Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt has no ready answers to the ongoing debate on the future of passenger rail service on Vancouver Island.
She said that while the federal government has agreed to match a provincial commitment of $7.5 million to help with track repairs on the aging 289-kilometre rail corridor on Vancouver Island, it's ultimately up to Via Rail to reach a deal with the Island Corridor Foundation, the owners of the rail line, to reinstate the passenger rail service that was discontinued in 2011 due to declining track conditions.
Raitt is in Nanaimo to participate in the Association of Canadian Port Authorities' 55th Annual Conference that is being held at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
She said she appreciates the "great community support" on the Island for the passenger service and its importance to many of the local people, and the federal government is "taking the issue seriously."
"But it's not for me to decide, it's Via Rail who must make the decision," she said at the VICC Monday.
"I've only been the transportation minister for 33 days and I
have many files that I have to review. But (Nanaimo-Alberni MP) James Lunney called me just three days after my appointment to talk to me about this issue and I will continue to have discussions with James and others on the matter. I appreciate that this is a very important issue here."
The ICF claims it is imperative that Via Rail enter into a passenger service rail agreement by the end of month so that work can begin to repair the aging tracks and infrastructure on the rail corridor on Vancouver Island.
Graham Bruce, the executive director of the ICF, said that all the "ducks are now in a row" in regards to financing and other aspects of the foundation's efforts to repair the aging line and reinvigorate the Island's train service, but the agreement with Via Rail needs to be in place before work can begin, hopefully by November to meet the ICF's deadlines for the repairs to be completed.
But Via Rail spokesman Jacques C. Gagnon said in a recent interview that the ICF's deadlines are "internal" and do not play a part in the Crown corporation's considerations of the issue.
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