Prepared by the Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island
- The corridor is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), a federally registered non-profit organization established to hold and manage the corridor. The ICF is governed by the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act and its own Articles and By-Laws. There is a process for amending the Articles including removing support for a railway from the purposes of the organization.
- The ICF is governed by a board of directors appointed by the membership of the ICF, which is the five Regional Districts and the five First Nations who are on or adjacent to the corridor.
- After many years of declining ridership, rail service on the corridor was shut down by the regulator in 2010 for safety reasons. No business plan to restore service has been made public.
WHY RAIL SERVICE IS NOT THE BEST USE
- The railway was built in the 1870’s to carry coal more efficiently than in horse drawn wagons. An act of Parliament allowed it to be built cheaply with tighter curves than were normally allowed. Because of this the maximum allowable speed on the right of way is about 65 km/hr (1). This eliminates any kind of rapid transit even if the rails were replaced, and it cannot carry traffic at highway speeds.
- A 2010 report by IBI Consulting (2), for the Province, estimated the total cost to bring the rail infrastructure up to a safe condition at more than $600 million. The same report found that a $20.00 subsidy per passenger trip would be required for operation. This is much higher than any other operating railway they studied.
- The West Coast Express, for instance, carries 11,000 people daily for a subsidy of $6.00 per passenger trip. This subsidy makes sense because the train makes a significant contribution to a transportation problem and is part of a transportation plan. Subsidising E&N rail service to carry at best 50 to 100 people a day is neither viable nor sensible. Halcrow Consulting expressed this as carrying less than 1% of the traffic on the Malahat for an operating subsidy of $1 million a year (3). Halcrow also pointed out that this demand could be met by express busses at half the cost of rail, and without the massive costs of rebuilding a Victorian era railway.
- Many roads have been built since construction of the railway. There are now more than 240 roads crossing the right-of-way. No estimate of the costs to bring them up to modern standards has been done. The IBI report did suggest that some grade separations costing $15 – $20 million dollars each may be needed.
- In short, bringing the railway up to safe standards will be very costly and it will not result in a modern railway since the original design limitations will remain. Also, because of present and predicted future population densities on the east coast of the Island, the potential passenger and freight traffic will not justify the large investment and continuing high subsidies required.
WHY A MULTI-USE TRAIL IS THE BEST PUBLIC USE
- Changes in transportation technology away from rail have led to the re-purposing of former rail rights-of-way all over the world to highly successful multi-use trails. There are many reasons for this success. Generally the rights-of-way are too narrow for highways but just right for trails, they are flat – perfect for cycling, and they often connect settlements now by-passed by larger highways, where they can support and rejuvenate small business and tourism opportunities.
- A right of way preserved as a continuous corridor is especially valuable. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail in the Okanagan has become a major tourism draw with significant economic spin-offs. The Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria, which attracts up to 2500 cycling trips daily and the same number of pedestrians, has become a very significant element of the transportation and recreational network.
- La Route Verte is a multi-use trail system in Quebec. In 2000 when only partially complete, cyclists on it spent $95.4 million dollars, corresponding to approximately 2000 jobs and $27 million in taxes. In 2005 bike tourists spent $93 per day, higher than the $66 dollar average of other tourists (4).
- First Nations on the E&N railway have benefited little from the rail service and have lost opportunities on their territories because the railway is a barrier. First Nations in other parts of Canada have benefited economically and culturally from the opportunity trails provide. A Globe and Mail article highlights some of these opportunities for First Nations.
WHY RAIL WITH TRAIL IS NOT A GOOD PUBLIC OPTION
- The continuity of a trail is important. Small local sections of trail may have some value but the larger potential of the corridor is lost when connection is lost. There are many sections on the right of way where rail with trail is not practical such as bridges, tunnels, embankments and cuttings. Nanaimo has identified 40 such sections in its Regional District. To have a continuous trail the rail must be removed. The Okanagan Region used the value of the rails removed to offset the costs of the trail.
- The costs of constructing trails beside the rails are much higher than for trail alone. The E&N trail beside the rails in Victoria cost more than $2 million per km to construct. An estimate obtained from the Capital Regional District to build a compacted gravel trail was $65,000 per km. The huge additional amount comes from the cost of additional bridges, crossings, barriers and the high safety measures imposed by the pretence of dual use.
(1) Trans-Canada Highway 1 – Malahat Corridor Study
Ministry of Transportation
Final Report, July 2007 (Stantec)
(2) Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure: Evaluation of the E & N Railway Corridor: Foundation Report
Summary Report 2010 (IBI Group)
(3) Trans-Canada Highway 1 – Malahat Corridor Study Appendix K
Assessment of Inter – Regional Transit Options, July 2007 (Halcrow Consulting)
(4) The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure Investments
League of American Bicyclists