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Editorial: Cannot afford to waste chance for rail

t could be the future backbone of transportation on Vancouver Island
The train tracks in Duncan have been quiet since rail service stopped on the Island Corridor. (Andrea Rondeau/Citizen)

It will absolutely cost many millions of dollars. Hundreds of millions, in fact. And it’s worth it.

The deadline on a decision that will have a huge impact on any future the E&N rail corridor can have on Vancouver Island is expected in March. This is when a judge has said there must be a decision on whether or not the corridor will be restored, or parts of the corridor land must be returned to the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation. Of course, however this goes it wouldn’t seal the fate of the southern portion of the railway, but it would cut the rail line off from heading north of Nanaimo to Courtenay. Which would be a shame.

In fact, it will be a huge shame on the governments of the day and all of us should we lose the rail line. It could be the future backbone of transportation on Vancouver Island, every bit as important and useful as the Trans-Canada Highway. We just need to let go of our collective brainwashing that cars are the be-all, end-all; that somehow it’s possible to expand our roadways enough to properly service the growing population in an environmentally responsible manner.

We spend billions every year on highways in this province. It’s time some of that investment went into a serious alternative.

The naysayers claim that nobody would use it. We would point out that they are usually the same people who said nobody would take a commuter bus from Duncan to Victoria. That service has proven so popular that it had to expand the number of runs, and even added weekends.

There is also a group that advocates for turning the rail bed into a trail. While that may sound good, it certainly isn’t the highest use of the corridor, as attracting tourists and hikers does nothing to address the congestion on our roads and the lack of an alternate route to the problematic Malahat highway. It certainly doesn’t do much for the elderly who can no longer drive and need more options to be able to get around, so they can comfortably age in our communities.

Part of the urgency here is that this is our one shot. If we do not save the E&N corridor for rail service, we will most likely never have rail connecting communities on Vancouver Island. Collecting together that much real estate would be totally prohibitive to any alternative venture.

We cannot afford to waste this chance. Speak up for rail to any and every government agency you can think of. Before it’s too late.