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Restore E&N railbed now, MP urges

Dec 20 2011
The Island's E&N Dayliner has not run since March. 

The Island's E&N Dayliner has not run since March.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, timescolonist.com

JUDITH LAVOIE

Times Colonist

There is an increasingly urgent need to restore E&N passenger rail before extra shipbuilding jobs are created at Esquimalt's Royal Navy Dockyard, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison says.

But Garrison fears the federal government's $7.5-million commitment to the E&N railbed repairs might have been shuffled into next spring's budget.

That would not be good news, Garrison said Monday.

"They're talking about huge cuts and they seem to see this as an expenditure rather than an investment. It's not a big priority for them," he said.

Garrison, who asked the government last week in the House of Commons during question period to commit to its share of the $15-million repair cost for the railbed, said he has not received an answer.

"When shipbuilding begins, alternatives for commuters and freight will be essential," he said.

"Given that there will be nearly 1,000 new jobs created at Dockyard and traffic is already near gridlock at shift changes, the federal government must fund its share of the repairs of the E&N railbed now," he said.

If it doesn't, Ottawa risks delaying the $8-billion contract to build federal ships because of traffic congestion, he said. The work is likely to start late next year or early 2013.

Infrastructure Canada, which is in charge of funding projects, did not return calls Monday.

The train, which formerly ran the wrong way for commuters — heading up-Island in the morning and to Victoria in the evening — has not run since March because of concerns about the safety of the track.

It will take an estimated $15 million to replace 104,000 ties between Courtenay and Victoria and 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 is now being spent on a study of the safety of 46 bridges and trestles.

Graham Bruce, executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the rail corridor on behalf of Vancouver Island communities, said he hopes the federal money will come through in the new year.

"We have had a good response in meetings we have had with federal officials, but a good response doesn't go ka-ching. That's the troublesome part," he said.

Bruce said he has not heard that the funding request has been pushed into next year's budget.

Once funding is in place and work done, including results of the bridge and trestle study, due in February, the plan is to have the train leave Nanaimo in the morning and arrive in Victoria about 8 a.m, taking commuters back to Nanaimo from Victoria at the end of the day.

In the middle of the day, the operators, Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, hope to run a trip to Courtenay and back.

"It's not rocket science," Bruce said.

In the meantime, about two freight cars a week are running between Nanaimo and Courtenay and Nanaimo and Parksville. Freight is one of the areas targeted for expansion, Bruce said.

As Greater Victoria runs out of gravel supplies, aggregate is shipped from up-Island, and rail shipping would be preferable to road, Bruce said.

"That would help [mitigate] the ever-increasing frequency of gravel trucks driving the Malahat," he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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