RDN approves $945K for railway

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Sounder News

Monday, December 3 2012

The Regional District of Nanaimo Board of Directors approved funding to the Island Corridor Foundation last Tuesday, leaving Gabriola property tax payers on the hook for $39,386.
The RDN is contributing $945,000 of $3.2 million ICF said it needed from the Alberni-Clayoquot, Comox-Strathcona, Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo and Capital regional districts, in order to replace ties on the railway to allow passenger rail service between Courtenay and Victoria to run again.
The weighted vote was 37-24 with Parksville, Qualicum Beach and all the electoral areas except Area G voting against the funding, which will be provided as a grant-in-aid to the not-for-profit organization.
The board approved funding with the contingency that it will not be released until there is a commitment from VIA Rail for passenger service.
That is the only positive for Howard Houle, director for Area B (Gabriola).
“After reading the 2,000 or more pages presented to us, I believe the RDN should not be funding the rail system through a one-time local property tax increase,” said Howard.
“I see the whole rail system as needing replacement and not patched as needed. The federal and provincial governments need to step up and fund a system that will take us to the future.”
ICF’s overall project costs are $20.9 million to operate passenger service for 10 years. The provincial and federal governments have contributed $15 million.
“I am not an engineer, but when you read a report where the train cannot stop on [the Niagara Bridge at Goldstream] or cross if there is high winds there may be significant issues there,” said Howard.
Director Julian Fell, Area F (Coombs, Hilliers, Errington), cited a report that said steel bridges along the track need to be replaced and or repaired within the next 10 years.
“Replacing Niagara will probably have to be an integral part of the initial upgrade. The study says $50 million, other people tell me double that, and the other steel bridges could reach as much as $25 [million].”
He said the provincial carbon tax should be directed to upgrade the service instead of increasing property taxes.
Ted Greves, director from Nanaimo, who sits on the ICF board representing the RDN, pointed out that Gary Smith, a professional engineer with Southern Rail, who will maintain the infrastructure on behalf of ICF, and the BC Safety Authority both signed off on the initial railway upgrade plan.
Director Dave Willie (Qualicum Beach) did not approve of using grants-in-aid to fund a “private company,” and he doubted the ability of freight service to cover costs.
“To suggest that a freight business that’s doing less than a million dollars now can somehow over the next 20 years gather $100 million to start the repairs and recapitalization of this line is totally unrealistic ... and unless freight can do that, passenger trains will not operate.”

City of Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan was among several directors who argued a no vote would end rail service on Vancouver Island permanently.
“That money from the province and the federal government won’t wait,” he said. “I don’t want to be a part of a group that killed rail on Vancouver Island. This is the time and if we don’t do it now it won’t happen.”
Director Bill Veenhof Area H (Shaw Hill, Deep Bay, Bowser) did not buy that position.
“I think that’s really quite overstating it,” he said, “but if you want to take that point of view then Vancouver Island rail started to die 20 years ago when we built the inland Island Highway, when we neglected it.”
Director Marc Lefebvre (Parksville) said, “My small city simply believes that $20.9 million is not sufficient to operate and maintain the railway, and passenger rail service for the next 10 years.
“The whole issue of transportation begs the question of a Vancouver Island transit strategy and how the railway fits in to that. We don’t have a Vancouver Island transportation plan, this is a one-off type of thing.”