Business case for bringing rail back to Vancouver Island released

The Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), which manages rail on Vancouver Island, released last week an initial business case stating the need it sees for safe, efficient, reliable, transit-like rail as the island's population grows.

“When the province is forecasting by 2038 we could be looking at transit times of upwards of two and a half hours from Mill Bay to Victoria, I would suggest that it’s time for us to start exploring other options,” says Larry Stevenson, CEO of the ICF.

The study lays out four distinct operations of rail that can be delivered on the island, and bringing back the day-liner is not included.

Operations would include a commuter train from Langford to Victoria, an inter-regional train running from Courtenay to Victoria twice a day during peak hours, freight trains focusing on Port Alberni and Nanaimo ports, and excursion trains.

Upgrading the 290 kilometres of track from Victoria to Courtenay and from Parksville to Port Alberni would cost approximately $431 million: $381 million to restore the track and another $50 million to purchase rail equipment. The estimated cost is adjusted to 2023 cost projections.

“I don’t think anybody is ready to write the cheque yet, but it certainly gives us the basis from which we can start having those discussions,” says Stevenson.

The business case urges that discussion between First Nation communities and the provincial and federal governments need to happen first and foremost.

ICF says a Supreme Court decision in 2020 that ruled against returning land to an island First Nation has essentially given ICF a deadline of March 2023 to resolve the funding for improvements to the railroad.

In statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Transportation provided the following response to the ICF's report:

“The ministry is committed to finding the best use for the Island Rail Corridor as well as to supporting First Nations interests in these discussions.

The Island Rail Corridor remains under the ownership of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF). The ICF gave the province an opportunity to review the business case prior to its release. However, this business case was developed independently from the province.

The province provided feedback to the ICF on specific elements, noting the lack of First Nations consultation and lack of contingency in the proposed costs. At this time, the province has made no commitments to the future of the rail corridor. Further discussion is required to determine its best use.

The province is also closely monitoring how the federal government responds to a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling related to sections of the corridor that lie within the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation Reserve.

The interests of First Nations are a critical consideration to the province as we continue our work to determine the best use of this corridor.”

The entire business case can be viewed here

Rail service on Vancouver Island has been dormant since 2011.