Province tells Esquimalt more consultation needed on future of island rail corridor

The Township of Esquimalt has received a response from the province after advocating for the restoration of rail services on the E&N Rail Corridor, but the future of the 290 kilometer line remains uncertain.

In July, Esquimalt Council voted to encourage the Canadian and provincial governments to provide infrastructure grants that would restore rail service on the E&N Rail Corridor. The council requested that the first priority be a commuter rail service from Langford to Victoria.

“I really think we’re running out of time on this,” Mayor Barb Desjardins said at the July 4 council meeting.

In an August letter responding to the plea, Transport Minister Rob Fleming said restoring any form of railway would be very expensive.

“For the department to move forward with a project, it must be supported by a strong business case where the benefits to the public clearly outweigh the costs,” the letter states.

A business case released by the Island Corridor Foundation this spring envisions a mixed-use system with peak-hour shuttle service from Langford to Victoria, twice-daily passenger service between Victoria and Courtenay, and freight uses. The proposal is valued at $43 million.

The federal government is subject to a court-imposed deadline to announce its intentions on the railroad by next March before anything can move forward.

Fleming’s letter says department staff, the federal government and the foundation are consulting with First Nations to better understand their interest in the corridor, but more consultation is needed.

“The provincial government’s goal remains to find the best use for the island’s rail corridor, as well as supporting First Nations interests in these discussions,” Fleming wrote.

At the July meeting, con. Meagan Braeme said the line is an important corridor that could benefit the community.

“I think it’s really important, it’s a drum we’ve been beating, a battle we’ve been fighting since I’ve been on the board,” she said.

The plea passed unanimously, but not without some concerns.

“We’re not public transit experts, I’m just not convinced the business case is there for the increased use of buses as a way to get people out of the car,” said the advise. Ken Armor.

Desjardins said whether or not the rail returns, the federal government must make a decision about what will happen to the line, rather than let it continue to deteriorate.

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Lynn A. Saleh