Langford mayor cautious about supporting rail proposal

Stew Young insists on a solid business case, says Mariash brings fresh perspective to challenge

Victoria developer Ken Mariash’s plan for using the E&N rail bed for commuter rail between the West Shore and Victoria West has its supporters amongst the region’s mayors.

Langford Mayor Stew Young is skeptical of the numbers being put out there by Mariash, which include a one-way ticket price of $2 to $4 and annual operating costs of $3 million to $4 million a year. Half of that amount is expected to be recaptured by fare revenue, with the rest taken up by municipal and or regional subsidies.

While Young said Mariash brings a fresh perspective – as a businessman – to a road he’s seen many go down before, the mayor isn’t getting his hopes up about the proposed service until he sees accurate reports accompanied by a strong financial plan.

“We have to make sure the numbers are correct … There will be no Langford taxpayers’ dollars going into this unless it’s a good business case,” Young said.

Mariash has consultants looking into the costs and options of rail, but Young said he has asked him to also investigate the idea of running buses along the E&N rail corridor. “The highway is full … We have to do something,” he said. “That corridor is the only option that is left right now.”

Mariash projects that 1,000 people a day would use the service to start and that one or two stops would be included between Langford and Vic West. Trains would depart every half hour to an hour, depending on demand.

A major factor in the operation of the service is who would oversee the operations. So far Mariash’s list of potentials includes one of the municipalities involved, the Capital Regional District, B.C. Transit or an existing service provider such as Southern Rail, which operated passenger service to Courtenay on the line for Via Rail until the final run back in 2011.

Even if a strong case can be made for the commuter train service, which can only move forward in co-operation with railbed owner the Island Corridor Foundation, Young reiterated his earlier stance that serious changes need to be made to the way the ICF operates.

“There needs to be more dialogue with the public and there needs to be more accountability,” he said.

He said the province should take over operation of the rail corridor in partnership with the private sector and BC Transit.

– with files from Pamela Roth

katie@goldstreamgazette.com