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Federal government mum on whether it will support Island rail proposal

The deadline for the federal government to decide if it will commit money for Island rail is Tuesday, but there’s been no word on any decision.
Disused E&N tracks end at the Johnson Street Bridge. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The deadline for the federal government to decide if it will commit money for a new Island rail system is Tuesday, but there’s been no word on any decision.

Transport Canada did not respond specifically Monday when asked if an announcement would be coming on Tuesday.

Instead, it reiterated a previous statement that the department is looking into the issue.

Judges for the B.C. Court of Appeal established March 14 as the date by which the federal government needed to determine if it was going to fund resumption of rail services on the Island, which ground to a halt in 2011 because of the poor condition of the tracks.

The court decision resulted from an appeal by the Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation, which first went to the Supreme Court of B.C. to seek the return of 10 acres of land running through its community that had been used for the E&N rail system.

After the band lost its case, it turned to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which imposed the deadline on the federal government.

If the federal government does not support a new rail system, the First Nation could pursue its case for the return of the land.

In a statement, Transport Canada said the federal government is “actively considering the issues raised in the ruling and is committed to better understanding perspectives across Vancouver Island to inform the path forward, including those of First Nations, regional districts, and other levels of government.”

It noted that the provincial government is asking communities, municipal governments and First Nations their views for the future of the corridor, and added: “The Government of Canada’s decision-making will be informed by this engagement by the province.”

The Island Corridor Foundation, owner of the corridor that once served the defunct E&N, has spent years advocating for a new rail system. The foundation is made up of regional districts and First Nations.

Not everyone agrees resuming rail service on the line is a good idea, including four First Nations board members of the foundation, who recently quit in protest.

Proponents argue that an Island rail system moving people and freight would bring economic benefits and links to Island communities. Opponents argue that bus service would be less costly, and the rail line should be used as a cycling and walking path.

The Nanoose First Nation has said it will head back to court if the federal government decides not to support reviving Island rail service on the E&N tracks by the March 14 deadline.

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