Restoration of passenger rail service on Vancouver Island is a step closer following a $7.5-million investment from the B.C. government.
Premier Christy Clark arrived at the Nanaimo train station on Selby Street Tuesday aboard a pair of Southern Vancouver Island Rail locomotives to make the announcement.
The funding is in two parts, with $7 million for track repair and $500,000 toward an engineering inspection of about 40 rail bridges and trestles on the line.
The $7 million is conditional on the Island Corridor Foundation raising an additional $7.5 million to complete essential repairs to the Island service.
Passenger rail service was shut down in April due to safety concerns arising from the deteriorating condition of the tracks, which were found to be far worse than anticipated during routine maintenance and inspection this spring. Island freight service continues, although with trains running at reduced speeds due to the condition of the tracks.
“It’s really important for people on the Island to have a passenger service for tourism, but also for freight,” said Clark. “We want to do what we can for people on the Island because it would be shortsighted to stop here and say there’s no more rail on Vancouver Island. We have to look a little bit further ahead than that.”
Clark said whether additional money gets spent on the rail service is up to the foundation and its business case.
“We’ll see what happens with the money we’ve committed now,” she said. “They can put together their plans and hopefully keep attracting new customers and that will tell us whether or not the railway is sustainable in the longer term. I believe it is, otherwise we wouldn’t have committed the seven and a half million dollars that we did today.”
Graham Bruce, ICF executive director, said the provincial commitment enables the foundation to embark on more comprehensive planning around passenger and freight service and he’s confident he will hear from the federal government on matching the $7.5 million.
“We know now we’re going to be here,” he said. “That [$15 million] secures the future and allows us as a foundation and Southern Rail to work co-operatively to really improve the rail service on the Island.”
Bruce said the foundation’s timeline requires federal support as soon as possible.
“We’ve been clear we needed an answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by June. To maintain train service, we need [funding] now,” he said. “We had a provincial leadership race and a federal election, but we’re quite confident as these things work through we should hear from the federal component in the next couple weeks.”
James Lunney, Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP, said Ottawa was in on the file from the beginning and he knows how important it is to the community.
But funding challenges include the government’s economic action plan winding down and less money for infrastructure.
“There was tons of money over the last two years, but that’s all winding down,” he said. “The cruise ship terminal got money, the airport got money … this one got delayed for various reasons.
“We know how important it is, and while there’s more competition for those dollars, as long as there’s a dollar in infrastructure left, I’ll be pounding on the door to make sure it comes this way.”
The Island Corridor Foundation is a non-profit partnership representing a variety of Island municipalities, regional district and First Nations which has owned the rail infrastructure since 2006.