Friday, March 9, 2012

Support for Rail Investments

The Island Corridor Foundation owns and maintains the E&N Railway corridor.  Today I sent a letter to the Federal Minister of Transport supporting their request for federal funding to help restore the rail to active service.

Following is the content of my letter.

Honourable Denis Lebel,
Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Government of Canada

cc:           Prime Minister Stephen Harper
                Island Corridor Foundation

Re:  Island Corridor Foundation Request for Support for Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway

I write in support of the request of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), who have already secured significant funding commitments from the province, and are now asking for an equivalent level of support from your federal government.

Victoria and the Capital Region, like so much of Canada, relies on an integrated and diverse transportation system that should include passenger and commuter rail, as well as rail services for freight movements that will enhance safety and convenience for many road users, and add value to  local economies along Vancouver Island.

The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, now owned by the ICF was originally constructed as part of the terms of entry by British Columbia into confederation.  Islanders and others have been working ever since to protect the service.

The E&N could serve regional and Island travel demand not always well served by other modes.  It connects south island communities to the Victoria area, and could work particularly well for day commuters traveling from outside of the region to CFB Esquimalt, home of our west coast naval fleet, and a major regional employer. 

It also offers an alternate means of transporting freight and, in particular dangerous cargo like fuels, or heavy loads like gravel from up island destinations to the Victoria area, keeping the single highway route over the Malahat Summit free for vehicle traffic and other goods and service vehicles that don’t pose as much of a threat to safety or the environment.  There have been numbers of tragedies and most recently, a catastrophic fuel spill that damaged a valuable salmon stream and sensitive marine environments.

Passenger service along the E&N also supports tourism on the Island.  With an improved system and rolling stock, that service could capture a bigger market for winter ski vacations as well as a growing market for summer active vacations, particularly cycling tourism, a newly emerging niche for the Island’s tourism industry.

The ICF has a well thought out plan for developing freight, passenger and commuter business using the corridor, and important partnerships with local governments and experienced rail operators necessary to ensuring success that now must be built on the important capital investments in corridor upgrading.  Their incremental and phased approach is financially viable and fiscally responsible.

Your government has already invested in the railway through federal gas tax returns to the province and the region that have supported a new rail with trail project alongside the E&N, designed and constructed in anticipation of continued rail operations.  More direct investments through partnerships with the Department of National Defense on improvements to road intersections at CFB Esquimalt were also made in anticipation of continued rail operations.  Starving the E&N of the additional funds they now need to extend the life of the rail and begin the longer project of building a more rational and effective service would be contrary to the investments your government has already made along the corridor.

As a former city councillor with an interest in transportation diversity, and as an advocate for alternative transportation, I am strongly in support of a revitalized E&N that can help shift transportation choices to make our roads safer for all users, as well as provide a more supportive service for the many active travelers we are attracting to the Island.

We understand that the federal government is completing a review of the business case and infrastructure needs associated with our railway and encourage you to support the ICF and match the funds committed by the province.  This project maintains a key commitment to British Columbia’s place in Canada and can provide an important service to the Island for many years to come.  The modest ask of the ICF is also an important commitment on their part, and on the part of our communities, to seek only what is needed immediately to maintain the corridor and the service, while waiting for more a more robust economy to help support the longer term investments needed to grow and sustain this important asset.

Thank you for your consideration.

John Luton,
Executive Director, Capital Bike and Walk Society
Coordinator, Vancouver Island Cycle Tourism Alliance

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