The B.C. government will spend $7.5 million to restore passenger rail service on Vancouver Island, Premier Christy Clark announced in Nanaimo on Tuesday morning.
The commuter service along the old E&N route was suspended a few months ago because of safety concerns over the tracks and trestles that had fallen into disrepair.
Some freight trains still use sections of the tracks with speed restrictions, but $15 million worth of restoration work is required on the trestles and rail bed in order to restore the full passenger service.
"Today the province is stepping up with $7.5 million to help return this train service to island families and communities," said Clark.
The provincial funding is dependent up on the operators of the line securing the other $7.5 million for the restoration project, likely from the federal government.
Before the announcement NDP MLA, Leonard Krog said a partnership between First Nations and local governments along the line called the Island Corridor Foundation has done a great job keeping the historic railway alive.
Not just historic value
The E&N railway — once known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo — has a long history that dates back to 1871, when the federal government agreed to build a railway as part of the colony of British Columbia's decision to join Confederation.
The line, which is now officially called the Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, runs from Victoria north through Nanaimo to Courtenay, with branch lines to Parksville and Port Alberni.
In recent years, however, the route has changed hands several times as a range of companies tried and failed to make it profitable. The once daily passenger service was operated by VIA Rail.
In 2006, the route was donated to the Island Corridor Foundation, a registered non-profit foundation created by local municipalities and First Nations to preserve the rail corridor.
In 2008 Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon announced a half-million-dollar study to look at the options for commuter rail and freight on the historic route.
The route still contains several historic trestles and railway stations, but Krog says it is not just the historical value that makes it worth preserving.
"The railway is not just a sentimental thing for Vancouver Islanders. We see it as a very important part of our future economy and particularly for folks Nanaimo and south — a huge potential," said Krog.