Campaign to Save Island Rail

railcar at NanaimoThe campaign to upgrade Vancouver Island's long-neglected rail corridor has garnered great support over the summer and is increasing its efforts to get Premier Gordon Campbell and the provincial government on board. This week, volunteers began distributing over 75,000 postcards to citizens along the 290-kilometer rail corridor, urging supporters to send them to the Premier.

"We're asking the province to recognize the huge economic, environmental, and community benefits of rail as part of an integrated transportation system for Vancouver Island," says Chief Judith Sayers, co-chair of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF). "The province is being asked to contribute one-third of the $103.8 million needed to upgrade the line -- less than $35 million over five years."

Thousands of Islanders have already signed up in support as "Friends of the Rail Corridor" through the group's website and at displays at local fairs and exhibitions held each weekend up and down the Island. Businesses, chambers of commerce, tourism associations, economic development organizations, municipalities, and regional districts are also signing up. And because First Nations are co-owners of the rail corridor, there is keen interest in how the project will bring opportunities for FN development and employment.

"The response to our campaign has been overwhelming," says Doug Backhouse, ICF's Executive Director. "This issue resonates with people all across the Island. Once we explain the benefits of rail for industry, tourism, town-to-town, and excursion passengers and for commuters - plus reductions in greenhouse gases, congestion, and sprawl - people say this makes so much sense for our future on the Island. When they find out how close we are to losing rail forever, they are shocked."

"We have increased the freight traffic since taking over but the poor condition of the track is making it increasingly more difficult to attract new business,"
said Frank Butzelaar, president of the operating company, Southern Rail of Vancouver Island. "There are several major shippers that have expressed interest in shipping by rail but we simply cannot accommodate the heavy loads that they typically want to ship."

"We urge the province to get the ball rolling because federal funding is only available for a short time - and time is quickly running out," said Sayers.

Sayers said that federal officials agree the upgrading qualifies for a one-third federal contribution. But provincial and private sector commitments are needed to access the federal funds. The final one-third from the private sector is available based on a comprehensive business plan.

The Island Corridor Foundation is a partnership of First Nations, five regional, and 14 municipal governments that took ownership of the 290-kilometre rail corridor in 2006 on behalf of the people and communities of Vancouver Island. Under an agreement with the foundation, Southern Railway of Vancouver Island acts as the rail operator for both freight and passenger services. VIA Rail, which offers the current passenger service, is fully supportive of the revitalization plan. The Foundation together with business and community leaders is asking Canada and British Columbia to invest in Vancouver Island's future and rebuild Vancouver Island's crumbling rail infrastructure.

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