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E&N Rail cars leaving Island for good

First, they left Victoria's roundhouse for storage in Nanaimo, and now the E&N Rail passenger rail cars are gone from Vancouver Island for good.

Via Rail loaded the cars onto a barge this morning to be returned to Eastern Canada.

Graham Bruce, executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation, said the move is no surprise, though he doesn't know what Via plans to do with the cars. They have been in storage since the E&N Rail tracks were closed in March due to deterioration.

"They have told us that they have a new train set for us, a three-car train set, which is to come out here in the spring time," said Bruce. Receipt of the cars, however, is dependent on improvements to the track.

The first step in those upgrades is underway.

Thanks to a $500,000 grant from the province, the ICF has hired Associated Engineering to assess the condition of the track's 48 bridges and trestles.

"That audit is underway right now," said Bruce. "They're doing weight loading testing (until the end of the week). Yesterday, we had the engines up at the Niagara Trestle running them back and forth."

Pending a positive result from the bridge audit, the province has committed another $7 million for track upgrades, on condition the federal government matches the grant.

"We're really trying to get from the feds their answer," said Bruce.

"We want to make sure this is all part of the process, being that they're taking the cars, and in due course the announcement for the $7.5 million comes forward, we can get on with the work and the new train set will come out."

The fear is that the cars are "quietly being removed from the Island and then nothing more materializes," he added.

Bruce said the bridge audit is expected to be complete by February and will be made public.

To date, the field work has not flagged any significant problems, he said. "I don't think yet there's any show stoppers but we'll know for sure … by February."

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