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Province tells Esquimalt more consultation needed on Island rail corridor future

$431-million proposal envisions local commuter, regional passenger, freight services on the line
The Island Corridor Foundation’s business case for the return of rail on Vancouver Island shows this photo of trains on tracks in Vic West. Esquimalt also hopes for a return of trains on the tracks. (Courtesy of Island Corridor Foundation)

The Township of Esquimalt has received a response from the province after advocating for reinstating train services on the E&N rail corridor, but the 290-kilometre line’s future remains up in the air.

Esquimalt council in July voted to encourage the Canadian and provincial governments to make infrastructure grants that would restore the train service on the E&N rail corridor. Council asked for the first priority to be a commuter train service from Langford to Victoria.

“I really believe that we’re running out of time on this,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins at the July 4 council meeting.

In an August letter responding to the advocacy, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said restoring any form of rail would be very costly.

“For the ministry to advance any project, it must be supported by a strong business case where the benefits to the public clearly outweigh the costs,” the letter said.

A business case released by the Island Corridor Foundation this spring envisions a mixed-use system with a Langford to Victoria peak-hour commuter service, a twice-daily passenger service between Victoria and Courtenay and freight uses. The proposal is costed at $43 million.

The federal government is under a court-imposed deadline to announce its intentions for the railway by next March before anything can go ahead.

Fleming’s letter said ministry staff, the federal government and the foundation are consulting with First Nations to better understand their interest in the corridor, but more consultation is needed.

“The provincial government’s goal remains to find the best use for the Island Rail Corridor, as well as to support First Nations interests in these discussions,” Fleming wrote.

At the July meeting, Coun. Meagan Braeme said the line is an important corridor that could benefit the community.

“I think this is really important, this is a drum that we’ve been beating, a battle that we’ve been fighting for as long I’ve been on council,” she said.

The advocacy passed unanimously, but not without some concerns.

“We’re not transit experts, I’m just not convinced that the business case is there versus increased bus use as a way of getting people out of cars,” Coun. Ken Armour.

Desjardins said regardless of rail returning or not, the federal government has to make a decision on what will happen with the line, rather than letting it continue to deteriorate.

READ: Premier John Horgan doubts return of Island rail service is achievable Follow us on Instagram. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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