Passenger rail plan loses $1M commitment from Nanaimo regional district

RDN chair Bill Veenhof says the RDN has "lost confidence that the day-to-day operations of the ICF reflect the interests of the RDN"

Southern Rail employees manoeuvre the Island Explorer excursion train along the tracks at rail yard on the Nanaimo waterfront. Tuesday. The 1952 locomotive and four heritage coaches arrived earlier that morning in anticipation of an April 8 event celebrating the 130th anniversary of Island rail.

The plan to re-start passenger rail service on Vancouver Island was dealt a serious blow Wednesday morning when the Regional District of Nanaimo announced it is withdrawing its commitment to provide almost $1 million to the project.

RDN board chair Bill Veenhof said the decision to pull the funding was unanimous and was announced after an in-camera meeting Tuesday night.

“We have terminated the contribution agreement with the Island Corridor Foundationn (ICF),” Veenhof told The NEWS on Wednesday morning. “After five years of waiting for this project to move forward, the board has grown tired of delays and has lost confidence that the day-to-day operations of the ICF reflect the interests of the RDN.”

The RDN had committed $945,000 to the re-start of passenger rail service on the Island. Veenhof said the ICF was given 60-day notice of this termination on Wednesday morning.

Veenhof also said the board passed a motion saying the the RDN board “does not support the retention or continuation of Granneke Management by the ICF board.”

Former Liberal MLA Graham Bruce was hired to be the ICF’s executive director in June of 2009. Granneke is Bruce’s consulting business.

The ICF issued a statement at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

“The Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) is in receipt of the letter from the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) regarding the termination of the regional district grant agreement,” read the statement. “The ICF will not provide comments until such time as the board has met to discuss this matter.”

At 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, Veenhof sent The NEWS what he called “speaking notes” on the issue. They included:

“When the board initially voted to support this project, the scheduling plan was significantly different than what it is today and at this time it does not appear that the project will move forward in the foreseeable future.     As elected officials and stewards of our constituents’ tax dollars, the board feels that it is not good management of taxpayer funds to hold $945,000 for a project that will not move forward in the foreseeable future. The board feels that alternate uses for the corridor should be explored. The vote to provide notice of termination of the Contribution Agreement was passed unanimously. The Board feels that it is important to protect the Island Corridor land.”

The ICF, a non-profit organization formed in 2003 to manage the railway, has been awaiting $7.5 million in federal government funding to restore passenger train service to Vancouver Island. Passenger service was discontinued in 2011 due to unsafe track conditions.

Earlier this year, the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation of Nanoose Bay initiated a civil lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court against the ICF and the Attorney General of Canada over the rail line.

The lawsuit asks for the return of Snaw-Naw-As land that was taken in the last century to build the railway, which runs through the reserve north of Nanaimo.

Laste last year, Southern Railway of Vancouver Island (SVI) officials said passenger train service could return to Vancouver Island as early as 2016.

“Maybe by the end of 2016, but by early 2017 in time for the tourist season we expect passenger operations to resume,” SVI director of community relations J. Singh Biln told The NEWS.

SVI is the operator of the E&N Railway, owned by the ICF.

Senior governments and five regional districts along the E&N line — including the RDN — had committed $20.9 million to the project.

While the RDN committed almost $1 million last year to help revive passenger rail service, directors representing Coombs/Errington, Bowser, Nanoose Bay, Parksville and Qualicum Beach voted against it but the motion passed on the strength of the RDN board’s Nanaimo contingent.

Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre, who has consistently voiced concern that $20.9 million won’t be enough to complete the repairs, was asked in that story last year what he thought of the comments from Southern Rail.

“I have no comment,” said Lefebvre. “I’ve heard that before, I’ve heard a lot of dates over time.”

Joe Stanhope, who represents French Creek on the RDN, said he was surprised by Souther Rail’s optimism about the project.

“I’m surprised knowing the infrastructure deficit is where it is that they are that optimistic,” Stanhope told The NEWS.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Felix Townsin, shown here with his sister, Lexi, who died on Oct. 19, 2019. Felix is a big part of a family initiative aimed at finding a cure for Blau Syndrome. (Photo contributed by the Townsin family)
Quest to cure Blau syndrome a family affair

John Stubbs student produces film for late little sister Lexi

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Newly public Emily Carr painting depicts well-known Victoria view

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

An incident on Sooke Road is slowing traffic Wednesday evening. (Courtesy of Mona Hazeldine)
Sooke Road incident snarls evening traffic

Witnesses report two-vehicle collision

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Soccer player Ethan Finnigan juggles the ball at Oak Bay High. The Grade 12 student was injured much of last year and was relying on his senior year to score a scholarship and play at university. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
High school athletes remain on sidelines across B.C.

Recruiting for university on hiatus, future unknown

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 27

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MMFN First Nation has said that it will restrict access to portion of Highway 28 that passes through the Nation’s land until a road use agreement is reached. (Black Press file photo)
Vancouver Island First Nation blocks highway access to logging trucks in Gold River

Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation restricting access for Western Forest Products pending road deal

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

Cowichan Search and Rescue set up near the Silver Bridge in Duncan on Wednesday morning, Oct. 28, 2020 to rescue a dog from the Cowichan River. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Search and Rescue save dog from icy Cowichan River

Search and Rescue’s swiftwater team was called in

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read