Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Safe, Affordable Transportation Option


May 24th Fuel Truck closes Malahat for most of a day

I have followed provincial politics for longer than the E&N railway became an issue, and I have consistently heard from NDP candidates on Vancouver Island that investing in this railway is a high priority, including Mr. Horgan when campaigning last year. With the support of the Greens how could this solution to our transportation woes seem to have derailed? 

Recently, once again, the Malahat highway was closed for a lengthy period of time –making a complete mess of travel plans for thousands, increasing the risk of accidents, missed appointments and more. I have been delayed multiple times on that stretch of highway, including to my mother’s funeral (I made it in time).
Some people complain that getting the E&N railway back into full operation is expensive. Hardly. The entire length would cost only double of the single overpass now under construction at McKenzie Road in Victoria. Contrast this to the cost of building another highway north of Victoria. The Malahat Study concluded it would cost billions of dollars just to build, plus annual maintenance. The choice of language betrays the biases. Roads are considered to be “investments” but rails are “subisidised,” and “business cases” have to be made only for trains. This is absurd. The tracks can transport thousands of people per day. Efficiently and safely. It is currently an investment worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and it largely sits idle.
Adding buses on already crowded roads is hardly the solution to the Langford-Victoria commute. The City of Ottawa spent millions of dollars on dedicated commuter-bus routes, only to discover this could not handle the growth of commuters. It now has a new light-rail system. But we have an advantage over Ottawa. We already have the tracks. Even better: standard cars are readily available and are more comfortable than LRT. Ergo: For a lot less money regular passenger trains can be used to move people.
So what is possible with rail that is not possible by buses or by the huge and ongoing subsidies to the single-occupancy motor-vehicle debacle that I estimate on Vancouver Island costs vehicle owners about $5 billion, and society about $40 billion, each year?
·         Far more people would travel by rail than by bus, thus accelerating the transition to a far safer, a lower costing and a superior environmental option to the current model
·         Using the existing rails and utilising existing rail cars can very quickly be put into service, soon reducing the traffic woes from Langford to Victoria West and a new bus loop there
·         Extra service can be quickly provided to commuters stranded when the Malahat is closed
·         VIA rail has promised to institute a commuter rail service from Nanaimo to Victoria –at no cost to the province!
·         Many dangerous goods can be removed from our highways. Propane is still taken to Nanaimo via the E&N. This reduces traffic and greatly increases safety
·         Thousands of cruise-ship and other tourists would love to ride the rails from Victoria and Nanaimo to Chemainus. The Island Rail Corridor proposes using a historical train from Nanaimo to Chemainus in the summer-time for this very purpose
·         Rail generates a lot of extra economic output and at a far lower cost to society and commuters
·         Poorly trained (or inebriated) truck drivers such as the one that killed the Bronco’s hockey team near Humbolt would kill fewer people due to the higher standards set for trains and the reduction in traffic on our roads.
Roundtable (ENRR) spokesperson and chairman Jack Peake, whose group of 15 have together more than 100 years of railway industry experience, estimates that because the tracks between Langford and Victoria are in relatively good shape it would take less than $25 million to get a commuter service up and running between those cities. Soon.

Would that the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure think outside of highways, buses and sky-trains. It really needs to add regular rail to its portfolio –both on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland.

It is past time for our province to provide real leadership on this issue. Would that our political leaders learn why all major cities in Canada have opted for rails and be inspired to get moving on at least the southern section of the E&N. It’s past time to turn more than a decade of promises into reality, investing in this affordable, efficient, safe, and cleaner solution to traffic congestion.

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