It's a table mayors throughout the capital region have sat around many times in the past few years, but this time there's a few new faces, including the provincial government.
Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, announced Thursday the province has now dived into the idea of establishing a commuter rail service on the 15 kilometres of track along the E&N corridor between Langford to Victoria West.
A working group, consisting of representatives from the ministry, local governments, B.C. Transit, the Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC) and the B.C. Safety Authority, has been put together to come up with a business case for the project by the summer.
No funding announcements were made, but Stone said the opportunity to see a resurrection of the service is “more ripe now than it ever has been.” However, a business case is needed first to look at all the costs associated with such a project and talks have already been had with some federal partners, who were “intrigued.”
“We have to have something we can take to the federal government. They will not consider a funding contribution if there's not a current detailed business plan so that's the work that has to happen,” said Stone, noting mayors in the region recently came forward with a proposal and some financial commitments.
“Our initial analysis of that report is there is something here, there is some merit in doing a much deeper dive on this ...It's time to get on with commuter rail. We see this as a very significant opportunity to move a heck of a lot of people.”
With a growing population contributing to an already congested highway, commuter rail service in the capital region has been talked about for a number of years. Several studies have been done and organizations have tried to revive the project, but the cost or lack of organization among the region prevented things from moving forward.
Then last year, Ken Mariash, the developer behind Bayview Place (located adjacent to the Inner Harbour) announced he had a proven business case for the service and would also provide a station inside the Roundhouse site. Mariash estimated capital costs would be $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.
The announcement from a key landowner with a key piece of property, along with regular meetings with mayors across the region, left Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins feeling cautiously optimistic. Now that all partners are sitting at the table, she feels strongly the region will see commuter rail in the near future. So does Langford Mayor Stew Young.
“This is the first time we've actually had the provincial government here saying we like the idea, we're going to move forward...We can't move forward without the provincial government actually spearheading this now,” said Young, noting the many false starts on the idea from private companies in the past.
“Five years of not seeing this corridor used is an absolute travesty...I believe we'll be able to move this forward.”