short-sighted,” he said.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who ran for the Liberals in the May election, said a decision on the E&N corridor is long overdue.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we didn’t follow through with the study down here, because as we all know, we have this corridor, it’s not being used and the congestion is not getting any better,” she said.

“So it would be wonderful to do the study to understand what are the options on that corridor, so that when we are able to make a decision — either in this section or the whole corridor — we can move forward and do it quickly.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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