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ICF says a tentative deal has been reached to return passenger rail to Vancouver Island

Island Corridor Foundation board members and staff pose for a photo in front of a Southern Rail locomotive at Nanaimo
Island Corridor Foundation board members and staff pose for a photo in front of a Southern Rail locomotive at Nanaimo's train station after an announcement Wednesday stating Southern Rail has reached a tentative agreement with VIA Rail regarding the return of passenger rail service for the Island.
— image credit: JOHN HARDING PHOTO

The Island Corridor Foundation says a tentative agreement to re-start passenger rail service on Vancouver Island has been reached between Southern Rail and VIA Rail.

No details about potential service to Parksville and Qualicum Beach were revealed, and there remains skepticism that local residents will ever see a train on tracks in this region. The ICF held a news conference Wednesday to announce the deal at the Nanaimo train station.

"All train operations will now be based out of Nanaimo, which allows for an early-morning southbound train to Victoria," said ICF co-chair Judith Sayers.

ICF CEO Graham Bruce said the $20 million pledged by three levels of government — federal, provincial and regional districts — will be enough to bring the line up to standard for passenger rail service.

"The plan we have laid out with Southern, $20 million allows us to replace approximately 104,000 ties from Victoria to Courtenay and do the other types of work to be able to get your rail system holding and to be able to accept passenger service again," Bruce said in an interview after the announcement.

Regional District of Nanaimo chair Joe Stanhope didn't sound convinced.

"I think the infrastructure deficit is a little more than that . . . I think $100 million," said Stanhope. The RDN pledged about $900,000 in taxpayer money to the ICF providing the rail service returned to its previous standard for schedules.

Stanhope was asked if that condition has been met with the announcement Wednesday.

“It hasn’t been fulfilled yet but I guess it’s on the right track,” said Stanhope. “Stay tuned.”

Bruce said the $100 million figure being quoted represents “a total rebuild” and the $20 million of taxpayer money pledged by the various levels of government will be enough to get passenger rail service re-started.

Bruce was asked about possible schedules or when passenger rail will re-start for Qualicum Beach and Parksville residents?

“I’m not going to get into that,” said Bruce, who earlier estimated the work on the track could be completed in nine months. “We’re working on schedules.”

Coun. Dave Willie represents Qualicum Beach on the RDN board. He was at the announcement Wednesday and he was asked if he believed passenger rail service to and from Qualicum Beach is any closer with this announcement.

“Not a chance,” said Willie. “They (the ICF) know in their own studies they need $100-130 million over the next 10 years and they have no business plan to cover off the rest of that money.”

Willie also said he noted the absence of some key players at the news conference.

“There are two pieces of this puzzle that aren’t here today,” said Willie. “Via Rail isn’t here at all so I question whether there is any tentative agreement with VIA Rail. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is. Number two — I notice that the province isn’t here.”

Bruce said there isn’t anything to read into the absence of any comment or presence from VIA on Wednesday.

“When we did the whole train station opening here, and VIA were huge supporters, they didn’t come and participate in that instance either,” said Bruce.

Passenger rail service was stopped on Vancouver Island in the spring of 2011 due to track safety concerns. ICF owns the tracks and rail corridor, with Southern Rail as its contracted operator.

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