Port Alberni is a potential gold mine for rail service: that was the message new Island Corridor Foundation CEO Larry Stevenson brought to a full house at the Best Western Barclay Hotel last week.
Stevenson and Andrea Thomas were in Port Alberni for the seventh and final town hall meeting to discuss rail service on Vancouver Island. Other town halls have taken place in Esquimalt, Langford, Duncan, Nanaimo, Courtenay and Parksville.
Stevenson spoke for 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of the meeting, then opened the floor for questions. He explained that the ICF owns the railroad on Vancouver Island, and is willing to assemble a plan for rail use along the whole corridor, but the Province of B.C. has to let them know what they want to see.
Stevenson, who has only been the CEO for three months, made one thing clear: if rail is to be developed on the former E&N line, it will be developed along the whole line—not concentrated in one place such as Langford, to the exclusion of all other communities.
Port Alberni resident Chris Alemany has advocated for rail on Vancouver Island since 2005. He was optimistic after listening to what Stevenson had to say. “It is the first time I have seen the new CEO and I am left impressed by his knowledge of the railway and of making the railway successful,” Alemany said.
“I was most impressed though at how open the discussion was and his very realistic approach to talking about what was possible,” Alemany added.
Kevin Hunter, president of the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS), whose members operate the tourist train in Port Alberni, asked that the ICF keep them in mind when negotiating for work on the Port Alberni sub.
Stevenson acknowledged that Alberni has been left in the cold by the ICF in the past few years, but said he’s had some concerns the way the Port sub has been run , with various user groups not getting along. “I need to make sure everybody understands this is my sandbox,” he said.
“I’ve got people running to BC Safety Authority about a piece of track that we own. Nobody should go to BC Safety before they come to us.”
Stevenson said the ICF has a pivotal meeting with Premier John Horgan and other stakeholders planned for Dec. 10. He said anything could happen in that meeting, but after seven town halls meetings that have drawn several hundred people, he’s prepared to answer any questions Horgan may have.