E&N coach leaves Victoria – perhaps for good

After being parked at the Roundhouse for more than a month, the E&N passenger train departed for storage in Nanaimo Tuesday.

While freight service continues along the line north of Victoria, passenger service linking Victoria to Nanaimo has been suspended due to the poor condition of the tracks.

The train was scheduled to leave Vic West at 10 a.m. yesterday, and arrive at its new home in Nanaimo at about 1:30 p.m.

If all goes according to the Island Corridor Foundation’s plan, Nanaimo will soon serve as the passenger train’s daily departure point. The reverse in direction “would be enthusiastically supported by riders wanting to travel to Victoria and still get home the same day,” according to Graham Bruce of the ICF.

Reconstruction of Nanaimo’s Heritage Station, will launch in late May, thanks to a $900,000 investment from Via Rail.

But relaunching the train service depends on securing a $15-million grant for track improvements, from the provincial and federal government.

Before committing its share of the funds, the B.C. government wants to ensure $15 million isn’t just the tip of the iceberg.

“If this is only going to be a patchwork that only is going to lead to further patchwork, I think it would be irresponsible for government to proceed in that way,” said Ida Chong, MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

“I have met with Minister (of Transportation Blair) Lekstrom more than once and I can certainly appreciate how important this is to the Vancouver Island communities along the rail line,” she said. “No decision has been made about the funding request.”

Bruce admits more money could be needed.

Part of the grant will fund an audit of the Niagara Trestle in Goldstream Provincial Park. It will be the first detailed review of the structure in several years, and the report could conclude that more investment in the bridge is needed.

But Bruce put the potential extra costs in perspective.

“The alternatives on Vancouver Island are always in the billions of dollars, if you’re talking about Malahat improvements, if you’re talking about Colwood Crawl improvements,” he said.

The ICF expects to receive an answer to its grant application by mid-June.

rholmen@vicnews.com