A mid-Island First Nation is calling for the repurposing of the E&N Railway Corridor, saying there is no business case for the investment necessary to reopen the rail line.
“How about the East Coast Trail? A level, accessible, paved trail that connects communities and promotes recreation? Despite several funding proposals, the Island Corridor Foundation has been unable to secure the financial investment needed to rehabilitate the track,” read a May 5 release from the Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation, based between Nanaimo and Parksville.
This comes after a pair of recent estimates about the cost of reopening – a report from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure assessing the cost at $700 million and a lower number of $254 million from the CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation, Larry Stevenson. The ICF owns the line, which stretches 220-kilometres from Victoria to Courtenay. Passenger service halted in 2011 due to concerns around track safety, while freight service continues sparingly on Vancouver Island.
Fifty per cent of the board seats on the ICF are represented by Indigenous Nations, with the corridor running through 14 First Nation territories, including Snaw-Naw-As.
Brent Edwards, a Snaw-Naw-As council member, said the purpose of the ICF is to protect the corridor and using the land for a purpose other than rail could achieve that. The Snaw-Naw-As currently has a civil lawsuit before the courts against the ICF and the Attorney General of Canada, asking for the return of land that they say was wrongfully taken away from them when the railway was initially built.
“We’ve had numerous First Nations that are part of the Island Corridor Foundation support our position and despite of that, they keep running amok, running ahead, saying ‘we’re going to get rail up and running one day,’” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of First Nations that would like to see it repurposed and that was the intent of the Island Corridor Foundation when it was set up was to protect the corridor and not have tunnel vision on rail.”
Edwards called the potential repurposing “the real opportunity.”
Stevenson said the purpose of the ICF is to reopen rail service, noting he would like to see trails developed as well as the rail line.
“The Island Corridor Foundation is very supportive of trails alongside the railway and in fact, we have built over 100 kilometres of trails on the Island and it’s our intent to continue building them in the future,” he said. “But we are still – the base of this organization is to restore train service to the Island.”