Capital Region mayors have banded together to call on the federal government to protect the Island Rail Corridor ahead of a deadline on whether to fund rail service restoration.
In a public letter to the federal ministers of transportation and Crown-Indigenous relations, CRD mayors urge the government to provide funding to ensure that the corridor is restored, saying protection of the corridor “is paramount at this time and a commitment of federal and provincial funding is urgently needed.”
The Snaw-Naw-As Nation is currently looking to reclaim a section of the corridor that passes through its territory, filing an appeal after losing an initial court case seeking to have the reserve lands returned to its people. The BC Court of Appeal has given the government until March 2023 to determine the future of the rail service before the Nation can reclaim the land.
The CRD is calling for a meeting between the federal and provincial governments, the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), and regional districts along the 295-kilometre line to provide an update on the rail line’s future.
In a statement, CRD Board Chair Colin Plant emphasized the need to protect Island Rail Corridor and to promote reconciliation with First Nations.
“We believe it is in the national, provincial and regional interest to protect this corridor and advance First Nations reconciliation efforts and should be a top priority for the federal government,” said Plant.
The Island Corridor Foundation, which has owned the rail since 2005, is optimistic about the outcome of the discussions.
CEO Larry Stevenson told CHEK News last month he hopes the government will choose to fund the restoration of rail service as recent weather events, such as the 2021 storm that shut down the Malahat and isolated Greater Victoria from the rest of Vancouver Island, have highlighted the need for additional transportation options.
The upcoming deadline for a decision on whether to fund the rail service restoration on the E&N corridor has been a subject of debate due to the railway’s deteriorating condition and unsustainable maintenance costs.
The decision is under consideration, with Transport Canada stating in January that Ottawa is actively considering issues raised in the first court ruling and is committed to understanding perspectives across Vancouver Island, including those of First Nations, regional districts and other levels of government.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the estimated cost of restoring and operating the commuter rail line would be nearly $1 billion. In facts, that figure was stated in a quote while the business use case is set at $381 million for construction and $50 million for equipment, a total of $431 million. The railway was also referred to as “abandoned” which was incorrect as freight operations continue in Nanaimo. CHEK News regrets the errors.
Island Corridor Foundation