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Comment: It's time to put the Island's rail corridor to work

A commentary by Jack Peake, the former Lake Cowichan mayor who is president of the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition.
The Via Dayliner travels on the E&N tracks through Langford in 2006. TIMES COLONIST FILE PHOTO

A commentary by Jack Peake, the former Lake Cowichan mayor who is president of the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition.

A recent news report said that the province sees no solution to the Malahat closure — but there is a solution, and it’s a simple one.

Our Island rail corridor running from Victoria through the western communities to Duncan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo and beyond both north and west. A simple, cost effective way to move people and goods.

Costs? Much has been said about the cost to upgrade the rail for multi-use. It is cost effective.

One kilometre of rail upgrade with new ballast, ties and continuous welded rail would cost $2.6 million, as opposed to the average cost of a number of road options of $19 million per kilometre.

The math alone says do it. The time is now.

Last week, while roads everywhere were washed out or landslide covered, the rail corridor was almost completely unaffected, with only one small mudslide cleared up in a matter of hours. This rail corridor could have moved people and goods if it had been properly invested in.

We have an opportunity to prepare for the future in a way that makes so much sense and mirrors the rest of the world including the United States. Many countries are bringing back abandoned rail corridors to serve small as well as large communities.

Population along the corridor is no longer relevant. What’s relevant is doing the right thing and doing it now. Each day that passes the costs go up.

And if a subsidy is a concern there are no passenger rail systems in the world that do not attract a subsidy. This rail corridor has opportunities for rail freight as well as excursion trains which do bring in revenue to help the day-to-day passenger services provided.

In Duncan, there has been a discussion for decades about building a highway bypass. The problem is there is no logical or practical location to do a bypass.

There is a solution. The rail corridor can and should move passengers all the time, and can also provide rail freight opportunities as well as excursion trains.

Why are Canadian governments so blind to the opportunities available through rail corridors?

Railways operate with a much smaller environmental impact and much more cost-effective than continuing to build highways to accommodate more cars and trucks. Even the very cost effective diesel/electric locomotives now have new electric locomotives being used on various first-class railways, testing their feasibility.

One more cost comparison: The new Broadway extension to LRT on the Lower Mainland is going to cost more than $400 million per kilometre. That amount of money would take care of the entire Vancouver Island Rail Corridor for multi usage.

The Island Corridor Foundation is a child of local government and therefore every resident is part of the ownership of the rail corridor.

Why not use it like we use community centres, arenas, parks and so on, and make the corridor work on behalf of the growing population of Vancouver Island? We are beyond 850,000 in population and growing at a rate that will soon reach one million.

The time is now.