VI Freight By Rail Blog

AVICC Resolution to get Federal Funding plus, 130th Anniversary Event!

This weekend there will be a flurry of activity on the Island Railway as the ICF has brought over a very special train for the weekend, check it out:

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This is ostensibly to start the celebrations around the 130th Anniversary of the E&N Railway this year.

There will be 4 runs of the train on Friday April 9th at Noon, 2PM, 4PM and 7PM.  The first run will be special for AVICC delegates and dignitaries.  The other three runs are open to the public with tickets being sold through various charities and community groups. They all sold out very quickly of course!

In my role as City Councillor for the City of Port Alberni, I have crafted a resolution to bring to the AVICC conference that I will be presenting and arguing for on Saturday morning.

It is below in full.  If you support this resolution, please let your local government official know so that they can support it during the AVICC conference.

It’s going to be a great weekend!

ISLAND CORRIDOR FOUNDATION FEDERAL FUNDING
WHEREAS the Esquimalt & Nanaimo (E&N) Railway corridor remains a critical transportation asset for the current and future needs of the people and economy of Vancouver Island;

AND WHEREAS the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) passed a resolution urging action in 2012 and further delay in repairs to the corridor jeopardizes its viability;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the AVICC petition the Government of Canada to approve and release the $7.5 million for capital works on the Victoria to Courtenay rail line in order for work to begin as soon as possible and ensure the future of rail based freight and passenger transportation between Victoria, Courtenay and Port Alberni.

BACKGROUND —-

ISLAND CORRIDOR FOUNDATION FEDERAL FUNDING

The Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway corridor was built in the late 1800s and extends from Victoria to Courtenay and inland from Parksville to Port Alberni. The railway was acquired by the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) after Canadian Pacific and Rail America donated their portions of the line to the ICF in 2006.

Since its inception, the ICF has been pursuing the revival of rail service on Vancouver Island. Passenger service had been suspended because of safety concerns due to poor track conditions along the rail line however, rail freight continues to operate between Nanaimo and south Duncan.

In 2012 the federal and provincial governments jointly committed approximately $15 million to the restoration of the rail line with the intention of making the corridor safe again for passenger service. This included a $500,000 bridge engineering study supported by the provincial government.

With the total project estimated at approximately $20.4 million, ICF secured the remaining funding through agreements with Island regional districts, Via Rail, Southern Railway of Vancouver Island (SVI), and ICF’s own source funds.

In July of 2015 the province affirmed their commitment to provide $7.5 million to the ICF for the project. However, the transfer of funds is contingent on confirmation that the $7.5 million in federal funding is in place and, through a tendering process, that the upgrade work can be completed within the $20.4 million budget.

With the change in government following the October 2015 federal election, the Island Corridor Foundation is now seeking an affirmation of the previous federal commitment for $7.5 million in order to develop and issue a tender for the necessary upgrades required on the rail line.

This resolution seeks to ensure the future of rail based freight and passenger transportation between Victoria, Courtenay and Port Alberni by petitioning the federal government to release the committed funding for the project.

 

Time to lean on the Regional Districts again

In case you missed it, on Wednesday, VIA Rail announced at its annual general meeting that an agreement with SVI and the ICF had “for all intents and purposes been concluded.”

You can see it at their youtube link. Skip to 38:30.

The President said it should be signed within the next few weeks and that the ball was now in the ICFs court to secure the funding.

That’s where you come in. The ICF of course already got commitments from the province, Feds, and regional districts but they would only release the funds when VIA signed on.

The ICF has sent out a request for supporters to email their regional districts to encourage them to sign their respective contribution agreements releasing the funding as soon as possible. The quicker they do it, the quicker work can get started and passenger and freight service can get going again.

I’ve included the email addresses of the five regional chairs for you to encourage them to sign by the end of June.

To Email the Regional District Chairs Click Here

‘Dear Regional Board Chair, congratulations on making the funding commitment to help restore passenger rail service and encouraging VIA Rail to sign a new agreement. As this was a requirement for your funding please sign the contribution agreement so work can start on restoring the rail’

Your continued support is very much appreciated,

Thank you,

Graham Bruce
Chef Executive Officer
Island Corridor Foundation

Yes. VIA does say there is a tentative agreement.

It has been a roller coaster ride over the past few days.

We had the big high of the announcement followed by a low when VIA categorically denied that any agreement had been signed. Newspaper articles were flying left, right and centre.

Yours truly even decided to phone and email Jaques Gagnon of VIA Rail on Thursday to ask what was up. Here is that email with his answers as he wrote them:

Has a tentative agreement been reached with Southern Railway as was announced by the ICF yesterday? There is no formal agreement reached between VIA Rail Canada and SVI/ICF

Did VIA email the ICF and SVI permission to hold the press conference yesterday and use the term tentative agreement as co-Chair Judith Sayers has indicated in public interviews? No

Will the tentative agreement be submitted to the VIA Rail board for ratification and if so when? Hypothetical

Are there details you can share about the tentative agreement that the ICF has not already shared? No

Pretty definitive, and a little snarky honestly.

Throughout this drama Mr. Gagnon has been leaning heavily on the difference in the words “tentative” and “formal”. I emailed him a followup to the question above noting that I had not asked if there was a formal agreement, but rather if there was a tentative one like the ICF announcement. I have received no response.

The intransigence seemed to start to break down in an interview with the Times Colonist though.

Asked about the foundation’s description of a “tentative deal,” Gagnon said: “I would leave it to them to describe what is a tentative agreement or an agreement in principle. We all know that, in business, a contract is valid from the moment both parties sign and we’re not there.”

So he has consistently refused to confirm if any tentative agreement (which are very common in all negotiations) had been reached insisting instead that no deal existed or seemed to be worth talking about until the “contract” was “valid” and signed.

This intransigence seemed to spark some annoyance from Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney who was quoted Thursday in the Parksville Qualicum Beach newspaper:

“It is disappointing that VIA didn’t stand with the ICF at this time,” said Lunney. “I have assurance from both ends that there is a tentative agreement. The agreement is there.”

Lunney would not speculate on when any official announcement would come, but he said “there’s no excuses for delaying anymore.”

And perhaps that is what sealed it because again on Thursday Alberni radio station 93.3 The Peak interviewed the other spokesperson for VIA, Mylène Bélanger.

Her telephone quote broadcast on the radio:

There is a tentative agreement on the table that must be signed.

There was that really so hard?