Switch the rails to trails on Vancouver Island, group urges

Instead of lobbying to restore rail service on Vancouver Island, one advocacy group says the rails should be converted recreational trails.

Trail advocates says tracks are poorly maintained, but others want to renovate and restore rail service

A Vancouver Island group says an unused railway network on the island should be converted to a recreational trail system. (Friends of Rails to Trails/Facebook)

A group says it's time to bury the dream of reviving passenger rail service on Vancouver Island and embrace a different future — one where the currently unused rail network becomes a series of recreational trails.

There are little over 200 kilometres of rail on Vancouver Island running from Courtenay to Victoria, with a branch to Port Alberni.

Some of the network — dubbed the Southern Railway of Vancouver Island — is in bad shape, with many segments unsafe for train use.

Both freight and passenger service on the tracks has been suspended since 2011.

Many portions of the Southern Vancouver Island Railway are unusable and degraded. (Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island)

Despite this, advocates with the Island Corridor Foundation say they want to renovate and restore the rail network and bring back passenger train service across the island.

It's been a bumpy ride.

The Regional District of Nanaimo cut off funding for the group in 2016, saying it was tired of waiting for rail to come.

But in March the province committed to creating a working group to analyse the feasibility of using some of the network to create a commuter rail system between Vic West and Langford.

The Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island would much rather see the rails used immediately. They want the tracks removed in some sections and a multipurpose recreational trail developed instead.

Denise Savoie, a co-ordinator for the group in the Comox Valley, says restoring the rail network to working condition is too costly and the island simply doesn't have the population base to support the service.

"We all have a nostalgic dream of bringing back the railway on the island, and it's a wonderful dream," Savoie said. "It just isn't practical."

Both passenger and freight services on the railway network were suspended in 2011. (Alasdair McLellen/Wikipedia)

Savoie is gathering signatures on a petition for her group and is planning to meet today with the Island Corridor Foundation to present her ideas.

She's optimistic they can find some common ground, adding at the very least there should be a cost-benefit analysis to see whether the rail or trail would be more beneficial.

"At the moment this is an incredible public asset which is just lying there unused."

With files from On The Island