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Nanaimo loses confidence in passenger rail revival

The Regional District of Nanaimo has expressed a lack of confidence in the Island Corridor Foundation, the group tasked with bringing passenger rail service back to Vancouver Island. - Andrew Leong/file
The Regional District of Nanaimo has expressed a lack of confidence in the Island Corridor Foundation, the group tasked with bringing passenger rail service back to Vancouver Island.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

The Cowichan Valley Regional District remains behind the Island Corridor Foundation despite doubt expressed in many corners about last month’s announcement of a deal paving the way for the return of Vancouver Island passenger rail service.

In Nanaimo, they aren’t so sure.

The Regional District of Nanaimo has passed a non-confidence motion in the Island Corridor Foundation — the partnership of First Nations, municipalities and regional districts that own the former E&N and Canadian Pacific lines.

The RDN is arranging a meeting with its ICF partners to discuss the organization’s future and gain support for a task force of railway experts to help reinvigorate the Island Corridor Foundation, its motion reads.

The task force would provide a third-party, independent review of whether ICF’s estimated $20 million is an accurate price for track and infrastructure fixes. The purse would engineer fall upgrades toward restarting passenger service sidelined in spring 2011, due to unsafe tracks.

Resurrection of island passenger-train service seemed full steam ahead to start next year, in the wake of a deal finally being announced between track operators Southern Rail and Via Rail. Controversy resulted after Via said the deal was not yet signed.

Signatures from funding partners Southern Rail, five island regional districts, plus Victoria and Ottawa were expected this spring, according to Rob Hutchins, chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District

“Hopefully, we’re crossing the last hurdle,” he said, optimistic of all signatures being inked soon.

CVRD taxpayers have agreed to toss $488,000 into line repairs, Hutchins said, noting $244,000 is in the bank — with another $122,000 budgeted this year.

“The goal is, when all the agreements are signed, to have repairs start in October, and by August 2015 for passenger service to commence,” Hutchins said .

ICF executive director Graham Bruce, however, declined to speculate when passenger service would be back on track.

“I won’t go there. There are so many unknowns. If I could just get them all in one room ...” he said of continuing wrangling to get respective stakeholder brass to put pen to paper.

There’s also a tentative agreement between Southern Rail and Via Rail to run the passenger service, Bruce noted.

“There is $20.9 million in track and bridge infrastructure funding from the federal and provincial governments, and five regional districts, Southern Rail and the ICF.

“Those improvements would allow for 10 years of passenger rail services.

“We’ve got a full schedule of works that will allow for the improvements to be undertaken starting in late fall.”

— with a file from Karl Yu

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