The plight of the rail line on Vancouver has been uncertain since around 2002 when CP rail started talking about ceasing rail operations, parceling up the land and selling it. First Nations, local governments and residents did not want to see that happen so they organized and over several years, obtained the rail line. This group knew that they would need a lot of money to fix up the tracks as CP Rail and Rail American had not put much money into infrastructure over the years but were up to the challenge. With the announcement on Tuesday of the Federal Government giving $7.5 million dollars to the ICF for infrastructure, matching the BC Government’s commitment of $7.5 million dollars in June of 2011, means rail will continue on Vancouver Island! Welcome news for sure!
Rail on Vancouver Island runs 225 km from Victoria to Courtney and 64 km from Parksville into Port Alberni. More specifically, this rail corridor consists of 290 kilometres of rail line as well as the bridges, trestles, rail yards etc. and land adjacent to the corridor covering 650 hectares valued at $366 million (2006 dollars).
Rail has existed on Vancouver Island for 125 years and its history has not been a favourable one for First Nations. In 1884, without regard to First Nations title and territories, the federal government handed over 405,000 hectares of land as payment for the building of the E&N railroad on Vancouver Island. As a result today, much of what used to be Crown Land is now fee simple leaving the true owners of the land-the First Nations without land available for treaty settlements. As a result the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group that represents 6 First Nations commenced a complaint with the Organization of American States regarding this action of the federal government. You can find more about this at:Despite this dark history for First Nations, some of the First Nations along the line have chosen to embark in a joint venture with Local Governments to make a positive out of a negative history while still pursuing just compensation for the land grant of their territories.www.htg-humanrights.bc.ca/HTG%20vs%20Canada%20Backgrounder%20-%20Case%20with%20IACHR.pdf
In 2002, First Nations, local governments and residents of Vancouver Island started meeting over how to stop CP rail from breaking up the corridor and shutting down rail. Cowichan Tribes was one of the groups that took leadership over this initiative ad had many meetings in their boardroom. Through many meetings, it was determined that First Nations and Local Governments should come together to own the rail corridor and work together on the future of rail.
In 2004, the Island Corridor was formed as a foundation that had 6 board members from First Nations and 6 board members from local governments, and a chair would be appointed from First Nations and one from local governments. This was an unprecedented partnership bringing Local Governments and First Nations together to work on a common cause. This group negotiated with CP Rail and Rail America to donate the lands to ICF. It was a happy day when the lands were transferred to ICF and the opportunity for rail was possible.
The purpose of the ICF is “by working together to develop the Corridor to its full potential we have the power to: preserve our environment; develop our economy; create safe, green, efficient transportation for our families; and to build a gateway to the world for our businesses for the next 100 years.”
No one who lives on Vancouver Island wants to see our highways being expanded to being 6 lanes and taking away more of our beautiful island. No one wanted to see increased truck traffic on already congested highways creating hazards on the road like the recent crash of a truck pulling two tankers of gas and diesel on the Malahat in April.
Other positives is that the rail can be used for is a commuter rail from Langford to Victoria or even Duncan to Victoria and helping alleviate the Langford crawl. How about developing tourism trains featuring First Nations interpretive centres, wine or agri-tours, music/arts tours, the possibilities are endless. Eventually, sustainable rail cars can be used and ICF is committed to trying to connect rail, ferry, bus traffic in an effort to get people out of their cars. Decreasing green house gases is a great plus to using rail instead of trucks and cars.
Island Corridor Foundation does not run the rail and have been working with Southern Vancouver Island Rail (SVI) to run the operations of the rail. They have increased the freight and passenger services since they came on board in 2006.
SVI will be key in increasing freight and keeping trucks off the road. VIA has been operating passenger service on the island and contracted SVI to do this for them. The problem we have been facing with VIA is their schedule rail trips run the wrong way. As people make their way to the City of Victoria, the train is leaving Victoria. ICF and SVI have been working with VIA Rail to get a schedule that will work with peoples needs and be more viable.
This has not been an easy road for the ICF. It took several years to negotiate with CP Rail and Rail America to have them donate the rail and lands to the ICF. It has taken longer to lobby governments to help us with infrastructure costs. There are many issues we have had to grapple with but it has all been worth it.
What are the great things about ICF? ICF holds the lands in trust for the residents of Vancouver Island including First Nations and local governments. It is truly a community owned and operated rail corridor. So many regional districts have taken advantage of the corridor and have created trails for the enjoyment of residents. Communities have improved the train stations voluntarily. Qualicum is a good example of that. The train station in Nanaimo burned down, and the insurance proceeds would not cover the re-building. The Young Professionals of Nanaimo took on the task for raising over $400,000 to see the station rebuilt. There are so many amazing stories of community commitment to the rail. In Port Alberni, the Steam Train to McLean’s Mill wants to expand its route and eventually go to Parksville. A beautiful trip! There is so much potential from one long corridor. Connecting communities has always been the theme of the ICF and ICF is making this happen.
I entitled this “We saved the rail” on Vancouver Island. “We” means the ICF, all the member First Nations and Local Governments, board members and staff of the ICF, residents and organizations that supported ICF and the Provincial and Federal Governments. It was a huge team effort that took 10 years. Thanks go to all who have contributed to the success of saving the railway. A bigger thanks goes to the provincial and federal governments for their financial contributions that make this possible. Having been Co-chair of the Island Corridor Foundation for six years and one of the Founding Board members this has been an incredible journey full of highs and lows, developing relationships and staying committed to the goals and purposes of the ICF. We were told by many along the way that it could never been done, never say never! I know there will be many more challenges and rewards ahead, but for the moment, knowing the rail will continue is a huge accomplishment to savour and then get back to work! Stay tuned for more good news stories from this community owned rail corridor!
Co-Chairs Judith Sayers and Jack Peake celebrate on day CP Rail transfers rail to ICF
Feb. 28, 2006