|The E&N Dayliner travels through Victoria in May, 2011 to a yard in Nanaimo where it was to be stored until railway ties are replaced.
Passenger rail is set to return to Vancouver Island after the federal government agreed to match $7.5 million in provincial funding for track restoration for the E&N rail line.
The funding was announced by John Duncan, federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and MP for Vancouver Island North, at the Langford Via Rail station Tuesday.
The line owner, the Island Corridor Foundation, has been waiting for a response from Ottawa to match the provincial funding commitment since passenger service ground to a halt last April due to the deteriorating state of the track. That releases the provincial funding, for a total of $15 million available to restore aging tracks and ties on the 289kilometre Victoria-to-Courtenay line. The funding will do more than just improve the rail infrastructure.
“It gives us an opportunity to really move ahead aggressively,” said Graham Bruce, ICF president. “It allows us to move aggressively on commuter options, freight options and tourism as it relates to (Nanaimo) cruise ship terminal excursions down Island and to Mount Washington.”
Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney worked to get the money, which lacked a business plan needed to qualify under the federal government’s last big wave of infrastructure funding.
“James has taken some criticism over the years but he came through,” said Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon, also a strong backer of the line.
“I knew the community was involved,” said Lunney.
Nanaimo plays a key role in the transformation of the 125yearold rail line that helped build the Dunsmuir coal fortune and was a bargaining chip in British Columbia joining confederation.
Once the work is finished, passenger service that went from Victoria north will be reversed. An early-morning train will leave Nanaimo for Victoria, then head north to Courtenay, return to Victoria and end its day back in the Nanaimo yards.
“The centre will be Nanaimo,” said Coun. Ted Greves, Regional District of Nanaimo ICF repre-sentative. “People will be going down to work in Victoria. And we could see tourism. Before you couldn’t do it, because (the direction) was reversed.”
Passenger service will resume by spring 2013, “if all goes well,” said Bruce.
“Just think of it, in the morning people can come from Victoria, come up to the Nanaimo station and have lunch at the (station) pub, then go back the same day,” said Coun. Jim Kipp.