Southern Rail employees manoeuvre the Island Explorer excursion train along the tracks at the rail yard on the Nanaimo waterfront Tuesday. The 1952 locomotive and four heritage coaches arrived earlier that morning in anticipation of an April 8 event celebrating the 130th anniversary of Island rail.

AVICC: Delegates support rail funding motion

NANAIMO – Majority of AVICC attendees vote to urge federal government to release funding for track repairs.

Rail service on Vancouver Island got the support of a majority of municipal politicians this morning.

But the management in charge of that service will have to wait until tomorrow before it finds out if it will get a similar vote of confidence.

Delegates to the annual Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference in Nanaimo voted in a show of hands by an approximately two to one margin to urge the federal government to release the $7.5 million it has promised to upgrade the tracks.

While the vote is largely symbolic, it did send the message that a majority of communities still endorse the idea of a Vancouver Island rail system, despite recent concerns expressed by the Capital Regional District and the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Victoria’s Ben Isitt said there is no advanced country in the world without a high-quality rail system and forward-thinking communities need to embrace rail as a better economic and ecological option for the future.

“It’s been an incredible battle. If we walk away now, everything will fail,” Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula said.

Jangula is also a member of the Island Corridor Foundation board. Owners of the railway, the ICF is the subject of the second rail-related motion on the AVICC agenda. The CRD is calling for a review of its governance and finances.

AVICC directors halted the debate of resolutions just before that one hit the floor, saying they had run out of time. It could resurface tomorrow morning at a session scheduled to begin at 8:50 a.m.

A handful of directors said any questions that exist about ICF management must be kept separate from the issue of rail service.

“The management is a separate question,” Isitt said.

RDN director Julian Fell said the RDN’s recent decision to pull its promised funding rendered the grant release motion — introduced by Port Alberni — moot. He pointed to an excursion train that toured Nanaimo Friday.

“That may be the last passenger train we see on Vancouver Island,” he said.

But the majority of delegates disagreed.

“There have been many obstacles placed in its way and the foundation has overcome every one of those obstacles,” Nanaimo mayor and ICF Chairman Bill McKay said. “All we are doing is asking the federal government to release the funds.”