About 75 people attended the Regional District Board meeting of April 11, 2017. Most were there to support the presentation by the Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island promoting the conversion of the E&N rail corridor to a non-motorized multi-use recreation trail. The presenters did an excellent job of identifying many positive elements of the idea, both for local inhabitants, and for an enhanced active tourism industry.
The CVRD board members were not unanimous in their views towards this proposal. It was well received by some directors recognizing the obvious benefits of enhanced tourism opportunities and the encouragement of a healthy lifestyle. Other directors pointed out that the Island Corridor Foundation is (and has been for some time) making efforts to restore rail service and that we should wait until they are ready with their own implementation proposal. The point was also made that a pathway could be built adjacent to the tracks within the existing right of way, so we could “have both”.
The Comox Valley Cycling Coalition strongly supports the Rails to Trails Project. We think the Island will benefit if the project can be implemented sooner rather than later. We believe a continuous multi-purpose trail on the existing E&N corridor could be a world class tourist attraction as well as a safe walking and cycling corridor for recreation and commuting in and around the adjacent island communities.
Waiting for the rail service to be re-established would likely take a very long time and run the risk of losing parts of the corridor to other interested parties who see the area as a wasted resource. We are told the ICF has secured funding of some $20 million for upgrading the tracks. For a rail line of over 200km in length, this seems a very modest amount. The Friends of Rail to Trail estimate that it would take at least $100 million to bring the line up to a safe operating standard. We think the latter estimate is closer to reality and may still be low. A minimalist fix of the old railbed would not be an improvement over the rather poor passenger service offererd before it was shut down six years ago. Population density and established transportation infrastructure on the Island are not conducive to efficient rail transportation at this time. It would be an ongoing money loser, particularly north of Nanaimo. While there may be some ongoing discussion about a possible commuter rail service for the Victoria region, we think the line north of Nanaimo should be considered for a trail conversion as a high priority.
The suggestion that we could have a trail adjacent to the rail tracks would be technically difficult and very expensive. It would require hundreds of stream crossings and major trail construction to cross valleys where the rail line is on large trestles. The cost of such a trail would likely be prohibitive if there is barely enough money available for the train tracks. The continuity of such a trail would be questionable. The CV Cycling Coalition would rather see a high quality trail than a mediocre train service with a piecemeal trail adjacent to the tracks.
Let’s work together to change the old rail bed to a non-motorized multi-use trail beginning with the Courtenay to Nanaimo corridor.CV Cycling Coalition