Boost Island economy with Island-wide rail

Columnist GE Mortimore makes the case for increased income from E&N Rail

Can Vancouver Island make jobs, jump-start new manufacturing and save public money? How about sharpen the efficiency of transit, clean the air and thin the traffic on clogged roads?

Arguably yes, we can do all that, if we are bold and quick-witted enough to use the E&N Railway as Vancouver Island’s highway of invention.

In Vancouver, money-saving results flowed from modest upgrading of transit. TransLink, the transportation enterprise that NDP and Liberal governments both favoured, pushed for the upgrades.

Better transit stirred many young people to forego driving and ride buses and trains.

TransLink’s success can be cranked up higher on Vancouver Island, where regional districts and First Nations own the Island’s railway and NDP MLAs dominate.

Since Tommy Douglas and Dave Barrett, the NDP has the clearest history of putting new ideas to work, but the Libs might surprise us.

Experiment on the railway can test inventive strategies that can be put in place worldwide.

Siemens, Bombardier, or another manufacturer of railway rolling-stock and organizer of railway systems, can be invited to use the E&N as a test track, starting on the Victoria-Langford-Duncan section, as creative running strategies take shape and new locomotives and carriages are built in Island workshops.

That design would feed in tourist and commuter passengers and money-making freight. It could include comfortable lightweight rail-passenger cars with tea-and-coffee machines. Easy passenger transition from railway to home and workplace with dial-a-bus technology. Low rail fares. Railside-to-home manufacture, sale, delivery and promotion of alternative-energy hardware.

Solar panels are coming down in price with sales volume and energy-efficiency increases. The Island railway can reduce costs further and boost sales of solar, tidal and wind-power machinery by becoming a customer as well as a carrier.

Rooftop solar panels on all railway vehicles, buildings and connecting buses and trucks, could enlarge the market.

Deal-making can help it happen. There is a need for super-batteries, to store energy when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.

A rich businessman with a lively social conscience – such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – might be persuaded to offer a million-dollar prize in exchange for a share in the revenue from a successful device, which could be channelled into income for the poor.

Aeros Corporation of California has developed a variable-weight balloon airship that can land almost anywhere without fuss and labour. The revamped Island railway could assign Aeros trackside space from which it could fly skiers to mountain resorts, prospectors to mineral-exploration places and patients to hospital.

Imax could show a super-movie about  Northwest Coast native people, parallel to the history of the Polynesians presented at the Polynesian cultural centre in Hawaii, and display it in a First Nations centre near the railway.

Imax might also depict the history and future of  transportation in a film to be shown in a new theatre on a rail tourist loop through  Parksville and Alberni.

On the level crossings between Six-Mile House and Victoria West, new safe, fast-acting gates could halt automobiles for a time no longer than a conventional traffic light.

At the Six-Mile, the E&N could link with a new electric railway running along a widened Galloping Goose from Victoria General Hospital to Uptown and beyond – rail being sandwiched between walker-wheeler lanes.

• G.E. Mortimore is a longtime columnist with the Goldstream News Gazette.