The Island Corridor Foundation is proposing a regular passenger rail service between Courtenay and Victoria on weekdays if trains resume running on the former E & N railway in the future.
ICF Chief Executive Officer, Larry Stevenson, says they are looking at regular passenger service in the morning and afternoon, Monday to Friday, that would be incorporated into the rush hour commute between Langford and Victoria.
The proposed schedule would see intercity trains connect Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Duncan, and Shawnigan Lake to Victoria each day, with regional trains connecting Courtenay and Victoria, with stops in Qualicum, Parksville, Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Duncan, and Shawnigan Lake before entering the West Shore corridor.
The tentative schedule indicates a travel time of under four hours from Courtenay to Victoria.
Recent media reports suggested that outgoing Premier John Horgan is pessimistic about the possibility of rail service returning to Vancouver Island, but Stevenson dismisses that and says discussions based on the ICF’s new business case are continuing.
Stevenson says the premier’s comments generated concern but notes the question was asked during Horgan’s announcement of a post-secondary campus or Langford, an event that wasn’t about rail, and he believes the Premier was caught off guard.
“If you really break down his comments,” Stevenson says, “he talks a lot in there about the federal government and the challenge that they present and how they are slowing down that process.”
He feels premier Horgan was likely expressing regret that rail service was not going to be restored during his time as provincial leader.
“This is a premier who said that rail was a priority for him and for this government and he was going to have it restored in the first term.”
Stevenson says that since the ICF business case was released in May, the foundation had meetings with provincial and federal officials who view the plan as “doable” and one that makes sense for the island.
He says there’s a general feeling that the time has come to get the provincial and federal governments in the same room.
“Discussions are taking place, it’s me talking to the federal government, the federal government talking to the province; we kinda have this going back and forth and I think there’s been kind of a general feeling it’s now probably time that we do get in the same room.”
He says that evident in the support from regional districts, such as Capital Regional District, Cowichan Valley Regional District, and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, that it’s time to “get everybody in the same room, get everybody on the same page.”
Stevenson says the ongoing discussions are complex and Indigenous land claims are an essential part of them.
In September of 2021, a court gave the federal government 18 months to decide to fund the restoration of rail service on the island or return a section of the right-of-way to the Snaw-naw-as (Nanoose) First Nation.
Stevenson says those discussions with Indigenous partners are “critical to be resolved prior to anything moving forward.”
The ICF business case proposes restoring train service between Victoria, Courtenay, and Port Alberni at a start-up cost 431-Million dollars.