Les Anderson has dreamed of a trail linking Island communities for years and sees the current railway trouble as the prefect opportunity for serious discussion.
He said he’s taken the VIA Dayliner up and down the Island himself and it is a great trip, but it gets very limited use, compared to the thousands that might use small sections as a trail through the cities.
Thinking of other rail to trail projects, including the famous Kettle Valley line in the Interior, Anderson suggests the current debate should at least include a proper study of the trail option.
A trail attached to the Galloping Goose trail in Victoria and running at an even grade right through communities from the capital to Port Alberni and Courtenay would provide huge benefits for recreation, tourism and even commuting in local areas, he said.
While he recognizes not everyone wants to turn the rail into trails he said it might be the most viable option and said he was disappointed the E&N Rail Corridor Study done a couple years ago didn’t even consider it.
He said considering $100 million estimates to fully restore the railway, it’s worth considering the priorities of people on the Island in the face of budget constraints and areas like education and health care.
He suggested that it might take very little public money, if any, to get a group or company to salvage the steel and ties and leave the rail bed in useable condition.
The initial step might just remove the tracks and leave it as rough, but other opportunities would likely develop. He said the Galloping Goose has proved a valuable right of way for utility companies to bury their services and then pave or help maintain sections.
It would be a tourist draw for people to come and travel the entire length of the trail, he said but mostly imagines it would get a lot of local use in areas with people commuting between Parksville and Qualicum Beach or through the Ladysmith-Duncan area.
With people getting more serious about driving less, he believes this is an increasing priority for many, as shown by the recent success of Bike to Work Week.
People are already using it recreationally, he pointed out, and it is becoming a safety issue with a number of fatalities over the years.
In the more distant future he points out that if the Island population grows dramatically and there is a need for rail transit, the right of way will always be there and the rails would have to be replaced by then anyway.
Anderson started a website a couple years ago to get the trail conversation going, but said he’s had trouble getting people to visit the site.
He encourages people to visit http://railstotrailsvancouverisland.yolasite.com/ to join the conversation.