The B.C. provincial government is committing $18 million in funding to further the conversation over what to do with the defunct Vancouver Island Rail corridor.
It has been more than a decade since the trains were used to haul freight and carry passengers up and down Vancouver Island, but the hope is for the railway to eventually be restored.
The funding will also allow First Nations to assess concerns like flooding, access, noise or safety where the corridor crosses their land.
“We have to get it right and get on the right footing, which means working very closely through a lens of reconciliation with our First Nations partners,” said Transportation Minister Rob Fleming.
“Given the frailty of our highway infrastructure during a extreme climate related event. So, to have alternates — to have some redundancy built into your transportation — is smart,” he said.
Fuelled by a March 14 deadline, set by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2021, the federal government did not confirm whether it would support a new rail system along the corridor, which runs from Victoria to Courtenay.
Instead, more than 10 acres taken from the Snaw-naw-as First Nation for the purpose of the railway will be returned, and the $18 million in provincial funding has been committed for future planning.
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“I think while they were clearly not in a position to respond to the courts today about investments, it is pleasing to me to see that they have made some significant steps in their statements about why the Island Rail Corridor is important for the future,” said Fleming.
But critics warn the move only adds to the multitude of studies and consultations already conducted on the fate of the tracks.
“This has been ongoing for a number of years, and I think the provinces’ lack of leadership and transparency on this, and to put out a new release that is very not clear, shows that even they’re confused on where they’re going next,” said B.C. Transportation Critic Trevor Halford.
The Snaw-naw-as First Nation is celebrating the return of the the land in the precedent-setting win.
“We are going to get to work immediately to ensure that the railway no longer impedes our community’s safety, development and access,” said Chief Gordon Edwards in a statement.
The Island Corridor Foundation, a charity managing the rails, said it wants to take time to review the decisions before commenting.
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