Southern Railway of Vancouver Island (SVI) officials say passenger train service could return to Vancouver Island as early as next year.
“Maybe by the end of 2016, but by early 2017 in time for the tourist season we expect passenger operations to resume,” SVI director of community relations J. Singh Biln told
The NEWS Friday morning.
SVI is the operator of the E&N Railway, owned by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF). Passenger service was suspended back in 2011 amid safety concerns about the existing track.
Biln said the last outstanding piece of funding to sign off is $7.5 million from the federal government, which he said was held up by the recent election.
He said the new government and cabinet are not expected to change the course of this project.
“We have had previous commitment from the feds and working with Infrastructure Canada so expect no problems getting the new minister to sign (an) agreement in principle by early 2016,” said Biln.
Once funding is secured, Biln said the company will need six to nine months to tender and rehabilitate the track.
The plan is to replace 9,000 rail joints, renew 110,000 wood ties, add 56,500 tonnes of ballast, and lift and resurface the track.
The province told The NEWS last summer that train service would be based out of Nanaimo with two daily runs to Victoria, service to Qualicum Beach on Wednesdays and weekends, and service to Courtenay on weekends and statutory holidays.
Biln spoke more generally saying “our initial schedule is intended to reach as many clients as possible but the schedule can be easily adjusted as needed by demand. Our mandate is to increase ridership.”
ICF chief executive officer Graham Bruce did not respond to calls from The NEWS for more specifics on the schedule by press time.
Senior governments and five regional districts along the E&N line — including the Regional District of Nanaimo — have committed $20.9 million to the project.
While the RDN committed almost $1 million last year to help revive passenger rail service, directors representing Coombs/Errington, Bowser, Nanoose Bay, Parksville and Qualicum Beach voted against it but the motion passed on the strength of the RDN board’s Nanaimo contingent.
Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre, who has consistently voiced concern that $20.9 million won’t be enough to complete the repairs, declined to comment.
“I have no comment,” said Lefebvre. “I’ve heard that before, I’ve heard a lot of dates over time.”
RDN chair Joe Stanhope, who represents French Creek, said he’s surprised by Souther Rail’s optimism about the project.
“I’m surprised knowing the infrastructure deficit is where it is that they are that optimistic,” Stanhope told
The NEWS on Friday.
“This is news to me,” he said about the ambitious timeline to get the train up and running.
“The proof is in the pudding.”