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Cowichanians to take rail-bridge tax hit in 2013

Cowichan taxpayers are being asked to chip in to a $3.2-million pot to repair 48 bridges on the E&N rail line and get commuter-passenger service rolling again. - Andrew Leong file
Cowichan taxpayers are being asked to chip in to a $3.2-million pot to repair 48 bridges on the E&N rail line and get commuter-passenger service rolling again.
— image credit: Andrew Leong file

Cowichan homeowners will pay about $9 next year to get island intercity passenger-rail service back on track, a committee of regional directors unanimously decided Wednesday.

That $9 breaks down to $3.12  per $100,000 of assessed property value, so owners of a $300,000 home would chip $9.12 into fixing 48 bridges on the decaying E&N line between Courtenay and Victoria.

It total, Cowichanians will contribute $488,100 as a one-time grant-in-aid for $3.2 million in bridge renovations by owner the Island Corridor Foundation.

Approval of the valley's portion is expected by the Cowichan Valley Regional District board on Nov. 14, chairman Rob Hutchins said.

He cited economic opportunities, reduced oil use, and saving the corridor for future generations as reasons for Cowichan's nod.

"With peak oil, we know the price of gas won't be going down. As population and density increases, trains become a very viable means of moving people and goods."

Three other districts voting about the tax ask, totalling $2 million, include Nanaimo, Comox, and Alberni.

Comox and Alberni have also approved their share in principal, ICF's Graham Bruce said.

The capital regional is being asked for $1.2 million.

"I'd like to get the work started by spring," said Bruce.

"Our best chance for passenger service is fall of 2013. We've still got the capital and Nanaimo regions to deal with, and negotiating a new train system with Via."

Tax hikes could span five years.

CVRD is targeting its tax hit for 2013 to duck delays and interest charges, staff explained Wednesday.

The $3.2 million will join $15 million from provincial and federal coffers to repair tracks and other stuff on the E&N on which passenger service was sidetracked last year due to safety issues.

Freight rail still runs slowly on the 225-kilometre line.

A return of passenger service would spell long-promised passenger, excursion, and tourist runs between Victoria and Courtenay, plus more freight hauling.

A total of about $104 million is ultimately needed to bring the train corridor up to full snuff, ICF brass has said.

CVRD Director Lorern Duncan (Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora) said the revamped line will allow leveraging of more government funds, and see local work done.

But he questioned when a fully equipped, inspected line will realistically start.

"I see the commuter from Langford in, but not from Nanaimo down at this time.

"The population up here isn't that great," Duncan said.

"The amount of work needed from Courtenay to Langford is quite large, and I'm not sure if we can overcome safety issues on that stretch —

there's a whole pile of unknowns.

"We really want commuter service but needs up here are different than down in the CRD."

Baby steps, explained Bruce.

"This is phase one. Commuter rail would be a totally separate initiative with a different train. This is about intercity passenger service from Victoria to Courtenay, and improving tracks to run on schedule."

A very rough intercity schedule could see early-morning passenger service start in Nanaimo, reaching Victoria around 7:45 a.m.

It would leave Victoria for Courtenay at 8 a.m., arrive at 12:30 p.m., then head back to the capital at 1 p.m., arriving at 5 p.m., then head for Nanaimo at 6 p.m., explained Bruce.

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