We should put no more money into deteriorating railway

Saltair – In September I wrote to the CAO of the CVRD seeking copies of any studies assessing the financial feasibility of refurbishing and upgrading 140 miles of collapsing railbed, dated rolling stock and engines, rotten ties, frogs, crossings, bridges, lighting, crossing signals and a plethora of other related issues. In part it read: “What I am seeking are the studies or analyses, reviewed and considered by the board, which detail and present expected values for issues such as:

average speed at which rail traffic would move from Nanaimo to Victoria, particularly given the greater than 100 level crossings, bridges and trestles, much of it through municipalities

anticipated time and cost of trip for ICF passenger traffic twixt Duncan and Victoria vs the existing time and cost of the same trip by bus

cost of freight per mile by ICF vs bus or truck

anticipated ICF ridership vs current bus, car, car pool [including transit pool cars] ridership

impact of the Capital Regional District inclination to use the ICF rail-line for LRT purposes from downtown Victoria to the western communities

anticipated ICF freight cost and the potential financial impact on existing freight services

what entity[ies] will assume future costs of operation when/if there are losses in the future

total CVRD financial commitment to date

SVR’s financial ownership position in the ICF

SVR commitment to present and future costs

First Nations’ financial commitments,

most current audited financial statement from ICF” In response I received only a copy of the slick presentation made to the CVRD board by the president of Southern Railway – a subsidiary of Dennis Washington’s multi-billion dollar American empire. A presentation that resembles the type of prospectus so prevalent on the VSE in times gone by – but nonetheless deemed by the board sufficient to donate a half-million dollars to the cause.

In plain words, the board neither received nor sought from staff any independent financial feasibility assessment of the benefits to the community or of the disadvantages to present businesses before it committed a half-million of our tax dollars to the ICF. That the board would commit monies based on such a pitch made by a billion-dollar company together with the “feel-good” aura of railroading is not only questionable, it borders on negligent.

The present stratagem of “suspending” freight service is almost certainly a BC Ferries-like rate-setting ploy – positioning the board for yet another donation. The board should be very careful before throwing more of our money into that bottomless pit. In fact, they should not.

Better the board take the initiative and seek the commitment of other interested groups – perhaps even including a re-oriented ICF with altruistic values – to acquire the moribund railway and use the railbed as a hiking/cycling trail spanning half the length of the Island.

Now that would be worth our investment as opposed to lining Dennis Worthington’s pockets [233rd wealthiest billionaire in the world].

Pat Mulcahy