Prove train can work and we’re on board

Like the Cowichan Valley Regional District, we’re willing to be persuaded.

Like the Cowichan Valley Regional District, we’re willing to be persuaded.

The old E&N railway line that runs from Victoria to Courtenay has been shut down so long we can’t help but wonder if it will ever get up and running again.

We hope it will, but fear that the financial costs of getting train cars moving on the old tracks once more will be prohibitive.

It’s frustrating that the golden opportunity that was the Island Corridor railway has been ignored so long by senior governments that we may be at the stage where it can no longer be saved.

That’s not to denigrate the efforts of the industrious and enthusiastic Island Corridor Foundation, which succeeded in putting together a deal to purchase the track after the ICF’s formation in 2003.

The idea was that the train could be a vital lifeline up the length of the Island, an alternative to the highway that could eventually persuade people out of their individual, polluting vehicles and onto a relatively green form of public transit.

It could have been, and might yet be, a viable bypass for when the inevitable accidents shut down the Malahat.

It could also have served as an excellent way to ship freight, eliminating many of the big transport trucks that tear up the roadways.

Further, there was potential as a tourist attraction.

There were always naysayers who figure that the Island doesn’t have a big enough population base to support a rail system, and that people would never be willing to get out of their cars. That last has been somewhat debunked by the extremely successful commuter bus service from the Cowichan Valley to Victoria.

But the biggest problem now is the deteriorating condition of the infrastructure, which just continues to go downhill every day.

Had the money been immediately put into the necessary improvements, we would be able to offer unequivocal support for continuing efforts to get the trains running again.

But the fact is that as time goes on, the costs only escalate. At this point the money sought by the ICF will likely only be enough to perform triage on the tracks, not improve them to the point at which they need to be to build a viable, long-term railway.

The pulling of funding by the Regional District of Nanaimo may prove to be the first domino in the final demise of this length of track, but we hope it isn’t.

In spite of the hurdles that grow higher as the days without action grow into months and years, we’re still hopeful to see someone step forward with a business case proving that the corridor can still become (albeit slowly) the Island connector proponents have always envisioned.