ICF responds to RDN’s withdrawal from passenger rail funding

Comment from ICF board chair may indicate passenger rail service north of Nanaimo no longer in the cards

The Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) says it will investigate other funding alternatives after the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) took almost $1 million off the table last week and it looks like Parksville Qualicum Beach is no longer in the ICF’s passenger rail plans.

The ICF released a statement Monday morning in response to the RDN’s move on Wednesday.

“The ICF is disappointed with RDN decision to withdraw their funding support of approximately $950,000 for the Island rail infrastructure project,” read the statement, issued by a firm called Twist Consulting. “Restoring rail to Vancouver Island has long been a vision of Islanders, a vision the ICF is working hard to achieve.”

A comment in the release from ICF co-chair Judith Sayers seemed to indicate the ICF is not pursuing the passenger-rail plan north of Nanaimo.

“The Nanaimo region stands to benefit significantly with rail passenger service between Nanaimo and Victoria,” said Sayers. “This project is a major economic and tourism opportunity for communities along the corridor, and with the rails and trails connection, also provides a substantial benefit to residents as well.”

The release also said the ICF Board recognizes the RDN’s frustration with delays in moving passenger trains again.

“However, the board remains optimistic they are close to receiving the federal funding sign‐off of the $20.9 million Island Rail Infrastructure Project,” said the release. “Freight trains continue to operate in the Nanaimo area.”

The RDN had committed $945,000 to the re-start of passenger rail service on the Island. The ICF was given 60-day notice of this termination on Wednesday morning.

Chair Bill Veenhof said last week the RDN board also passed a motion saying the board “does not support the retention or continuation of Granneke Management by the ICF board.”

Former Liberal MLA Graham Bruce was hired to be the ICF’s executive director in June of 2009. Granneke is Bruce’s consulting business. Granneke’s contract with the ICF is up in May.

The ICF release Monday did not specifically address any ICF plan related to management after May 31, but Sayers did say: “The governance of the ICF is sound and is managed according to the goals and objectives the stakeholders originally agreed to.”

In its release Monday, the ICF pointed to reasons for delays in the restoration of passenger rail service and what it intends to do to replace the $950,000 the RDN pulled off the table.

“The lengthy funding process has been complicated by conditional agreements involving five regional governments, the provincial government and VIA Rail before the federal government would sign‐off,” the release stated. “The Government of Canada sign‐off was delayed by the federal election in October and then earlier this year by the Snaw‐Naw‐As First Nation (Nanoose) filing a civil claim against the ICF and Canada. The ICF filed a response at the end of February and the Government of Canada will file by the end of March. The ICF board will investigate other funding and operational alternatives through consultations with ICF stakeholders and the railway operator, Southern Rail. The ICF remains open to working with the RDN and other partners to secure the funds to make rail on Vancouver Island a reality.”

The ICF is a not‐for‐profit corporation established specifically to preserve the 319 kilometre rail/trail corridor between Victoria and Courtenay, Duncan to Lake Cowichan and Parksville to Port Alberni. The corridor includes both rail and trail initiatives. Formed in 2003, the ICF is a registered charity, run by a board of 12 directors, representing 11 First Nations, five regional districts and two directors‐at‐large comprised of stakeholder communities along the corridor.

Passenger rail service on Vancouver Island was discontinued in 2011 due to unsafe track conditions. The ICF, mostly through Graham Bruce, has consistently said it could get passenger rail service running again from Victoria to Courtenay with about $21 million from its partners, including the RDN. Some politicians and RDN board members, including those from Parksville, Qualicum Beach and surrounding areas have disputed that claim.