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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Foundation releases new proposal for Vancouver Island rail service

Foundation releases new proposal for Vancouver Island rail service

By | May 19, 2022

Business plan seeks $431 million to start passenger and freight operation

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Rail diesel cars with yellow front arrive at station in woods
The Mahalat, VIA Rail Canada’s service on Vancouver Island, arrives at Parksville, British Columbia, in 2006. Passenger service on the island ended in 2011; a new proposal says it would cost $431 million to revive the island’s rail line for freight and commuter rail service. (Bob Johnston)

VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Island Corridor Foundation, the non-profit organization which owns the former Esquimalt & Nanaimo rail line on Vancouver Island, has proposed a C$431 plan to for a commuter and freight rail service between Victoria and Courtenay, B.C.

The Victoria Times Colonist reports the foundation is seeking government support for a business plan calling for $381 million in construction costs and $50 million for rolling stock, and estimates the operation would at least break even on annual costs, with operating costs of $12.8 million and revenue estimates ranging from $12.7 million to $23.4 million.

The new plan is in place of one outlined in a 2020 government report which estimated it would take more than $700 million to restore the rail line and another $600 million to launch passenger service [see “Study places cost of restoring Vancouver Island rail line …,” Trains News Wire, April 29, 2020].

Larry Stevenson, chief executive of the foundation, told the newspaper that commuter service on the island “is very much needed. I think we all know that.”

The plan also allows for tourist-train operations on the island.

Revival of the rail line will require resolution of land issues with First Nations groups stemming from the original land grants. The plan also faces a time limit: A court ruling has given the federal government until March 2023 to decide if it wants the line restored and will contribute funding.

VIA Rail Canada service on the island, provided by RDCs, last operated in 2011 before halted because of concerns over the deteriorating right-of-way.

9 thoughts on “Foundation releases new proposal for Vancouver Island rail service

  1. Here is another market opened for BrightLine to explore and perhaps add to its portfolio.

    1. Not a chance. Population is too sparse outside metro Victoria. We’re looking at one, maybe two daily RDCs. If they’re serious about making room for a tourist run, maybe add a mini-cruise train run by Rocky Mountaineer for passengers on cruise ships docking in Victoria.

      1. While I agree that connectivity with the cruise lines would be nice, its a non-starter from my perspective.

        Having cruised and stopped through Victoria (a beautiful city), no one, I mean “no one” gave a hill of beans about when cruise ships come and cruise ships go.

        Once in Victoria for a late evening cruise departure, the entire town shut down at 6PM. Nothing was open. Nada.

        We called the tourism office and asked them if they even knew that 2 cruise ships were at port, because all the businesses were closed and the only places open were pubs, no restaurants. Indifference was a key description of the feedback. A collective shoulder shrug.

        Meanwhile all of these cruise patrons were wandering aimlessly through the central city with nothing to do but look.

        We asked some locals, “why is everything closed” and they said that Victoria is a civil servants town with the government offices there and that once they leave the city center, there are no reasons to stay open.

        The last time I saw this is when I tried to have dinner on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington DC. I asked the restaurant owner, “why aren’t there more places down in the city to eat?”. He said same thing. All the US government civil servants go home and no one can afford to live in the capital district.

        So if BC is serious about starting a service like this, it should commuter style only. Since they already ripped out the rails to the city center, any relationship with cruise lines will need extended buses to support eco-tourism.

  2. This is so not going to happen. As usual with such proposals, details are scarce, and we don’t know what the several hundreds of millions of dollars will buy. But the $431 million figure seems too low, and is mysteriously way less than 2020 government study. For 140 miles of track which would need to be built from the ground up, the $381 million in “construction” costs seems artificially low. And keep in mind that when VIA was providing passenger service, the maximum speed on the route was only 40 MPH. It’s not likely a significant speedup would be possible with only this much funding.

    Also, if I were to spend $431 million on a rail project in British Columbia, it would be to build a new bridge over the Fraser River at New Westminster (or dramatically upgrade the current bridge). This bridge is the “weakest link” on the (currently not operating due to Covid) Seattle-Vancouver, BC Amtrak run, and needs additional capacity. CN would also benefit as it would increase fluidity for trains primarily destined for North Vancouver and Vancouver proper.

    Here’s hoping the federal and/or provincial governments do come up with the money, but that they choose to invest in ameliorating the primary area bottleneck which would dramatically speed freight and passenger rail traffic in and out of the Vancouver terminals.

        1. I watched the video’s on it. Looks promising. VIA used Budd RDC’s before they cancelled the service. The ROW at the north end is in bad shape but the switches and even the stations are still there.

          I assume these VLR’s can be bundled to create larger consists? I only watched the video, I will have to do more research on the details.

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