The Capital Regional District is making a louder call for a return of passenger and freight trains along Vancouver Island’s dormant railway.
The CRD board last month directed staff to advocate for the Island Rail Corridor to be protected for passenger and freight uses. That will see CRD staff work with staff from the transportation ministry, four other regional districts along the corridor and relevant federal ministries.
The CRD’s transportation committee decided at its June meeting to also increase advocacy at the political level around reinstating the rail system.
“Local government action is going to be needed in order to make this happen,” CRD director and Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said while backing up his increased advocacy motion. He cited the Island’s lack of Liberal members of Parliament and not enough action currently coming from the province as why the regional plea is needed.
The CRD has recognized the corridor as a key component of the regional transportation system and the province’s South Island Transportation Strategy (2020) calls for exploring it for commuter rail use.
The CRD’s support for new life on the railway is contingent on senior government resolving ongoing claims with several First Nations relating to interests, including land ownership, within and along the corridor. A 2021 B.C. appeal court ruling on one of those claims requires the feds to state their intent for the rail line by March 2023.
Built in 1886, the rail line moved people and freight across a 290-kilometre system spanning from Victoria to Courtenay and Parksville to Port Alberni until passenger service shut down in 2011 due to maintenance concerns.
A business case released by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), which owns the rail system, called for a return of the train travel for those who don’t have access to a personal vehicle. The “highway-centric” Island’s quickly growing population will put further stress on the stained roadways, the business case noted.
The foundation also said the gap in transportation hinders the Island’s economic, environmental and social goals.
A 2020 transportation ministry assessment splits the Island Rail return into three phases, with the intermediate stage – costing $552 million – providing passenger and freight operations that would include peak hour commuter service along a Langford to Victoria stretch.
ICF recommends going with a hybrid $368 million middle phase that would reduce the maximum loading capabilities outside of heavy freight zones. Westhills to Victoria and Nanaimo to Port Alberni would be heavy freight zones.
CRD director and Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton lamented the CRD not considering rail years ago and the traffic congestion issues now facing travellers between Sooke and the core communities.
“Rail would be a big benefit to get people to town without building more roads,” he said at the committee meeting.
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