Groups that are advocating for the revival of the E&N Railway line have agreed to form a new umbrella organization after a meeting in Duncan last weekend.
Called the E&N Railway Roundtable, the participants at the meeting, said to be the largest independent meeting of representative railway organizations ever held on Vancouver Island, committed to coordinate efforts throughout the Island to help preserve and revive the deteriorating rail line for both trains and trails.
It’s the first time a group has been formed that represents both the advocates of the trail systems along the railway corridor and the railway itself.
“One of the big themes this last weekend was to see how the transportation planners and supporters can work with those who want to convert the E&N railway on the Island into a multi-use recreational trail only,” said Glenn Migneault, coordinator of Parksville’s East End Track Gang which has been working on reviving the railway at Coombs.
“Although we oppose the Rails to Trails proposal, we would prefer to work with the Rails to Trails group and come to a Rails with Trails agreement to benefit all. We hope other municipal and regional district representatives will eventually join the ENRR as well.”
Passenger train service on the E&N Railway line was stopped in 2011 due to track safety concerns, and freight service has also been discontinued between Duncan and Parksville.
The federal and provincial governments have committed $7.5 million each, on top of the funding from local governments, to fix the railway line.
But the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the rail line, and Southern Railway, which runs the rail operations, have been facing delays from the senior levels of government as to when they plan to release the funding they’ve promised.
The Cowichan Valley’s Jack Peake, the former chairman of the ICF and now the chairman of the ENRR, said be believes the expanded body representing both trail and rail advocates will help the process along.
“This is an opportunity to take advantage of the rail assets we have that are currently being wasted,” Peake said.
“The trail systems are a key component to the railway line’s revival and we are not opposed to them,” he said.
Peake said he’s also optimistic there may be a new impetus to kick-starting the process with a new NDP government in power in B.C.
“Members of the new government have said they support the E&N Railway and are interested in working with us,” he said.
“We’re waiting for the government to officially take over after the Throne Speech and then we plan to meet with them. We’ve also talked to Graham Bruce (the current chairman of the ICF) and he also agreed we should all work together.”
Peake said a lot of research has been done as to what is required to revive the railway line, and he’s meeting with representatives from a railway management company next week to nail down some of the anticipated costs.