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LETTER: Converting rail corridor to trail more costly than proposed rail system


Now that it has been made public, the concerns are justified with the cost estimate to build a trail along the Island Rail Corridor as proposed in the Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island (FORT-VI) feasibility report. FORT-VI expects the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) to cover the costs of restoring or removing the bridges, removing the track and road crossing equipment, and remediating the soil, which is not included in their estimate.

For anyone who thinks this will be like converting the former CNR right of way into the Galloping Goose Trail, (most of which was abandoned in 1979), it’s not 1985. Those railway companies that owned the rights of way aren’t here to take their track and equipment away with them and there are environmental laws that didn’t exist then. Changing the use of land from what was a heavy industry that carried coal, oil, and chemicals, etc. for over 135 years, to a public trail, now requires very expensive remediation.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s (MoTI) 2020 Island Rail Corridor Condition Assessment (IRCCA) added 97% in contingencies as though restoring the rail line were a completely new project with a lot of unknowns, which it isn’t. The railroad industry considers the work needed to restore the tracks as maintenance, so 10% is more than reasonable for standard work. FORT-VI’s estimate for basic trail construction and engineering is $152 million, plus $20.7 million (13.6%) for contingencies, far too low for the number of unknowns.

Before remediation costs are factored in, FORT-VI’s estimate, plus bridge restoration and steel removal, would be about $252 million. With 97% in contingencies, like the IRCCA estimate, that would be $497 million, plus remediation of ties and soil, not including annual trail maintenance costs. With 50% contingency, as the ICF’s Business Case includes, it would be $378 million plus remediation, all enormous numbers for just a trail that would only be one-quarter paved, proposed by a group that claims rail is too expensive. A trail doesn’t produce any direct revenue like rail does either. The ICF’s Business Case estimated a similar $381 million (plus equipment) for a modern rail system, which would not need soil remediation. Profits from freight revenues could be earmarked for building trails along the corridor.

FORT-VI expects the ICF to pay the huge cost of restoring or removing the bridges, removing the tracks and crossings, and the expensive remediation. There is also no business plan or mention of the maintenance of the trail once complete and their estimate only includes paving 25% of the trail. It will have been about two years before a critical section of the Cowichan Valley trail will be repaired following the 2021 atmospheric river damage. In comparison, a modern rail system for Vancouver Island is a bargain and could be completed in months rather than decades. It would also take far more cars and diesel trucks off the road and would give people of all ages and abilities an accessible, affordable transportation option in any weather.

Kerry Davis, vice-president

Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition