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Weekend-only plan for renewed rail service to Parksville Qualicum Beach a surprise

If passenger rail service is renewed to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, it may only be on the weekend.

Coun. Dave Willie reported the information during a Qualicum Beach town council meeting Monday night.

Comments about providing weekend rail service "spilled out" at another recent meeting, Willie said, between Parksville and Qualicum Beach municipal leaders and the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), which owns the railway track from Victoria to Courtenay.

"I think that was a big surprise to all of us," Willie said, adding attendees at the meeting also heard the passenger train wouldn't leave Nanaimo at 5:30 a.m. but at 7 a.m. and head south, Monday through Friday. "That's a very big difference from what we were told and what we agreed to."

The weekend passenger service, which is apparently on the current service agreement being negotiated between ICF and Via Rail, would also include Courtenay, Willie said, although he was not granted his request to look at a schedule.

When asked about recovering some of the capital costs to fix the aging rails at the meeting, the CEO of Southern Rail told municipal leaders "frankly" Willie said, that there was no business plan that would see any return of investment back to the rail for the next 10 years. Instead they would complete tasks project-by-project.

Willie reminded those in attendance at the meeting Monday night that as a regional district this area made a significant contribution (half a million dollars) toward renewing rail service.

The Island Corridor Foundation's website states that the provincial government committed $7.5 million in June 2011, in May 2012 the federal government committed $7.5 million and in February of 2013 five Island regional governments committed $3.4 million. Southern Rail of Vancouver Island and ICF will fund the balance, the website states. Calls to the Island Corridor Foundation were not returned before press time.

Willie said no one wants to see the corridor go away, whether its used for rail service, walking or biking.

"But I don't think any of us want to see us getting into a situation, which is what we seem to be seeing, where the first $20 million becomes $40 million and $60 million becomes $100 million."

The worst section of the rail is between Parksville and Courtney/Comox, Willie said.

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