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E&N supporters hope funding will be included in federal budget

Mar 27 2012
A man and his dog walk along the E&N railway tracks along Kimta Rd 

A man and his dog walk along the E&N railway tracks along Kimta Rd

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , timescolonist.com (March 26, 2012)

Passenger trains won't be running on the E&N track any time soon, even if the federal government coughs up millions for repairs in Thursday's budget.

Even if the needed $7.5 million in federal funds is included in the budget, it probably would take a year to do necessary repairs and get things running again, said Graham Bruce, chief operating officer of the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the rightofway.

"We've got the work plan all in place, but by the time you put the agreements in place ... then tendering contracts, it would probably be about a year to get the trains running," Bruce said.

The Dayliner, which ran the wrong way for commuters - heading upIsland in the morning and to Victoria in the evening - has not run since last March, when the track was deemed unsafe.

The Island Corridor Foundation has been waiting for a response to its request for $7.5 million, which would match money promised by the province for repairs to the line.

The foundation has been told by Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, to expect an answer on the funding by the end of this month.

"We're expecting a decision and I'm hopeful it's a positive one," Bruce said.

"All signs seems to indicate that, but I don't want to read things into it."

The estimated $15 million is needed to replace 104,000 ties between Courtenay and Victoria, as well as to do other essential repairs.

Provided Ottawa commits to spending half of that, the province has agreed to contribute $7.5 million, of which $500,000 has been spent on a study of the safety of 46 bridges and trestles.

That assessment of infrastructure along the 289-kilometre rail corridor showed the corridor's bridges and trestles are in good condition - a report the foundation hopes bolsters the case for federal funding.

The federal government has been signalling for months that it will be tabling an austerity budget. So other than the E&N, some local politicians' wish lists are largely confined to protecting existing programs.

"We [municipalities] have done things like the gas tax. We were hoping that it could be given a costof-living clause or be indexed so that we're not losing on that," said Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman, a B.C. director of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"We would love to see investment and the extension of eco-energy retrofits for homes. ... We hope to see something in terms of an investment in housing, but we recognize the landscape."

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been hammering away at the federal government for help with the infrastructure deficit faced by municipalities across the country.

That deficit was pegged at $123 billion to $135 billion in 2006, and is now probably closer to $165 billion to $190 billion, Coleman said.

If the federal government changes regulations with respect to waste-water treatment, that would add another $30 million in infrastructure requirements - of which at least one-third would fall on the shoulders of municipal taxpayers.

"They've agreed to talk about the national infrastructure issue. They haven't made commitments. So we're hoping they'll at least allude to those and the need to invest in the future," Coleman said.

View Royal Mayor Graham Hill said he will be watching for E&N Rail funding.

"I'm quietly optimistic [about the E&N]. I'm not going to go out too far because I haven't heard anything definite. But the relationship we've had with federal officers and ministers and the technical staff at the departments have been very encouraging," Hill said.

Capital Regional District chairman Geoff Young said there's no particular announcement he's anticipating in the budget.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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