The prospect of turning the E&N Rail line between Langford and Victoria into a commuter bus route was welcomed by several local politicians Wednesday.
Most would be happy just to see it used at all.
Premier John Horgan Tuesday rejected the idea of running light rail on the derelict line in an address to the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
But while rail isn’t in the cards, Horgan said, he is committed to using the corridor to move people. Meanwhile, dedicated bus lanes are a priority.
“A bus corridor into town is absolutely paramount right now,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young. He’d like to see a combined bus and high-occupancy vehicle lane.
As for the E&N line, “a bus with a future train corridor as the ridership goes up makes the most sense to me,” he said.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said she was surprised and disappointed at Horgan’s announcement that light rail is no longer being considered for the E&N, which, she said “ultimately is probably the best fit.”
“But I am very pleased that the premier is moving forward on doing something with that corridor because for it to sit the way it is now is unacceptable. We are so tied up in traffic,” Desjardins said.
Several local politicians said they would have liked to have seen a business case comparing the costs of commuter rail versus bus on the old rail line.
“I would certainly like to see and understand the basis upon which that decision [scuppering rail] has been made,” said View Royal Mayor David Screech.
“Having said that, I was certainly pleased to hear his commitment that something was going to be happening there in the next short while. But it was kind of a double-edged situation.”
Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton, a Greater Victoria Transit Commission member, said whatever decision is made, the rail line has to be protected as a transportation corridor.
“Don’t lose it. We’re going to need it at some point for something. Don’t lose it,” Hamilton said, adding it shouldn’t be sitting idle.
Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, the Capital Regional District’s representative on the Island Corridor Foundation, the non-profit entity which owns the rail line, said it would be a mistake to abandon rail.
“I think there’s definitely a future for rail on the Island and it’s my hope that the provincial and federal governments make the investments sooner rather than later,” Isitt said.
The latest business case developed by the Island Corridor Foundation estimates it would cost $42.7 million to rehabilitate the old rail line from Nanaimo to Victoria.
“In terms of moving commuters in the near term, I don’t disagree with the emphasis on bus lanes out to Langford and back,” said Isitt, adding it makes sense to build those along the Trans Canada Highway to Langford as quickly as possible.
“But I don’t think that needs to preclude investment in rail. It isn’t only about commuter trains. It’s about inter-city passenger, tourist excursion trains and also freight,” he said.
Greater Victoria Transit Commission chairwoman Susan Brice said the corridor has potential as a rapid-bus route.
But Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, also a transit commissioner, said it might be tight for conventional buses to run on the rail route, especially as the 17-kilometre, $36-million E&N Rail Trail under development since 2009 runs parallel to the tracks.
However. there is good potential for a separated track for commuter cyclists and e-bikes, Young said.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena was cautious about the topic. “The premier’s statement that we need to get moving is right,” she said. “We really do need to get moving. But we’ve also got to realize it’s a once in a generation opportunity. We’ve got this corridor that really needs to be used to the best of its abilities.”
Trevena stressed that the government has been working on the issue for a number of months with Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean leading talks with First Nations.
“There’s still a lot of consultation to do because we’ve also got the question of the Island Corridor Foundation,” she said. “They own the line and we’ve got to make sure that they’re fully engaged in this because it is their property.
Trevena said that if trains are ruled out, the E&N corridor could be used for buses or some other forms of transit.
“I think it’d be very likely it would be buses, but that’s a matter of, first off, talking with the Island Corridor Foundation who own the line, working with B.C. Transit and making sure something can happen.”