Nanaimo council has endorsed a motion to push for cycling and walking trails along the entire length of the E&N rail corridor.
Mayor John Ruttan and councillors offered unanimous support for the measure, aimed at establishing continuous public access along the rail line.
It calls on the Island Corridor Foundation, the non-profit group that holds stewardship of the land, to work with local governments and First Nations to establish better bicycle and pedestrian facilities along the route, without compromising the possible return of passenger rail service to the corridor.
The motion also states that the ICF seek senior government funding for biking and walking facilities along the line.
Coun. George Anderson proposed the motion and said its speedy passage is a sign that the local government is "serious" about transportation issues in the city.
He noted that there are already sections within the city where there are not public paths alongside the rails tracks. Anderson said that if the city does not take action to strengthen public use of the route, it could be at risk in the long term.
He said the corridor is a key part of the city's current and future transportation network, whether or not passenger rail service is restored to the route.
"It intersects directly through our community and it's central to everything," said Anderson, who also chairs the city's transportation committee. The ICF is needs an operating agreement with Via Rail to allow passenger service on the line resume. The ICF secured $7.5 million each from the province and federal government to finance rail repairs, and also received a combined $3.2-million, one-time grant from five regional districts.
But repairs are on hold until the ICF can reach an agreement with Via, which recently told the province that the current proposal to restart rail service is too expensive.
Via president Marc Laliberté told B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone that the Crown Corporation will not spend more than the $1.4-million annual subsidy it allocated to the route before service was discontinued in 2011 due to concerns with the safety of the rail. The ICF is requesting an annual $1.8-million subsidy. Foundation executive director Graham Bruce said he is waiting for the outcome of a meeting between Via and federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt this week.
But Anderson said the city needs to ensure the corridor is protected to ensure its availability for future transportation upgrades, such as light passenger rail, to service a growing population.
If the land is not secured, "at that point, they're going to have to find a lot of money for a new route," Anderson said.
"Protecting it makes a lot of sense in my mind," he added.
"For the rest of Vancouver Island, it opens up a lot of opportunities as well."
Anderson is also preparing a separate policy to protect the corridor from development.
© Copyright 2013