Skepticism remains about rail

It’s expected the work on upgrades will begin this fall and rail service will resume in 2015.

This man brought a youngster to an Island Corridor Foundation news conference in Nanaimo earlier this year.

Regional district directors took another step towards rail service — but not before adding one more condition.

Directors voted in favour of a contribution agreement with the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) that will see $945,000 committed over two years to upgrading rail infrastructure and reinstating rail service from Victoria to Courtney. This money was originally authorized by the board in 2012.

Additionally, directors set aside $68,000 for the contribution agreement from a provincial grant to help offset the 2015 tax requisition.

However, director Julian Fell, who represents Coombs and Errington, made one last provision before the motion was carried at Tuesday night’s RDN committee of the whole meeting. The motion will come back to the board to be ratified at the next regular RDN meeting slated for July 22.

Fell made an amendment to the original motion assuring “the scope of repairs will meet VIA Rail’s safety requirements to return train service.”

The ICF, Southern Rail of Vancouver Island (the operator of the rail) and a contractor will be responsible for repairs and upgrades.

“The purpose of this (amendment) is to say we want to see a plan that is going to satisfy VIA,” said Fell. “Spending dollars on a repair that wont satisfy VIA will be a total waste of money because they will be back asking for more.”

In an 8-6 vote the amendment passed but not without disagreement from some directors like Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan who said “we keep putting up obstacles and it’s about time we show some support.”

While the motion will be carried to the next board meeting directors maintained skeptical about the project.

“I can’t justify over the next 10 years Qualicum Beach taxpayers paying nearly a quarter million dollars to see a train run by once a week, maybe — so just on that basis it’s not worth it,” said Dave Willie, a town councillor who represents Qualicum Beach at the RDN.

“I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense, it probably does for Victoria and Nanaimo, but to continue paying those kinds of fees for Qualicum Beach it just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The $945,000 contribution represents the RDN’s portion of an overall $20.9 million budget for the project seeking to re-start passenger service in the mid-Island area that was shut down in 2011 due to safety concerns. In 2012 the RDN board authorized funding for the project. Since that time there has been ongoing discussions between VIA Rail, Southern Rail and the ICF and final agreements are now being conducted.

Other regional districts — including the Cowichan Valley, Comox Valley and Alberni Clayoquot — are in the process or have finalized contribution agreements. The RDN is the last to formalize an agreement.

According to a June 30 RDN memorandum, assuming all conditions are met it is expected construction upgrades to the railway will begin this fall and rail service will be resumed in 2015.

The first allocation of funding from the RDN to ICF would take place in the fall of 2014 and the remainder of the funding will need to be requisitioned and transferred in 2015. Funds were collected in 2013 for the first $472,500 payment and there will need to be an additional requisition in 2015 to fund the second payment.

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