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Trial run for inter-city commuter rail gathers steam

Development of a new passenger rail pilot project is underway that would make several new morning runs between Victoria and Langford starting in September.

Work on a business plan began a few weeks ago to lay the track for a new inter-city rail service.

The year-long pilot project, if approved, would bring people from north of the Malahat Drive to Victoria on three double-decker rail cars.

“You find out what the ridership is in terms of success. Is it there? Does it meet all (expectations)?” said Graham Bruce, executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation, a regional, municipal and First Nations partnership that owns the 290-kilometre-long rail corridor between Victoria and Nanaimo.

Next steps include completing a business plan by the end of April, and sourcing the bi-level passenger cars that could carry a maximum of 800 riders combined.

The service would complement plans to relocate the home terminus of the Malahat Run from Victoria to Nanaimo in early 2012, that would transport riders to Victoria between 6:30 and 8 a.m. The foundation is now awaiting word on $15 million in potential funding from the provincial and federal governments for upgrades to the E&N railbed.

Once construction of the new Johnston Street Bridge begins, the line would end in Victoria West. Stakeholders considered that long before the City of Victoria decided last week not to include rail in the design, Bruce said.

He said there is wide-spread optimism that rail could still come into the downtown in years to come, and that demand from this project could very well help that along.

"The only decision is that rail won't be in this phase of construction of the bridge," Bruce explained.

The new fall pilot would fire up early on weekday mornings in the Cowichan Valley for travel to Victoria, with stops along the way. It's considered inter-city rather than commuter rail to better describe the scope of the service, Bruce explained.

Once in Victoria it would run several times between there and Langford before going offline between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. when it would travel back to the Cowichan Valley.

“We’re hopefully looking at picking up some of the Esquimalt military (personnel) that live north of the Malahat,” Bruce said. “We’ll work it so it meets the base requirements.

That is good news to the Township of Esquimalt.

“We’ve been hopeful of this for the past year and a half, so if we can make it happen, the sooner the better,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.