The dream of restoring rail service to Vancouver Island may be inspirational, but at some point people need to stop dreaming and get serious about making something happen, says Dave Willie.
The Qualicum Beach director for the Regional District of Nanaimo, says there needs to be some form of “drop-dead” date for the current proposal. In an interview this week, Willie said that while all the money requested by the Island Corridor Foundation to restore the track for service has been obtained, the regional district’s portion — $945,000 — is slated to remain in a trust fund and will only become available when VIA Rail resumes service.
Willie suggested that rather than expanding passenger service to leave from Nanaimo in the morning, a lack of funding could result in service being returned to the same schedule it had prior to the railway shutting down.
“I think there would be a lot of disappointed folks that voted on that if they return to the time table that is not the one proposed to be part of the agreement,” Willie sai, noting he wants to protect the $15 million in federal and provincial funding for the corridor, whether or not the railway resumes service. Because of this, he said a “drop-dead” date is needed on the current proposal, he said, so planners can move on to other possibilities.
Rather than running a rail service, Willie suggested the corridor could be used in different ways.
“There is tremendous value in the corridor, but I’m not sure if it is in rail service,” he said. “The ICF is not the Island Corridor Railway Foundation. The idea was to keep the corridor in place. The money could be put in trust and shared to turn that corridor into some other economic benefit for the Island and for residents of the Island. It could be different in each regional district, but they would each maintain the corridor.”
Willie noted the Town of Qualicum Beach pays about $1,200 every month for operation of rail crossings.
“They are not being used,” he said. “How long are we going to continue this on for?”
However, ICF general manager Graham Bruce said he remains confident the rail corridor will host regularly scheduled passenger service, despite the cuts to VIA’s subsidy.
“I don’t see it impacting us,” he said. “We also had a memo that showed that through the new Canada Works plan, there’s $50 million allocated for operations on remote runs — and on the Island we would classify as part of that, even though we don’t see ourselves as remote. As well, there’s another $58 million over five years allocated for capital improvements for short line commuter transit and rail lines.”
Bruce dismissed concerns about VIA service returning to the old schedule.
“The whole point of this is for an improved service,” he said. “That’s what we’re working on. We are in discussions with VIA to bring the train service agreement to completion and ... I’m fairly confident we will get what we are trying to achieve.”