ICF director says conversion from rails to trails 'in consideration'

By Dominic Abassi
June 20, 2017 - 5:45pm Updated: June 20, 2017 - 8:19pm

The director of the ICF says the idea of converting the rail line to a trail will be in consideration.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — The head of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) is not derailing the concept of converting portions of the rail line to a multi-use trail.

ICF executive director Graham Bruce said the idea put forward by community group Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island (FORTVI) couldn't have come at a better time, with the stewards of the E&N rail line currently in the middle of a business plan review and revision.

Bruce said the ICF has received a lot of comments supporting the conversion to a trail and it's something that will be "in consideration" when the board sits down to make some decisions this summer.

"There's great support for trails and rail with trails and there's also practical issues that have to be dealt with," Bruce told NanaimoNewsNOW. "Maybe it comes out in phases. Maybe you do this part in a phase for rail and maybe this other part you leave for greater consultation as to whether it should be rail or should only be trail."

Bruce said there could be different options for different segments of the corridor. He said the overall discussion becomes convoluted when you consider some communities fully support rail, while others might not.

"One thing that's good is everybody's of the mind there should be trails. So it comes down to should the corridor simply be used for trails or should it have the continuation of rail," he said. "It's not a question of one or the other, it's a question of trying to consider all of this in light of the overriding piece of connecting communities through this corridor by one means or another."

According to public feedback recently compiled by the ICF, 62 per cent of 429 responses were very supportive of rail service on the island. That support peaked in the Alberni and Nanaimo regions, while the majority of responses from the Oceanside region were not supportive of rail at all.

Bruce said now was not the time to discuss the potential cost of repairing the rail line. He said that will become clearer once their business plan review is done. A 2009 BC Ministry of Transportation report found restoring rail infrastructure, including refurbished rail cars, from Victoria to Courtenay and Port Alberni would cost $216 million.

The overall E&N rail line is more than 220 kms.

Sherry Durnford, with FORTVI, said their group doesn't have a firm cost estimate for the conversion to trails. She said it's their belief the cost of ripping out the rails can be offset by the sale of the scrap metal and ties.

Recently studied and completed projects show rail trails can be pricey. The 6.7 km Coombs to Parksville Rail Trail, featuring packed gravel, cost $3.8 million. City of Nanaimo staff pegged a 2 km paved section in the south end at $7.2 million, with 45 per cent of the cost related to upgrading rail crossings.

Nanaimo council recently gave their formal support to FORTVI's efforts, joining the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Bruce expected the ICF board to meet at the end of the month to begin forming their new business plan.


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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