“If we don’t get it, there is no option to get it back again.”
That warning from Paul Robertson of the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition, who says people who want to see the trains running again only have a short time to make themselves heard.
The opportunity to restore rail service to Vancouver Island could be lost permanently in just over two weeks, if the provincial and federal governments cannot reach an agreement on providing funding.
Robertson urges people to “take a moment to write to their MP, especially Omar Alghabra, write to the MLA, write to the Premier, write to the minister of transportation and infrastructure, Rob Fleming, and advocate for this,” because after March 14th it becomes a very different conversation.
The BC Court of Appeal has made that a deadline for the federal government to either invest in railway infrastructure repairs on Vancouver Island, or part of the former E & N Corridor will be returned to the First Nation it was taken from.
However, Robertson says he’s optimistic in light of a provincial decision on bus service north of Courtenay, something he feels is an indication that Victoria is considering rail service to connect the north to the rest of the island.
He says they could have just as easily said there would be bus service from Victoria to Port Hardy, “they didn’t, and so I think that is encouraging, it tells me that there is some thinking going around the provincial government with regards to what will happen between Victoria and Courtenay,” and the railway is there to provide that service.
Robertson says they have also been in touch with the federal government, and transportation minister Omar Alghabra told them the government is actively looking into restoring rail service and has engaged with the province and will take its lead from the province.
He says there are conversations taking place and they are “greatly encouraged by that.”
Robertson says there are multiple benefits from having an operation railway on the island.
Trains would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve safety for the movement of hazardous materials by keeping them off congested highways, and improve the safety of the supply chain.
Robertson notes there was “a considerable pinch on the supply chain for good and services getting down to Victoria and getting up to the island,” caused by the closure of the Malahat section of Highway-1 after heavy rain washed away the northbound lanes in November of 2021.
The trains once operated between Victoria and Courtenay, but there has been no passenger service since 2011. A section of the tracks is used for moving freight near Nanaimo.
Snaw-Naw-As First Nation challenged the Island Corridor Foundation and the federal government in court over the the right-of-way running through its reserve, saying it was no longer used for a railway and use and benefit of the First Nation.
In 2020, the BC Supreme Court determined the right-of-way had not ceased to be used for a railway, but in 2021 the BC Court of Appeal gave the government 18 months to approve funding for infrastructure improvements on the corridor, including the portion on the Snaw-Naw-As reserve.