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Comment: E&N railway editorial long on blame, low on facts

Re: “E&N line needs new approach,” editorial, Nov. 28.

Re: “E&N line needs new approach,” editorial, Nov. 28.

The editorial is full of blame but devoid of fact and understanding of the Island Corridor Foundation, and does nothing in bringing clarity to the current situation for your readers with respect to rail opportunities.

Had your writer done any research, they would find the ICF is not a “failed experiment,” but a resilient organization that must manage the political and local interests of 14 First Nations, 14 municipalities and five regional districts plus dealing with the federal and provincial governments, as well as critics with other agendas. While the City of Langford has its own interest of controlling the corridor between Victoria and Langford and would like to see the corridor divided up, the ICF is responsible to the Island communities as a whole.

It was some of the current directors who brought First Nations and cities together and negotiated the $1 agreement with the CPR to ensure the E&N would remain one continuous corridor. Successive ICF boards have been responsible for attracting an excellent rail company to manage rail operations; having trails constructed on many parts of the corridor; working to ensure the heritage stations are in good repair; negotiating a new train service agreement with Via Rail; having federal, provincial and regional funding approval for passenger rail upgrades between Victoria and Courtenay; and operating the foundation with no taxpayer contributions.

The ICF and Southern Rail presented Transportation Minister Claire Trevena with a new rail services and track infrastructure plan that would include freight, Via passenger inter-city service, a tourist-excursion train between Nanaimo and Victoria, the potential for a commuter Budd-car service between Victoria and Langford and an estimate of track improvements.

The new approach of focusing on Nanaimo to Victoria allows for rail improvements to be made while being sensitive to the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation claim at Nanoose for the short portion of track that passes through the reserve.

As this is a new government, the ICF and our rail company wanted to know what direction the government would take before spending funds on detailed applications. Southern Rail has also been expanding its trans-loading business, and plans to invest several million dollars in its rail-barge landing ramp.

The answer: The government intends to undertake another study. While it is the government’s prerogative, this is not necessary, as there was a very thorough Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure study, completed in 2009 for $500,000, which is still relevant today. That report suggested an incremental approach to be a prudent manner to determining the long-term viability of Island rail.

The opportunity for rail service exists as long as the track isn’t ripped up and there is a competent rail operator. But time is running out for what still could be a cost-effective remediation.

Regardless of what another government study might determine, the ICF will continue to work with government to ensure the corridor remains as one continuous corridor.

There is much debate about this little railway, and constructive, informed criticism is always useful, but poorly researched editorials such as the Nov. 28 one are not.

Judith Sayers is chair and Duncan Mayor Phil Kent is vice-chair of the Island Corridor Foundation.

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