Restoring commuter rail on Vancouver Island would cost $730 million, says new report

Restoring commuter rail on Vancouver Island would cost $730 million, says new report
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
A look at the Island Rail Corridor

It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to restore commuter rail service on Vancouver Island, according to a consulting report released by the provincial government on Tuesday.

According to the report by WSP Canada, it could cost anywhere from $227 million to $548 million for commuter rail service between Victoria and Courtenay, depending on the level of upgrades. If service between Port Alberni and Parksville were included the overall cost would range from $326 million to $728 million.

It also estimates that it would cost $595 million to implement a commuter rail service between Langford and Victoria that would see trains running between five stations in the region as well as one daily train that ran from Courtenay to Victoria.

A look at the Island Rail corridor (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

A look at the Island Rail corridor (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

WSP Canada’s report provides detailed information about the condition of the Island Rail Corridor, a 289-kilometre section of railway track from Victoria to Courtenay and Port Alberni to Parksville, as well as estimated costs associated with repairing the railway in order restore commuter and freight service on the Vancouver Island.

Estimated costs are based on three scenarios of rail service – defined as initial, intermediate and ultimate – that could be implemented on Vancouver Island.

Initial would re-establish minimum levels of freight and commuter rail service. Intermediate would upgrade the service to accommodate for higher freight loading for increased freight and passenger volumes and speeds. Ultimate would support high volumes of freight and passenger traffic and is described in the report as being “optimal for the implementation” of commuter rail service on Vancouver Island.

The initial scenario would cost $326 million for rail service on the entire Island Rail Corridor network, while the intermediate and ultimate scenarios would cost $552 million and $728 million. Initial service between Victoria and Courtenay would cost $227 million; intermediate service would cost $405 million and the ultimate service would cost $548 million.

Service from Victoria to Nanaimo would cost anywhere from $126 million to $300 million, depending on the service level, according to the report.

Curiously, the report suggests that restoring rail service between Victoria and Langford would cost between $14 million and $35 million, again, depending on the level of service.

The report notes that the estimates are in 2020 dollar figures and those costs would rise over time. It suggests that if the commuter rail service option were chosen but not implemented until 2031, it would cost $824 million, an increase of $229 million from the 2020 estimate.

In its report, WSP Canada described the 289-kilometre railway as being in “poor to fair” condition and that sections of the track had “a number of decayed” railway ties as well as uncontrolled vegetation. Bridge conditions along the corridor were described as being anywhere from good to poor, while at-grade rail crossings, in some cases, suffered from overgrown vegetation and require improved warning systems.

The Island Rail Corridor or Southern Railway of Vancouver Island is owned and operated by the Island Corridor Foundation, who have previously estimated that it would take $150 million to restore commuter rail service to the Island.

The Vancouver Island railway, first known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway, was incorporated on Sept. 27, 1883, to support the coal and lumber industry and the Royal Navy Base at Esquimalt Harbour. Construction began on April 30, 1884, and on Aug. 13, 1886, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald drove home the last railway spike at Cliffside near Shawnigan Lake. The initial rail bed extended for 115 kilometres from Esquimalt to Nanaimo; hence the original name of the company.

In 1888 the line was extended to the City of Victoria.

VIA Rail, the last company to offer regularly scheduled passenger service on the railway, ceased operations on the Island in 2011. Freight service remains operational.

The report does not make any further recommendations.

Read the report below:

Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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