ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN
If plans to re-establish rail service to the Cowichan Valley and other parts of Vancouver Island are scuttled now, the likelihood of having trains in the region in the future is “unlikely,” according to Graham Bruce.
Bruce, the executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation, told councillors in the Municipality of North Cowichan he’s “concerned” that the Regional District of Nanaimo decided to end its fundraising to assist in the resurgence of train traffic on the Island.
“It’s a challenge, but I’m confident we’ll find another way [to make up for the funding],” Bruce said.
“It concerns me, but it’s not the end of the project.”
Officials from the ICF and Southern Railway Vancouver Island, the main advocates for the reintroduction of rail service to the Island, provided an update on their ongoing efforts towards the resumption of both freight and passenger rail service on the Island.
Regional districts on the Island have committed approximately $7 million to the approximately $21-million project, and the federal and provincial governments have said they would contribute $7.5 million each.
But the funding from the districts, including $486,000 from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, will not be released until the ICF and SVI have the funding promised from other levels of government in hand.
North Cowichan is providing about one-third of the CVRD’s financial commitment, as well as approximately $53,000 per year in permissive tax exemptions, towards the project.
The signoff for the cash from Ottawa was delayed by the federal election in October and then earlier this year by the Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation filing a civil claim against the ICF and the federal government over the line.
The ICF filed a response to the civil claim at the end of February, and Ottawa was expected to file by the end of March, but that’s been extended until the end of April.
But the RDN unanimously voted to stop collecting its share, almost $1 million, toward the project two weeks ago.
RDN chairman Bill Veenhoof said the decision was made because the ICF has not produced results in the years it has championed the project.
Coun. Al Siebring told Bruce that the perception is the train project is “getting further and further behind.”
“Everyone wants to preserve the rail corridor, but it becomes less viable each year the [corridor upgrades] aren’t done, and the costs continue to go up as the corridor deteriorates further,” he said.
“The community is feeling this project is not going in your direction.”
Bruce said he and the other proponents of the railway have done everything that was required of them and met all the conditions to secure the government money for the project.
“We would have loved to have come here and say all this has been settled and we’re ready to go, but we can’t control this,” he said.
“There are costs to do this, it’s not free, so it’s a simple decision by society of whether they want rail on the Island or not.”