Ready for rail

Vancouver Island rail service still a good way to travel

Rail service to and from Victoria is getting closer to reality once again — it seems to be just a matter of a few million bucks between friends.

The five regional districts, along with 14 First Nations, that own the rail lines from Courtney to Victoria were asked Wednesday by the foundation that oversees the lines — yeah, we know, kind of confusing — for $3.2 million to fix the trestles and bridges along the route.

The provincial and federal governments have already kicked in $7.5 million each and this latest cash call seems to be the last piece in the puzzle for passenger service, which ended in 2010, to start chugging along the lines again. For taxpayers in our district, it would mean approximately $1.72 more in taxes a year for five years (on a $400,000 property).

Graham Bruce, the chief operating officer of the Island Corridor Foundation, which acts as owner of the railway (the only members of the foundation are the regional districts and the First Nations), says the best-case scenario for a re-start of Courtenay to Victoria passenger service would be some time in 2013. (The Parksville-Port Alberni part of the line is for a later phase in the plan.)

Bruce also says the planned times and directions of the train service has been changed since it last ran down the rails in these parts. Roughly speaking, it will go from Nanaimo to Victoria early in the morning, turn around and arrive in Courtenay midday, turn around again and head through Oceanside on the way to Victoria and finally leave Victoria at 6 p.m. to park in Nanaimo for the night. Bruce couldn’t give us an estimated one-way ticket price, which is curious (one would hope a business plan has been done and the ticket price was a key part of it), but he believes it wouldn’t be too far off what it was in 2010, which was roughly $30.

It sounds fun and green, and it’s easy to embrace the romanticism of riding the rails, but is it economically viable? It’s up to residents to let their representatives know what they think about the plan and the potential tax increase. We urge people to get informed (islandrail.com is a good start) and voice opinions to elected representatives. We like the idea — as long as the business plan doesn’t assume yearly cash calls from taxpayers.                                        — Editorial by John Harding