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Comment: Don't give up on the tremendous potential of rail

The rest of the world has valued rail and continues to increase rail infrastructure at a record pace.
Railway tracks, long disused, — cross Fairview and Devonshire roads in Esquimalt. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a former mayor of Lake Cowichan.

Having been one of the founding members of the Island Corridor Foundation, I am both saddened and disappointed that all of the parties that could benefit from the refurbishment of the Vancouver Island Rail Corridor don’t seem to be able to recognize the value of this rail corridor.

There is such tremendous opportunity for everyone and everything to gain from refurbishment of the corridor.

The rest of the world has valued rail and continues to increase rail infrastructure at a record pace. I recently watched the video of a £25-billion project in England to increase rail infrastructure in the U.K.

And even on the Lower Mainland, $5 billion is being spent on a passenger rail project.

Why not Vancouver Island? Consider the potential benefits.

Environmentally it’s a “no brainer.” Getting cars and trucks off our highways and reducing the need to build more highways is an environmental benefit.

Now let’s talk economic benefits. Every station site up and down the corridor is a potential residential and office development location that would house folks and create ease of access to the rail services.

In Duncan, the Cowichan Tribes have a perfect location for a park-and-ride as well as a modern station location. They would also benefit by bringing visitors to their tourist facility.

Consider rail services to Mount Washington both winter and summer, and tourist trains in at least three sections of the corridor.

Port Alberni-Nanaimo would be one of the primary tourist train trips. There is spectacular scenery from the corridor between Parksville and Port Alberni.

Let’s not forget the cruise ship potential. Now let’s talk freight. We could remove hundreds of trucks off our highways, reducing air pollution as well as wear and tear on the road surfaces.

Why is it so hard to see the huge benefits from refurbishment of this rail corridor by the parties that would gain the most? There are thousands of job opportunities that all members of our communities would benefit from.

Think of the construction, maintenance, operating and service jobs.

As I’ve said many times before, Canada lags so far behind in valuing rail that it makes one lament Canada’s lack of vision. This should be a “bandwagon” that everyone jumps on. Recent surveys have shown that 75 per cent of the responders are in favour of this.

If the Lower Mainland can receive $5 billion for a short run, why not invest $500 million on Vancouver Island’s entire rail corridor? Pull in some private investment as well.

All so simple and easy. Vancouver Island is growing in leaps and bounds.

Population heading for a million in the next few years. Invest now for the future.

I’m pleading with everyone who reads this, please email, write or phone your MP, MLA, First Nations chief, mayor and councillor to make this happen.

The province has named a figure of $18 million for something. Why not use it to plan the process of getting rail up and running, incrementally starting with Langford to Victoria?

Then Duncan to Langford, Duncan to Nanaimo, then Nanaimo to Courtenay and finally Parksville to Port Alberni. Rail is the future. Let’s do it now.

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