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Politicians seek way to look at rail service

Aug 10 2012
A pilot service dubbed the Salish Express could link the Cowichan Valley, Langford, Esquimalt and Victoria. A study would determine whether the projct is feasible. 

A pilot service dubbed the Salish Express could link the Cowichan Valley, Langford, Esquimalt and Victoria. A study would determine whether the projct is feasible.

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

Municipal politicians in Greater Victoria are vowing to find a way to study the feasibility of a commuter train service on the E&N rail line, despite the Capital Regional District's inability to fund such a project.

Eight mayors asked the CRD last month to contribute $70,000 toward a feasibility study for a pilot service dubbed the Salish Express, which would link the Cowichan Valley, Langford, Esquimalt and Victoria.

Despite wide support from politicians throughout the region for the $98,800 study, the request was turned down Wednesday because the CRD cannot allocate money for transit services, over which it has no authority.

"It is recognized all around the table that this is a regional issue and yet what we have to do now is go back to individual communities [to get the funding]. That is a shortcoming of CRD - that we have to overcome," said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

The push for a commuter service comes in anticipation of the six-month shutdown of the Craigflower

Bridge when the structure is replaced next summer.

The closing will add vehicles to already-congested nearby roadways.

Other CRD directors also expressed frustration with the governance model that prevents them from funding such a study.

"I know it's difficult for an organization of this size to be nimble, but when you're offered an opportunity like this, I don't think it's an appropriate response to say, 'Sorry, we don't have the mechanism to deal with it,' " said Victoria Coun.

Pamela Madoff.

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns - who signed the letter, along with the mayors of View Royal, Esquimalt, Langford, Colwood, Sooke, Highlands and Sidney - also questioned why money could not be provided.

"What could be an innovative idea is going to go down the tubes, and I think it's unfortunate that our system seems to be designed to discourage innovation," he told fellow CRD directors on Wednesday.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard disagreed with the criticisms of the CRD, saying people should have known the district could not fund such a study.

"I'm always disappointed when the CRD is set up for a black eye," he said. "It's unfair to ask us to do something when you know we can't do it."

He also said there are critics of the proposal, which was already studied in 2011 by both B.C. Transit and the Island Corridor Foundation, the owner of the E&N line.

That report indicated the Salish Express would require significant subsidies because the service would cost $22 or $38 per passenger trip, depending on the type of trains used.

However, the Corridor Foundation's chief operating officer, Graham Bruce, said the study did not take into consideration the variety of trains and the potential ridership for each.

"They need to look at what are the real operating costs," he said.

"What types of trains and how many people will they carry? That makes a big difference in terms of revenue at the fare box, rather than just estimates."

CRD directors decided Wednesday to ask B.C.

Transit to co-ordinate and integrate the Salish Express services with the regional transit system.

"If and when we're asked - and with the support of the [Greater Victoria Regional Transit] commission - we will make sure there's effective connection," said Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton.

Desjardins said she expects to meet with mayors in September to come up with ways to fund the Salish Express pilot study. dspalding@timescolonist.com

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