Horgan taps brakes on idea of restoring rail service on the South Island
The dream of a working rail line on the South Island may finally be dead.
Speaking to the local business community at a Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce event Monday, B.C. Premier John Horgan surprised many when he shot down the idea of light rail on southern Vancouver Island.
"The business case doesn't seem to be there, and I'm not prepared to wait any longer," Horgan told the crowd.
Horgan went on to say it may be time to end the discussion around restoring light rail service on the old E&N line and start thinking about tearing up the tracks in favour of buses.
"We finally utilize the E&N corridor for its purpose, which is not necessarily a train, but moving people from the west into the city and back again," he said. "We shouldn't have a corridor like that just dedicated to growing scotch broom."
Developer Ken Mariash, who has commissioned paid studies on the corridor, said he was surprised to hear Horgan's comments because experts have already determined the line is too narrow for buses.
"You can barely get a bus over one of those bridges let alone any two-lane capability," said Mariash. "It would cost such a huge capital cost that we didn't even hardly get into estimating it."
Even local mayors were taken back with the premier's sudden change of heart.
"We've had no dialogue, no consultation, and I would like to understand better how they've come to that decision," said View Royal Mayor David Screech. "You are ripping out existing infrastructure, replacing double bus lanes and there's spots that I can think of where I cannot imagine for a second how that's going to work."
The current NDP government announced last November that it would conduct a new study on the feasibility of reopening the rail line, but have yet to release any findings or funding options for the project.
"We've been working on this for a number of months now," said transportation minister Claire Trevena. "There's still a lot of consultation to do because we've still got the question of the Island Corridor Foundation. They own the line, and we've got to make sure they're fully engaged in this."
Trevena wouldn't say whether the ministry has fully ruled out the option of having trains operating on the E&N line.
"At the moment we need to get people moving, and we need to get people moving as fast as possible," said Trevena. "The premier has given his preference, and that is clearly something that is going to be taken very seriously."
Speaking at the meeting, Horgan pledged that the corridor will once again move people – in one form or another – by the end of his government's term.