Island Rail Service on Track for Improvements

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A new Nanaimo-to-Victoria passenger rail service plan for Vancouver Island was announced in late October by the Island Corridor Foundation.

Graham Bruce, ICF executive director, said the foundation is hopeful that with the assistance of the federal and provincial governments and VIA Rail, the plan will be operational in the next 12 to 18 months.

The strategy, developed by the ICF and Southern Rail of Vancouver Island, calls for the existing VIA passenger service to make its home terminus the ICF’s Nanaimo rail yard. This would allow an early-morning southbound passenger service to Victoria to be added to the 8 a.m. Victoria-to-Courtenay daily service as well as a late afternoon train from Victoria to Nanaimo.

The two senior governments are being asked to equally fund $15 million in rail infrastructure improvements that will primarily replace ties and ballast, making for a smoother safer ride and securing the future of Island rail.

VIA Rail has been approached under its railcar refurbishment program to provide new passenger cars that are handicap accessible, can carry bicycles and have onboard food and beverage facilities.

“This is the first phase of incremental rail improvements that was detailed in the recently released B.C. Ministry of Transportation rail study,” said Bruce. “We’ve toured the rail with North Island MP and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan, B.C. Minister of Transportation Shirley Bond, and VIA Rail president Marc Laliberte. They appreciate the common sense of this passenger service plan and the urgency of the rail infrastructure funding.”

The ICF took over control and ownership of the Island rail corridor and the rail link to Port Alberni in 2006. The ICF has contracted with SRY Rail Link, (known as SVI Rail Link), a B.C.-based, highly experienced short-line rail provider, to be the Island’s rail operator.

To date, approximately $30 million in rail and trail improvements, several new bridges, the Langford transit exchange and the Admirals Road crossing have been completed and a new Nanaimo station is now under construction. Annual freight tonnage has been stabilized and passenger volumes have been increased by 25 per cent since 2006.

It is anticipated the work program will take approximately 12 months to complete and will generate 164 direct and indirect jobs; $7.7million in wages and salaries; $8 million in goods expenditures on Vancouver Island; and will create job training and employment opportunities for Island First Nations.

The MoT study identified potential passenger ridership overall could grow to more than 200,000 people annually over the next 20 years with improvements. The study points out that anyone trying to use the current train to commute to OR visit either Victoria or Nanaimo on business is “highly constrained by the schedule which departs Victoria in the morning and returns in the evening.”

Bruce said passenger fares, although not yet established, would have to be competitive with other transit options.