B.C. Supreme Court rules against returning vacant rail line to Vancouver Island First Nation
VICTORIA -- A Vancouver Island First Nation has lost its attempt to have a long-vacant rail line placed under its ownership.
The Snaw-Naw-As, or Nanoose First Nation, launched a B.C. Supreme Court case arguing that the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E & N) rail line running through its land was wrongfully taken and that after years without a train, it has been abandoned and should be returned to the Snaw-Naw-As.
The Esquimalt and Nanaimo rail line has not hosted passenger trains since 2011 due to the poor condition of its track. Some freight traffic still uses the line, but only on a fraction of the track which was once used.
In the court ruling handed down this week, Justice Robert Punnett said the Plaintiff’s (Snaw-Naw-As) request to have the land returned was “understandable”, but their argument that the line was no longer used for rail was not proven. The claim was dismissed.
The Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), which has attempted to reinstate rail service since 2011, says it successfully proved that upgrading some sections of the line with the intention of getting the entire line running again is being done.
The ICF, which is a non-profit organization with the aim of reinstating rail travel, tells CTV News that it annually pumps around $1 million into upgrades across the rail line.
Nanoose First Nation Chief Brend Edwards says he is disappointed by the decision.
“The court accepted that a railway purpose is present because ICF continues to assert (that) its mandate is to provide railway service, and that it intends to continue rails service in the future,” Edwards told CTV News Vancouver Island.
“The court did not consider whether or not such an intention was reasonable in light of the circumstances.”
The circumstances Edwards is referring to were outlined in a provincial government report on the condition of the E&N line, which estimated what it would actually cost to safely run trains again.
The report illuminated widespread safety issues on the rail line running from Victoria to Courtenay, and from Parksville to Port Alberni.
The rail line assessment showed the cost to upgrade the track to a usable state spanned from around $300 million to $700 million.
The Island Corridor Foundation had originally assessed costs to upgrade tracks at around $21-million, but that figure was floated several years before the provincial assessment.
As the Mid-Island First Nation voices its disappointment with the court ruling, leaders with the ICF say they see it as a jumping point to get work started on the long-unused track.
The ICF says that the federal government was holding back funds it had promised for the project until the court case was resolved.
Half a decade ago, the federal and provincial governments each pledged $7.5 million for the upgrades. The ICF said it would match the funds with its own $7.5-million. In light of the new provincial report, those figures are wildly out of date, however.
The ICF says it will now launch a plan to make new requests for funding.
Island Corridor Foundation leadership say they suspect the rail could be upgraded on the low end of the provincial assessment at around the $300-million mark.