Save-the-rail plan comes under attack

Ousted advisers question $15-million proposal

The E&N passenger cars are being stored under tarps at a railyard in Nanaimo.

At the Wellcox railyard in Nanaimo, Via Rail’s two passenger cars have sat cocooned in silver plastic since May 10.

Their removal from storage inside Vic West’s Roundhouse has former advisors to the Island Corridor Foundation scratching their heads.

“It makes no sense to me,” said Jack Peake, former mayor of Lake Cowichan and former chair of the ICF board.

Draping tarps over the rail cars will keep the moisture in, he explained.

“That’s a no-no, mildew will form,” echoed Jim Sturgill, who drove the train for many years.

Until recently, both men were volunteer members of the rail operations liaison advisory committee, tasked with advising ICF board members who have no background in the industry.

Peake and Sturgill now find themselves following the evolving fate of the E&N rail line from the sidelines.

The five-member advisory committee’s role has ended – though they’ve received no official letters of termination from ICF executive.

Hostilities have boiled over at a critical time for the E&N. By mid June, the ICF expects to learn if a long-awaited grant needed to relaunch the passenger line will be awarded or denied.

The service was shut down in March for minor repairs, then indefinitely when more track problems came to light – though freight service continues.

“We’re at a crisis point … but we knew that was coming when we acquired the railway,” said ICF board co-chair Judith Sayers.

“We’ve been lobbying for funds to try to up the infrastructure but have not been successful to date.”

The closure, however, only aggravated an existing rift between several of the ICF’s former advisors and its executive and board.

A major sticking point is the ICF’s $15-million grant application to the federal and provincial governments.

Whether it’s an adequate amount is the question.

“We identified many years ago that the true rehabilitation of the railway corridor required somewhere around $100 million,” said Peake. “The number of years that have gone by since that figure was identified probably means the number is higher now.”

But ICF’s executive director, Graham Bruce, puts the disagreement in context.

“No one’s disputing that there’s not more that needs to be done,” he said. “($15 million) is what gets us back in operation, and secures the future safely for rail.”

Further track upgrades will happen incrementally as demand grows, he explained.

Bruce has been executive director for two years. In the past, he has served as mayor of North Cowichan and a B.C. cabinet minister.

The ICF board backs his plan.

In July 2010, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation released a viability study, concluding “current volumes of freight and passengers do not support significant infrastructure investment at this time.”

Three months later, the ICF recrafted its funding request.

It abandoned its loftier pursuit of securing $104 million, and submitted a more modest request of $15 million, in part to address issues raised in a letter of non-compliance from the B.C. Safety Authority.

The repairs, according to the rail operator, Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, would be adequate to ensure continued safe operation of the line.

“The main issue with the track relates directly to the track ties,” said Don McGregor, general manager of Southern Railway. If gifted $15 million, one quarter of all ties could be replaced, steel joints repaired and the track straightened for a smoother ride. The money would also fund an in-depth assessment of all bridges.

Southern Railway employees have taken over the former advisors’ role, giving updates to the board on rail operations issues.

Sturgill likens this to letting the fox guard the hens.

Wayne Stewart agrees. The retired Canadian Pacific Railway officer resigned from the advisory committee in September.

“There was no expertise in trying to go out and find people besides Southern Railway to evaluate the track condition and to maintain it,” Stewart explained.

Sturgill also feels advisors’ concerns were sidelined. His request to meet and review a safety inspection report was denied.

“None of these topics and safety matters are of concern to the committee,” Bruce replied to him by an email, Jan. 20. “We also no longer need to use the committees.”

Last week, Bruce explained the reasons behind the move.

“We don’t need a volunteer advisory group,” he said. “I actually want to know from professional people, in respect to being able to advise the board, that we are … running a safe and reliable railway. That doesn’t come from volunteers.”

Rail is a heavily regulated industry, he said, adding both the B.C. Safety Authority and Via Rail ensure the line runs according to standard.

Bruce also points to Southern Railways’ track record of safety and success.

“We’re very fortunate on Vancouver Island that we were able to … attract a railroad operator and a company that’s got a very high reputation.”

The company, McGregor added, is in “break even mode” because it reinvests any surplus into track improvements.

“The reason we’ve agreed to do that is we believe in the future of the railway,” he said.

As for the passenger-car relocation issue, McGregor explains: Via Rail made the decision.

The Roundhouse, while covered, has suffered vandalism in the past, he said. In Nanaimo, the railyard is near Southern Railway headquarters and is surveilled by the Nanaimo Port Authority.

Possible moisture problems have been addressed, McGregor reassured.

“Via said they would pay for us to do weekly inspections,” he said. “I can foresee us monitoring inside moisture and getting fans and heaters and having a periodic drying out of the equipment.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

By the numbers

The Ministry of Transportation’s viability study of the E&N, released July 2010, costed out several repair options. They include:*

• Rail Service preservation: $70 million

• Central corridor upgrades: $40.5 million

• Central corridor and Port Alberni subdivision improvements: $103 million

• Limited upgrades Victoria to Langford: $64 million

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mark Zenko from the Gyro Club of the Albernis presents a donation of $2,720 to Chris Mellin, left, house manager at Ty Watson House Hospice and Teresa Ludvigson, executive director of Alberni Valley Hospice Society. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Gyro Club donation comes at good time for Ty Watson House Hospice

COVID-19 has cancelled hospice society’s major fundraisers.

(BLACK PRESS FILE PHOTO)
Nanaimo man killed in Highway 4 crash

RCMP say dirt bike turned ‘suddenly’ into traffic

Port Alberni’s deepsea port was a busy place on July 14, 2020, with recreational boaters vying for attention with a logging ship, fishing vessels large and small, tugboats and more. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
QUINN’S QUIPS: ‘Port’ Alberni lives up to its deepsea name

Port Alberni’s harbour is an engaging place to stop and watch the action on the water…

Asher Brown of Port Alberni, 11, is making a name for himself in B.C. motocross action. He and his dad, Geoff Brown, started riding with Alberni Motocross Association (AVMX) at the same time. (DOUG FISK PHOTO)
Alberni Motocross signs new land deal with Mosaic

Land Use Agreement ensures continued motocross action on Cherry Creek track

The Alberni-Clayoquot Recycling Depot is located on Third Avenue in Port Alberni. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
EDITORIAL: It’s Waste Reduction Week in Canada. What are you doing to reduce waste?

The ACRD has launched a new ACRD Collects app to assist in diverting more waste from the landfill

Port Alberni resident Holly Braker-McLaughlin captured footage of five bears playing in her yard. (SCREENSHOT)
VIDEO: Quintet of bears frolic in Alberni Valley yard

Port Alberni family was treated to a visit from some playful black bears

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is seen as she leaves media event during a campaign stop in West Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green leader hopes voters see value in minority government

The Greens received nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 yet received just three seats

Local candidates Pam Alexis, Abbotsford-Mission, and Preet Rai, Abbotsford-West, look on as NDP Leader John Horgan main streets in Abbotsford, B.C., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. NDP takes snap election risk during pandemic in quest for majority government

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the election was unnecessary and irresponsible during the pandemic

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, B.C., on October 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. Liberal Leader maintains confidence as campaign tests party identity

Liberal campaign has been disrupted by controversy

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Nanaimo RCMP arrest man with axe in downtown park. (File photo)
Man seen with axe at Nanaimo park, numerous RCMP officers respond

Incident happened Friday evening at Maffeo Sutton Park

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Most Read