Qualicum Beach will not be supporting the recent push to re-start rail service up and down Vancouver Island.
Town council passed a motion Monday night to instruct its representative on the Regional District of Nanaimo board, Coun. Dave Willie, to vote against any request from the Island Corridor Foundation for RDN money.
Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer said the rail project “is something Vancouver Island just can’t afford.”
Luchtmeijer pointed a provincial government study that suggested $70 million would be needed to restore the rail to the point where it could carry passengers again on one run a day, and that didn’t include the cost of any repairs or replacement of trestles that are more than 100 years old.
The Island Corridor Foundation, which acts as the owner of the railway for the five regional districts that actually own it, has asked the districts for about $3 million, which works out to roughly $1.50 per household for five years in this regional district. The federal and provincial governments have each ponied up 7.5 million taxpayer dollars. The 17-member RDN board is expected to vote on the funding request before the end of the month.
“If 18.5 million is all you get and $70 million is what you need, it’s just not viable,” said Luchtmeijer, warning that this project could become a “bottomless pit. When do we stop throwing money at it?”
Coun. Scott Tanner was the only dissenting voice at the meeting Monday night. He said the project was “worth every dollar.” He also said he agreed with Luchtmeijer that “it may not be the last request” for money from the foundation.
Willie said he found the lack of information coming from the foundation “disturbing.” He cited business models and suggested there’s not enough freight business to sustain a new rail service.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Willie.
Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek supported the motion Monday night, suggesting this current funding call from the foundation could be “the thin edge of the wedge.”
“Even in high (population) places in the world, they (rail services) still need subsidies,” said the mayor.
RDN Board Chair and French Creek representative Joe Stanhope has said he supports the funding call from the foundation and he reiterated that when speaking with The NEWS this week.
Stanhope said he has received letters and calls from his constituents and “most of the people are in favour of it.”
Stanhope said he believes the proposed operator of the service, Southern Rail, is committed to pumping $70 million into the corridor over 20 years.
Calls by The NEWS this week to the Island Corridor Foundation for comment were not returned.