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Mayors asked to fund rail study

Aug 08 2012

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins is calling on all Greater Victoria mayors to help fund an almost $100,000 feasibility study for a proposed commuter train along the E&N rail line.

She and seven other mayors had asked the Capital Regional District for $70,000 to help pay for the study to determine the potential for a service linking the Cowichan Valley, Langford, Esquimalt and Victoria.

But that request for funding is expected to be turned down at Wednesday's board meeting, because CRD staff say the capital region has no authority over transportation and cannot allocate money for such a project.

Desjardins said she's disappointed by the decision.

"It's beyond me that we have a planning and transportation committee at the CRD and yet we can't find some way to get funding," she said.

"I have to call a meeting outside of the CRD to find out who really is supportive and that's unfortunate."

Mayors from View Royal, Esquimalt, Langford, Metchosin, Colwood, Sooke, Highlands and Sidney all signed a letter last month asking for the funding.

Politicians from at least two of those communities say they can't afford to pay for the study. Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said he supported the letter to the CRD because he sees the problem as a regional one.

He and Sooke Coun. Rick Kasper both say there is no money to pay for the study.

"We're having tight times as is," Kasper said. "We've had to turn down some funding requests on other items in our own community."

CRD board members indicated support for a commuter rail study when it was first presented to them, but even at that time, there was a clear indication the municipalities would have to pay for it themselves.

A staff report to be considered at Wednesday's board meeting recommends the municipalities pay for the study, but suggests the directors write to B.C. Transit asking them to work with a consultant to determine the best way to link the service to public bus routes.

B.C. Transit, however, has already determined the proposed Salish Express would be too expensive and would require heavy taxpayer subsidies.

The proposed train would cost between $22 and $38 per passenger trip, according to a report authored jointly by B.C.

Transit and the E&N rail line's owner, the Island Corridor Foundation.

Comparatively, transit buses in Greater Victoria cost just under $3 per passenger trip, according to Transit.

"It's just not feasible to run the commuter train," said Meribeth Burton, spokeswoman for B.C.

Transit. "And this was a joint business case. We did not do this on our own." dspalding@timescolonist.com