Re: Market test needed for commuter rail (Letters, Aug. 31)
As a former transportation consultant for both the former B.C. Rail and the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway I have long advocated commuter rail for lower Vancouver Island. Our road system, regardless of how much we try to improve it, will never be sufficient for growth that is taking place in our region.
There are only two exits out of Victoria and both are vastly congested now, let alone in the coming years. There are no other routes that could be built; what we have now is all we have unless we expand the width of our current two roads. Even then it would never be enough to accommodate the traffic that is and will be generated.
The E&N’s two rusted rails, covered with all manner of growth, run almost alongside our present two highways, to where most of the growth of our population lies: Esquimalt, View Royal, Langford and Goldstream. Yet we constantly haggle back and forth about whether we should use the E&N as a commuter route into Victoria. We say ‘Oh, it’s too costly, it needs to be double track, etc. On and on we go year after year debating, and in the meantime our roads get more congested almost daily.
So lets stop all this procrastinating and take a good look at the railway we have already in place. To commence a commuter service it does not need double track. The right of way we have now is perfectly good enough, a proper schedule and a passing place for trains could be achieved now.
New rail and ties and proper ballasting and alignment are essential. Then there are the lightweight cars that would be required. Siemens and Bombardier both supply lightweight rail cars that are being introduced all over Europe and North America. To commence a service once the line is upgraded possibly as far as Goldstream, would require a minimum of four cars which could be obtained either by rental or purchase. This would allow for two cars in each direction. The modern lightweight cars of today have a capacity for almost a hundred passengers in each car, including standees.
At current costs, it would require approximately $20 million to upgrade the present track structure as far as Goldstream. An additional cost would be required for the lightweight cars be they rental, second hand or new – prices fluctuate depending where they are obtained.
Stations, to start with, are already in place between Langford and Esquimalt. Park and ride locations are essential to allow passengers to park their cars etc. It is unfortunate that Victoria did not include rails on the new Johnson Street bridge however, a suitable bus exchange could well be established on the current former E&N Roundhouse lands, this has long been muted over the years as an ideal location.
If the above were commenced now, we could have a commuter line in operation within a year. Maybe not in time to relieve the coming congestion from the McKenzie interchange, but certainly within the above time frame. One factor that must be considered? Fares must not exceed those of our current bus system otherwise any commuter scheme is doomed from the start.
Patrick O. Hind