The Island Corridor Foundation says it’s time VIA Rail engaged responsibly in negotiating a new train service agreement for Vancouver Island.
A comprehensive proposal was presented after VIA Rail suggested it might consider an alternate plan whereby Southern Rail, the ICF rail operator, would take over operation of the reinstated service. VIA has not replied to the April proposal.
Foundation CEO Graham Bruce says this is unacceptable.
“Our operator entered into these discussions in good faith and have spent time and money to develop a train service that contemplated an increase in ridership, reduced VIA’s involvement and limited the subsidy,” Bruce said. “For VIA to not bother to respond is very poor business practise and a slap to Islanders.”
VIA Rail Canada is a federal crown corporation mandated to provide rail passenger service throughout the country.
“VIA Rail wants to maintain the past service agreement while our operator is intent on providing an improved service and schedule,” added Bruce.
The past service was a daily train from Victoria to Courtenay return.
The improved service calls for an early morning train from Nanaimo to Victoria and then the Victoria – Courtenay return schedule with a late afternoon run from Victoria back to Nanaimo. According to VIA’s numbers, ridership saw an average increase of six per cent annually during the last six years of operation. In addition, the new proposal looks to limit the subsidy risk to VIA.
The ICF has asked Minister of Transportation Todd Stone to speak with Lisa Raitt, the federal Minister of Transportation.
Bruce said Nanaimo MP James Lunney is carrying the message to Ottawa and has briefed Raitt.
The ICF wants the agreement in place by the end of August to facilitate a November construction start for rebuilding the track and trestles. Rail infrastructure funding of $20 million and the continuation of rail service on the Island could all be lost without VIA’s participation.
Bruce does not think the gap is insurmountable.
“The parties need to get in a room and hammer out the agreement,” he said. “The federal, provincial and regional governments, Southern and ICF have all come to the table and now VIA needs to do their part in restoring passenger service to the Island.”
Rail supporters are urged to write government and VIA officials. Contact information is at islandrail.ca.