The City of Parksville doesn’t seem to share the optimism of provincial government officials and Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) board members when it comes to the re-start of passenger rail service.
Under direction from former Mayor Chris Burger, the city stopped making its $858 monthly payments to Southern Rail for crossing rights in October of 2014. The invoices continue to come.
This decision came after city council passed a motion in November of 2012, instructing its representative on the Regional District of Nanaimo’s board of directors — Coun. Marc Lefebvre, now the mayor — to vote ‘no’ to funding the ICF. That 2012 motion also asked that a third-party “formal performance audit be conducted on all ICF programs and initiatives.”
Parksville was out-voted at the RDN board table when it came to the ICF funding question and the performance-audit motion was also defeated by the board.
On Thursday, the provincial government issued a news release saying it has affirmed its commitment to provide $7 million to the ICF to support the future of the E&N rail line on the Island. The release said the provincial funds would be released once the province has confirmed that $7.5 million in federal funding is in place and, through a tendering process, that the upgrade work can be completed within the $20.4 million it has budgeted
However, Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, the only Conservative Party MP from the Island, told The NEWS the federal money is “contingent on the province doing their due diligence. If they are good to go, we’re good to go.”
Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell was asked to clarify.
“We are now comfortable with the assurances we have gotten from the B.C. Safety Authority in regards to the upgrades,” she said, going further in her comments than anything said by Transportation Minister Stone in the news release.
The province said planned passenger service for this corridor includes twice daily runs from Nanaimo to Victoria, service to Qualicum Beach on Wednesdays and weekends, and service to Courtenay on weekends and statutory holidays.
Despite the opposition to taxpayer funding from communities like Parksville and Qualicum Beach, ICF co-chair Dr. Judith Sayers said:
“We know the people are supportive of the rail project and we all look forward to getting the VIA passenger service operational between Victoria and Courtenay.”
Passenger rail service on Vancouver Island was suspended due to unsafe track conditions in 2011. The ICF says it can re-start the service with about $20 million of upgrades.
“The government understands the importance of the historic E&N rail corridor to communities across Vancouver Island,” Minister Stone said in the new release last week. “We want to see the return of a fully operational passenger rail service on Vancouver Island and today we are one step closer.”