Robert Barron column: Railway to valuable to be lost without a fight

I find it sad that the railway line continues to deteriorate day by day with no efforts to save it.

I’ve been a big advocate of reviving the railway corridors on Vancouver Island since the passenger train service on the E&N rail line was stopped in 2011 due to track safety concerns.

I’m originally from Newfoundland where that province and Ottawa decided to end the island’s rail service decades ago in favour of investing in improved roadways instead.

The loss of the iconic railway system that stretched across Newfoundland for almost a century before road links between communities became common was not lost on Newfoundlanders, and memories and stories about that long-lost railway still abound in the island’s history and folklore.

That’s one of the main reasons why I’ve been a big fan of getting the railway here up and running again.

If we don’t do something soon, the railway corridors on Vancouver Island will have deteriorated to the point of no return, and the dream of providing environmentally friendly and efficient passenger services to Islanders will come to an end.

Then there’s the whole tourism angle to providing people from away the opportunity of exploring some of the most unique destinations that can be found anywhere from the comfort of a trail on one of the most beautiful islands in the world.

About a decade ago, when there was a big push spearheaded by the Island Corridor Foundation to keep the rail service literally on track, I took a train trip from Nanaimo to Courtenay with other railway enthusiasts and was astounded at what a different trip it was from one in a car or bus on the highway.

Despite the rallying of communities and governments up and down the rail line and some dubious promises from senior levels of government to step in and help out with revitalizing the corridor over the years since then, nothing of any significance has happened.

I find it sad that the railway line continues to deteriorate day by day with no efforts to save it.

Last year, a guy brought a railway spike into my office that he pulled from a rotten wooden tie on the track in Duncan using only his fingers.

Time is certainly running out and if something isn’t done soon, it will finally be too late to do anything to save our railway.

Last year, the ICF presented a $42.7-million proposal to revive the railway to the province’s new NDP government, with the hopes that senior levels of government would split the costs, that would pay for major track upgrades between Nanaimo and Victoria, which is considered to be phase one of the overall project.

That may seem like a lot of money, but a recent press release from the ICF pointed out that the province is spending $35 million for road improvements on the Malahat and $80 million on the McKenzie interchange.

“We have to question the value of those expenditures when we consider what could be accomplished with those funds applied to the E&N railway,” the release stated.

A rally, hosted by the E&N Railway Roundtable, to support the revival of the railway corridor will be held at the Duncan Train Station on June 1 at 11 a.m. and anyone who sees the value in the project is encouraged to attend.

Governments must be shown that there’s still strong public support for the railway before it’s too late to do anything about it.

Our railway is too valuable to our economy and culture to be lost without a fight.

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