If all goes according to plan, by this time next year commuters from the West Shore will be arriving in Victoria West by train along the E&N Rail corridor.
It's a plan that prominent developer Ken Mariash, owner of Focus Equities, has been working on for the last six to eight months, meeting regularly with key stakeholders in the region such as city mayors.
As the developer behind Bayview Place (located adjacent to the Inner Harbour), bringing a commuter rail service is something Mariash has had his eye on ever since planning began for the Roundhouse Marketplace — a development that offers a mix of retail, culture and gathering places in Vic West.
Mariash has read through numerous studies done over the years on a commuter rail service in the region and has hired a bunch of engineering firms to further look at the idea. If the project gets off the ground, he'd provide a station inside the Roundhouse site.
“It's not very complicated,” said Mariash, noting the capital cost to get everything up and running is about $7 million to $10 million — something he calls pocket change compared to some of the other infrastructure projects his company has done with developments in Calgary and Edmonton.
“All the mayors have been enormously helpful. They come here regularly and keep this moving along. It's just a matter of somebody providing the initiative.”
Even though some details have yet to be ironed out, Mariash feels confident he's come up with a proven business case.
The cost to run the service would be about $3 million to $4 million a year, with half of that recaptured through ridership. Tickets would cost between $2 to $4 one way, attracting about 1,000 people per day (to start) on the 15 kilometers of track that would have one or two stops in between Langford and Vic West. Scheduling would be every half hour to an hour, depending on the demand.
As for the train equipment, Mariash is currently looking at five or six different suppliers, new or used. Who would operate the rail has yet to be determined, but Mariash pointed to either one of the municipalities, the Capital Regional District (CRD), B.C. Transit, or another existing transit provider such as Southern Rail, which used to operate a Victoria-Courtenay passenger service on the E&N line on behalf of Via Rail. The brakes were put on that service in 2011 due to concerns with the condition of bridges and track along the line.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins has been down this road before. When she first became mayor in 2008, there was a group looking at commuter rail from Langford to Victoria. A study was done and other organizations have tried to revive the project since then. But at the end of the day, Desjardins said the cost or lack of organization among the region prevented things from moving forward.
This time Desjardins feels cautiously optimistic talks will actually turn into a reality. Mayors across the region know they'll be facing the perfect storm with the construction of the McKenzie interchange during the next two years, she noted, which has helped facilitate more serious discussions for ways to ease traffic congestion and focus on one section of the track.
“Everybody is pulling together to try and get something on the track...by having a key land owner who has a key piece of property, and a man of his stature come to the table, Ken can help us move this along,” said Desjardins, noting the CRD is also looking at a regional transportation service.
“All of the players are willing to come and sit at the table this time. We haven’t seen that before...It's a huge opportunity, but we need to take it step by step and make sure we do it right because we won't have another chance.”