UPDATED: An agreement finally reached! Let the work, and trains, begin! (soon)

Well, today I had the pleasure to attend the Island Corridor Foundation’s official announcement of an agreement between Southern Railway of Vancouver Island and VIA Rail that would bring passenger service back to the Island, and release the funds to repair the track and bridges for both freight and passenger trains.

UPDATE: This afternoon media sources have contacted VIA for their reaction and VIA spokesman Jaques Gagnon has said that no deal has been “signed, sealed, and delivered”. I just listened to CBC Radio On The Island interview ICF co-chair Judith Sayers who said that, Gagnon is technically correct but that the ICF received approval from VIA to use the term “tentative” agreement at today’s press conference. So in effect they are both correct. Technicalities aside, Sayers said the agreement will be ratified by the three parties and things will move forward.

ICF Co-Chair Judith Sayers on Twitter:



Co-Chair Mary Ashley said the agreement was tentative pending its ratification by the Boards of the ICF, SVI and VIA. The ICF annual general meeting is April 17th so one would hope it is ratified there.

(Mary Ashley at the podium: Photo courtesy Bill Manners)

The new service schedule was not released but Ashley indicated the trains would now be based out of Nanaimo and so there would be a run from Nanaimo to Victoria in the morning, followed by the traditional run to Courtenay and back to Victoria, then finally a run to Nanaimo in evening.

Work on the track and bridge repairs needed to get things rolling would take approximately 9 months to complete once the agreements are signed, funds released from government, and work tendered.

On the freight side this work will mean the freight service can resume normal speeds on the entire line from Victoria to Courtenay with only a few exceptions. I chatted with an SVI employee who seemed genuinely grateful that this agreement had been reached and indeed the employees and personnel at SVI were applauded for hanging in there and getting a deal done with VIA as well.


This also means SVI will be able to pursue new and previous business that the railway served. The next step will be further upgrades to the bridges (and possible replacement as per recommendations in the BC Gov report) and then looking at refurbishing and reopening the Alberni sub to Port Alberni.

If all goes well I would hope we see full service resume on the Victoria-Courtenay tracks by Summer or early Fall 2015. It has been a long time coming but it seems like we are finally getting there.

This news also means perhaps a different reception from the RDN when they are presented with the Central Island Intercity Transit Service at an upcoming Board meeting (date TBD).

This is a great day for efficient and green transportation on Vancouver Island, Island jobs, and Island communities.

Here are some reports from other media outlets:
Comox Valley Record

CBC News (VIA Denial)

Metro News


We Need Politicians Who Want to Fund Rail

Dear Editor,

I hear over and over how much people want the railway to come back for both passenger and freight service. So do I! So fund it already!

Almost 10 years ago the ICF asked for more than $100 Million to completely redo the railway. That was rejected by government. Then the ICF came forward with a $20 Million request split into pieces. This was only accepted after years of negotiation with three levels of government plus conditions and now sits stuck waiting for VIA to agree as well. Now these same government politicians say $20 Million isn’t adequate? We knew that 10 years ago when those same politicians rejected it!

Had the original $100 Million request been done with $10 million a year, we’d have been all done by now and who knows what wonderful uses we would have for the railway.

No matter what the number, it seems to me the most likely way to exit this not-so-merry-go-round and get rail going is to get rid of the politicians who keep chaining the changing the subject. Let’s start this November.


Chris Alemany
3854 Sixth Avenue
Port Alberni, BC

The Arguments for Alberni Connector apply more to Alberni Railway.

Another report, the seventh in 10 years from the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District and Port Alberni Port Authority Highway and Transportation Commitees, has been produced.

For the first time in six reports, the results are conclusively in favour of building a new connector from Alberni to Highway 19 at Horne Lake.

It doesn’t come without some strange results though… and what it uses to justify the building of a $50 Million highway could just as easily be used to justify rebuilding the railway.

But first, the conclusion from the Executive Summary:

Alberni Connector Business Plan and Cost/Benefit Analysis. . Note the parts I have bolded.

Cost is in the order of $50 million and
the project returns a B/C Ratio = 1.4.

The analysis assumes 10% of the traffic on Highway 4 is from North Island, all of which would use the connector. A further 10% of South Island traffic is also assumed to use the connector in spite of the further travel distance because of potential delays encountered in peak summer periods on Highway 4. In addition, 150 trucks/day (75 round trips) are assumed to use the connector in conjunction with potential resource traffic. The total connector traffic is estimated to be 1,600 vehicles/day. With the reduced travel distance, the connector returns large benefits in time, vehicle operating cost savings and saving 2 to 3 collisions per year. There is also an estimated $2.3 million benefit from providing an alternate route during delays caused by highway closures.

There is a broader economic argument supporting the connector which serves as a catalyst for resource exports by way of Port Alberni, promoting economic development in the Alberni-Clayoquot region and Canadian exports as a whole.

Greenhouse gas savings related to the connector are an estimated 2,790 tonnes/year.

The general assumptions and justifications are clear and not uncommon, but the really interesting thing is that they could apply just as easily to a rebuilding of the railway as they could to this Highway. In fact, they could apply to the Railway more.

Let us address each part I have bolded in order:

  1. The project returns a Benefit/Cost Ratio = 1.4.
    • Without ‘Salvage’, which no other report has had, the Benefit/Cost Ratio drops from 1.4 to barely break even at 1.0
    • Page 22 of the report states costs of the project over 25 years of $47M for the road, $3M for maintenance, and savings of $8M on “Salvage”.
    • The “Salvage” is explained as “a recoverable residual value at the end of the planning period.”. No other report has included this in its assessment.
    • The Alberni railway’s cost benefit ratio has never been studied, but its cost starts at roughly the same price, or much less when other road considerations are taken into account that need to be built in order to avoid other costs not included in this report (see #3 below)
  2. A further 10% [diversion] of South Island traffic
    • The report states there is no time saving benefit for South Island travellers
    • The proposed road is 2 lanes with no provisions for truck climbing lanes.
    • Both Winter and Summer driving speeds and safety would be impacted due to the 2 lanes compared to Highway 4.
    • All of the above throw the assumption of 10% diversion for southbound traffic in doubt which also affects the Benefit to Cost Ratio
    • The sensitivity analysis (page 23) does not include southbound traffic. However, it shows if a diversion drops to 5% and other factors remain equal, the benefit to cost ratio drops below 1.0
    • Including truck climbing lanes in the proposal would likely put it over the $65 million break even threshold shown in the sensitivity analysis.
    • The Railway connects South Island customers, and travellers, far more directly than this route in addition to north island customers.
  3. 150 trucks/day (75 round trips)
    • This is clearly referring to the proposed Raven Coal Mine
    • The proposal does not include the cost of road maintenance ($?) in the City of Port Alberni nor the cost of the proposed Ring Road ($20 Million) and Harbour Road ($5 Million) to divert truck traffic away from major streets
    • Without this proposed traffic, the economic benefits through Asia Pacific Gateway initiatives are reduced to near zero.
    • The Railway has always been an option for the coal mine if it were to be rebuilt. The railway also represents a direct link to North American shippers for Asia Pacific Gateway traffic without the need for further road construction.
  4. Benefits in time –
    • The economic basis of this proposal is Asia Pacific Gateway, Resource Extraction, and the Raven Coal mine… without truck climbing lanes, the stated benefits in time from the shorter distance will be significantly reduced due to reduced speeds.
    • The report states (Page 10) a peak speed on the Highway 4 route of 71.9kph respectively but 80kph on the Connector. The Connector would have no passing/truck climbing lanes and would have the same general geometry as Highway 4 (MOT – August 2012). If the Connector’s speed is the same as Highway 4 at 72kph, the time advantage would drop from 17.1 minutes to 15.1 minutes. If a traveller is behind a loaded truck travelling South to Port Alberni with no ability to pass, at an average speed of 50kph, the time advantage drops to 4.7 minutes.
    • For South Island traffic, the small advantage (1.1min) in stated time turns into a large disadvantage. Bringing projected South Island traffic diversion from 5-10% to zero.
    • While not as significant a time savings as the reduced distance to points North the road would provide, the Railway would still provide the for commercial traffic to move away from Highway 4. In time, commuter and passenger traffic could move onto the railway as well.
  5.  Resource exports by way of Port Alberni, promoting economic development in the Alberni-Clayoquot region and Canadian exports as a whole.
    • Nowhere in the Report does it mention further increases in resource and Asia Pacific exports. It does not indicate the capacity of the 2-lane road way to be able to handle the aspirations of the Port.
    • It does not indicate the potential cost, and potential upgrades needed to both Highway 4 and the Connector from the economic growth it uses to justify.
    • In the case of the Raven Coal Mine, the railway will create 1 train movement a day compared to 75 truck movements. If there is further expansion, the railway has far more capacity to handle those movements, and since it goes both north and south, could handle movements from Vancouver Island, or the Mainland.
  6. Greenhouse gas savings
    • Unfortunately the report does not detail the GHG emissions it used to derive the 2790 GHG/year savings number. It does however attribute the majority of those to mine truck traffic.
    • Reducing the trucking distance by 20KM on my “What are the Numbers” spreadsheet saves only 431 tonnes of CO2. This is significantly less than the stated savings in the report and so requires more investigation.
    • The GHG reduction from using the railway is calculated to be 699 tonnes versus trucks on the existing Highway 4, and 268 tonnes from the Horne Lake route using 75 trucks a day as stated in the report. Actual Production estimated by Raven Coal is 1.2 Million Tonnes a year which would produce 78 trucks a day.
    • I will be updating the What are the Numbers spreadsheet with figures for the Horne Lake connector.
  7. Safety and Delays
    • Not mentioned in the Summary is Safety
    • In the report Page 14 it states: “The collision rate on the new connector is not likely to be lower than Highway 4 but will likely have lower proportion of fatal collisions.”
    • Page 16 shows South Island travellers would expect an increase in collisions (0.21)
    • Overall reduction is “2 to 3 collisions per year” or from 53 collisions to 50 collisions
    • No consideration of safety implication of the lack of truck climbing lanes on the Connector is given.
    • Since there is no significant reduction in collisions, it should not be assumed that a reduction in road closures and delays will result
    • Not included is a break down of collisions between the Connector and Highway 4 routes. Using collision rates and vehicles on Page 16, North/South travellers would see 6/2 collisions per year leaving 42 collisions on Highway 4.
    • Substituting rail for 150 trucks from the mine reduces collisions by 1 per year whether by Connector or Highway 4. Therefore, neither building the Connector, nor using the railway would significantly impact the number of collisions, between Alberni and Comox, nor would it impact the number of closures of Highway 4.