Our View: Rail an alternative for Malahat Drive

The Columbia Fuels tanker crash near Goldstream park, if nothing else, gave the Ministry of Transportation a good shakeup on how it handles highway disasters.

The Columbia Fuels tanker crash near Goldstream park, if nothing else, gave the Ministry of Transportation a good shakeup on how it handles highway disasters.

The ministry’s audit report released last week highlights how its contractors and staff took hours to organize a pilot vehicle to guide traffic through Finlayson Arm Road, how communication between traffic control and emergency agencies was non-existent and how people trapped on either side of the Malahat Drive were teased with constant unrealistic updates on when the road would reopen.

The ministry pushed back its reopening estimate at least seven times after first saying it would open at 11 p.m., five hours after the crash. Any emergency responder at the scene would have known this was patently absurd — the effort to upright the tanker without igniting residual gas fumes came almost 10 hours later.

The ministry audit report reminds us how few options there are if the Malahat is closed. If the truck had crashed a few hundred metres north, say just past the entrance to Goldstream park, Finlayson Arm Road would no longer have been an option.

That would have left the long “Circle Route” through Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan, the Mill Bay ferry, or taking a series of Gulf Island ferries. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said in a similar closure, he’d consider hiring out a ferry to run between Nanaimo and Victoria.

Echoing the government’s unenthusiastic stance on Vancouver Island commuter rail, Lekstrom didn’t see the closure as an opportunity or a reason to get train cars up and running on the E&N line.

The ministry’s 2006 Malahat Study explored hundred-million dollar options of a twinned or double-stacked highway, or a bridge from North Saanich to Mill Bay. That study too was not keen on rail as an option to move people.

But hemmed in by geography, parkland and watershed land, E&N commuter trains might be the only relatively affordable and realistic alternative for commuters on both sides of the Malahat.