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'Silence' on E&N future alarms key proponent

Dec 18 2011

Island Corridor Foundation co-founder Jack Peake wants to get the E&N Railway back on track.

Peake, former mayor of Lake Cowichan, has been closely allied with efforts to bring viable passenger rail service to Vancouver Island.

He has launched a group to keep watch on the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the 290-kilometre rail corridor on behalf of Vancouver Island communities.

"The whole Island Corridor Foundation seems to have gone into a vacuum," Peake said.

However, members of the foundation, which is made up of representatives of municipalities, regional districts and First Nations along the corridor, say they are perplexed by Peake's attack.

The foundation is active, keeping the public updated and waiting for confirmation that the federal government will come up with its 50 per cent share of the $15 million that would allow passenger service to resume, said cochairwoman Mary Ashley.

"We have not ground to a halt at all," she said.

The sound of the passenger train whistle disappeared in April because of concerns about the safety of the track, but silence from the foundation is equally alarming, Peake said. "There's no public information being disseminated and I fear we are facing a potential demise," he said.

Peake and railway consultant Jim Sturgill, who operated trains on the E&N route for 25 years, have formed the E&N Railway Action Group to act as a foundation watchdog and to keep the public informed through a website, saveislandrailway.org.

One major concern is that two advisory committees have been scrapped, Peake said.

But Ashley said the advisory groups stepped back when experts such as the railway operator, Southern Railway, took more control.

"We have a great operator, we have people ready to go and plans in place, and most of that information is on our website," she said.

That includes a promise from VIA Rail to return three refurbished cars, with bike racks and snack cars, once plans are firm.

A study, looking at the condition of trestles and bridges, and paid for with a $500,000 provincial grant, should be ready in the new year and preliminary reports look good, Ashley said.

"That is one of the things the federal government wanted to have in hand."

The province has pledged $7.5 million, provided that matching funds come from the federal government, but progress on the federal side is slow, Ashley said.

However, Ashley is optimistic that passenger trains could be running by spring, to Victoria in the morning and up-Island in the afternoon.

View Royal Mayor Graham Hill, a foundation member, said signs from the federal government have been good. "The ICF has been taking significant proactive steps to encourage the federal government, but we are being very careful on how to approach this," he said.


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