Via Rail says it has no money to boost E&N service upon return to Vancouver Island

Via Rail has no money to make service changes if and when its passenger trains return to Vancouver Island’s E&N line, Via officials say.

While negotiations for the return of passenger service continue, local officials hope Via’s stance won’t derail plans to include inter-city commuters in the passenger mix.

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The Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the rail line, is in negotiations with Via to restore passenger rail service. The foundation has long said it makes more sense to have passenger trains leave Nanaimo in the morning instead of the long-standing schedule that had the service starting from Victoria.

While Via is interested in restarting passenger service as soon as the track meets safety standards, the company has no resources to make operating agreement changes, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, chief legal and corporate affairs officer, told Via’s annual meeting this week.

“Parties have the ability to restart the train service agreement that was in place at the time. If that train service agreement has to be modified in any way, shape or form, it will require resources that Via Rail does not have at this time,” Desjardins-Siciliano said.

Graham Hill, a foundation board member, is optimistic “good sense” will prevail, but was reluctant to comment on specifics.

“We are in daily negotiations and I would hate for those negotiations to be done through public announcements,” said Hill, View Royal’s mayor.

“We are … looking for improvements that make a difference to life on Vancouver Island and provision of industrial-strength, inter-community transportation,” Hill said.

The previous operating agreement “was clearly one that wasn’t working to the benefit of the Island,” Hill said.

Asked if Desjardins-Siciliano’s statement seemed to rule out a change such as starting the daily run in Nanaimo, Hill said: “All things are possible in negotiations.”

Foundation CEO Graham Bruce did not return calls for comment.

Via spokeswoman Myléne Bélanger said Thursday that Desjardins-Siciliano was not ruling out possible service modifications, but he was ruling out spending money Via doesn’t have.

“Modification is possible, as long as there is no additional financial cost,” she said.

The E&N railway is being used by freight trains, but has not been deemed safe enough for passenger service.

Until early 2011, passenger cars ran daily to Courtenay and back to Victoria. Deteriorating track conditions brought passenger service to a halt.

Since then, the Island Corridor Foundaton has secured $15 million in senior government funding, plus $3.2 million from Nanaimo, Victoria and other communities served by the E&N to pay for track, bridge and trestle repairs.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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