The End of the Line for Rail on Vancouver Island? Vancouver Island needs you now!

The rail system on Vancouver Island is in a make or break situation. The owners of the railway corridor, the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), have requested $15 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments. Without this cash infusion, the system that has operated for 125 years on Vancouver Island will bite the dust.

Symptomatic of this imminent demise is the fact that the Johnson Street Rail Bridge, which up till now has served as a safe conduit for cyclists and pedestrians to access the world-famous Galloping Goose Trail, has just been lifted. Island councilors have deemed it unsafe – forcing non-motorized travellers to take their chances on the adjacent bridge, which up to now has been dominated by cars.
Personally I’d rather take my chances on a rusting bridge than mix it up with cars. But as of this past weekend, cyclists are taking their chances with motorists on the adjacent bridge. (See photo at the top of this post, taken by Adrian Lam, Times Colonist.)

At the moment the bridge is heavily policed, and the police presence has so far managed to prevent the mayhem everyone feared would ensue. But what about when the novelty wears off, and weekend warriors on bikes have to duke it out with motorists without the protection of the police? My wife and I do the Galloping Goose at least once a year, taking our tourist dollars to the Island … but if it’s no longer safe, we’ll find another destination. It would be a crying shame if many others did the same, because the Goose is really one of the finest cycling experiences in the world.

On the bright side, don’t let this put you off cycling the Goose: it’s possible to dismount and push your bike over the bridge – safely, and in just a few minutes.

Of course, safe access to the Goose is just one aspect of a large, depressing picture. The rail structure on Vancouver Island is the kind of transit structure that needs to be preserved, for the sake of a viable commuting/travelling future. The $15 million investment would be used to repair ageing infrastructure; and it would also be used to fund the Via passenger service, which currently offers an early-morning southbound train from Nanaimo to Victoria. Via Rail had plans to add three new cars next year, all with bicycle carrying capacity and handicap lifts. There is also the possibility of developing other passenger lines. In fact, ironically, recent years have seen substantial railroad improvements and developing opportunities for better service. Yet now there is a danger of tossing it all away.

To me this is all about taking the long-term view on transportation. The griping of merchants on Hornby Street in Vancouver is an example of taking an extremely short-term view. Most of us are parents or grandparents, uncles or aunts – surely we need to be thinking about making sure there is a viable future for our city and its inhabitants, rather than worrying about whether a handful of merchants will turn a tidy profit in 2011?

Bottom Line: there can be no viable future that retains single-occupant cars as the dominant mode of transportation. Not in Vancouver; not on Vancouver Island.

The price of gas rises almost daily, while the supply inevitably dwindles. At the same time, only the most obstinate can still believe that this insanely extravagant transportation mode is not taking a heavy toll on the environment. All this means that there is no sane choice but to lobby for viable transportation alternatives, such as trains and safe cycling routes. In the words of Graham Bruce, Times Colonist:

“A $15-million investment in Island rail to secure continued service
could well be one of the most cost-effective and important
socioeconomic decisions we can make for the future of Vancouver Island.”

How can you help?

  • Contact your MP and your MLA
  • Write to the federal and provincial ministers of transportation
  • Email the prime minister and premier
  • Call your mayor and regional district chair
  • Talk to your chief and council.
  • Call your favourite Island federal candidate and ask him or her to publicly support the $15-million infrastructure investment.

Our actions can and will make a difference in this important, historic event, unfolding right now on Vancouver Island.

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

This entry was posted in Campaigns, Capital Regional District.