Island man petitioning federal government to restore rail service

CHEK

The last time a passenger train ran along the E&N line between Victoria and Courtenay was in 2011.

That’s when service was suspended indefinitely because of the poor state of track conditions, but the debate has raged on ever since about the viability of restarting it.

Now, a Shawnigan Lake man has a House of Commons petition he hopes will garner national attention.

“A House of Commons petition with a motion gets read in the House of Commons, and they will have to respond within 45 days to everybody that signed the petition, so it’s going to raise what’s happening out here in the House of Commons to the Members of Parliament,” said Warren Skaalrud, who started the petition.

The petition is endorsed by Cowichan—Malahat—Langford MP Alistair MacGregor and, among other things, calls for the creation of a $1 billion fund using federal and provincial money and to guarantee funding for the Island Corridor Foundation to create a modern freight and passenger service on Vancouver Island.

“The Island is going to develop whether we want it to or not, and people are going to move here whether we want them to or not,” said Skaalrud. “It’s about how do we create our transportation system.”

The Island Corridor Foundation says it will cost $431 million for the construction and acquisition of rail equipment in order to restore the 290-km rail line to Courtenay and Port Alberni.

However, the petition is calling for double that amount for possible First Nation accommodations.

“The accommodations are going to cost extra money on top of the $431 million, and I kind of wanted to prove to everybody that a billion dollars, I mean for the government, they deal in billion-dollar projects all the time,” he added.

But there is opposition.

Former three-term MP Denise Savoie is a director with Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island.

She’s seen similar petitions and says the current population on the Island of roughly 864,000 people isn’t high enough.

“You know, if you look at Montreal and Toronto where they’re scrambling for transportation dollars, and this is a petition to the federal government, and they have to look at needs across Canada, well, even one million wouldn’t cut it,” Savoie told CHEK News.

The group wants to see the inactive Island Rail Corridor turned into a multi-use trail that connects the Island.

“We’re not against trains. I take trains all the time in Toronto and Montreal. It’s just not the right time right now,” Savoie added.

“The right of way was built in the 1800s before development, and it’s not suitable today. There are over 200 road crossings, so the train goes too slow, bridges need to be fixed, and there isn’t enough population.”

The Province of B.C. has been studying the future of the Island Rail Corridor since March 2023 and says 15 meetings have been held with First Nations and regional districts.

Sub-working groups have been set up to focus on different portions: Victoria to Langford, Langford to Parksville, Parksville to Port Alberni and Parksville to Courtenay.

The petition can be found online here, and the deadline to sign it is Jan. 11 at 10:25 a.m.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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