Port Alberni’s historic steam locomotive crosses the Kitsuksis Creek trestle on its run as part of the McLean Mill tour in July of 2016. The train is one of the few still running on Vancouver Island tracks as the future of rail continues to be debated by civic governments and the public. — J.R. Rardon photo

Former ICF chair ‘annoyed’ with RDN decision

Board endorses group’s idea to convert rails into non-motorized trails

A staunch supporter of the restoration and retention of the E&N Railway on Vancouver Island was not pleased the regional district endorsed a group’s concept to turn railways into multi-use trails.

Jack Peake, co-founder and former chair of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), tried to convince the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) board not to give up on the railway.

The RDN board went on to vote in favour of sending a letter to the ICF in support of converting the railway to trails from Parksville to Courtenay. The motion was made by the Town of Qualicum Beach director Teunis Westbroek, following a presentation by Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island (FORT-VI) earlier this month to the committee of the whole. The group called for the removal of the rails and conversion of the railbed into a non-motorized, multi-use trail. The E&N Railway include railways from Victoria to Courtenay and from Parksville to Port Alberni.

Peake said he is angered by some of the directors’ lack of vision.

“I am particularly annoyed by the person who put it forward ‘cause I worked with him years ago and I think he is short-sighted in the worse way to believe that it makes sense to tear up infrastructure and leave it just blank,” said Peake. “It’s a step definitely in the wrong direction.”

Peake added that the RDN should “instead, get behind something that should have been supported all along and make the rail thing happen. The FORT-VI proposal, he said, is unreasonable and not a sensible decision.

“There is no way that a special interest group representing a minority of people on the Island should have their interest increased while the majority owners of the railway are ignored,” Peake told the board.

The ICF owns the right of way. He said it has property taxes exemption somewhere between $400,000 and $600,000 that is provided by the municipalities up and down the corridor.

“This means, each and every taxpayer, private citizens, commercial and industrial, are picking up the shortfall by using this tax exemption, not to mention the fact that many local governments pay also crossing fees to Southern Rail,” said Peake.

“This is a clear indication that a majority of citizens on the Island have a direct interest both financially and personally to see this railway operate to the benefit of all Islanders.”

Peake suggested the RDN board help the ICF by lobbying long and hard for money and support toward the restoration of rail services.

The railway line, Peake pointed out, provides the greatest opportunity to improve the region’s air quality by reducing the number of cars on the highway.

Establishing a passenger train will also boost the tourist industry on the Island.

“Support the restorations of the railway in whatever way you can,” Peake told the board. “Let me remind my friends from the cycling world you, too, will be old like me someday and you would appreciate an option to your car to move up and down our wonderful island. Work with us, folks. Not against us. Help make the best possible use of the rail corridor including the trails from all the corridors, and not displace the rail from their potential multiple use.”

Westbroek said the ICF presented its business plan to introduce passenger rail services five years ago, but to date nothing has materialized.

“How long do we wait?” Westbroek asked. “Then, we were told we would get one train a week from Nanaimo to Courtenay. I don’t think anybody would justify the expense of fixing the railway to accommodate one train a week.”

Westbroek also criticized the proposal of a coal train from Buckley Bay to Port Alberni.

Peake said he understood Westbroek’s comments. But he pointed out there are numerous business opportunities along the corridor that can be explored, which the ICF, Peake said, has failed to emphasize enough. He also knows there are investors waiting for things to develop.

“If we take away this opportunity, we are going to put us in a place where it’s not going to happen in the future,” said Peake.

“Remember all of this requires some vision and some investment.”

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