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Train unlikely for the Westshore, premier says, so what instead?

This story was originally published in The Westshore newsletter, Aug. 9, 2022.

Langford Station railway

The train tracks at Langford Station as they appear today. (📸 Zoë Ducklow / The Westshore)

Premier John Horgan was in Langford last week to announce the new multi-university campus at Peatt Road and Goldstream Avenue—a stone’s throw from the Langford Station where the old passenger train used to stop—when he as much as confirmed the train won’t get government support.

“The cost of providing a service just from the Westshore into Victoria is profound—and we’re not getting to Victoria,” he said.

It would take several hundreds of millions—even if there’s disagreement of how many hundreds of millions—for a train that won’t even get passengers downtown but stops in Vic West. Is it worth spending $400 to $500 million on a train from a suburb to somewhere outside of downtown? Horgan doesn’t seem to think so.

However, he said the corridor remains a valuable right of way that is still a key part of the transportation solution.

"That corridor is going to be a key part of that. I’m just not confident that the vision we had 15 years ago is achievable,” he finished.

Larry Stevenson, CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation, didn’t put much weight on the remarks; he said Horgan wasn’t prepared for the question, and said his comment doesn’t really change anything.

“Is it a project killer? No. Do I like his comments? No,” he said, adding, “There’s a lot more work to do before we throw the rail solution out the window.” The crux of the story is a delay from the federal government, he said, which Horgan mentioned.

As for the train stopping shy of downtown, Stevenson balked at the idea that that makes a substantial difference to an overall transportation solution. Wherever the train ends, it will be connected to buses anyway to get passengers to their final destinations.“It's literally 100 meters from the Johnson Street Bridge. So we could go the extra 100 meters with the train. Does that make it any more or less appealing?”

Horgan also noted that the train line cuts Esquimalt First Nation in half, and the Nation “is thinking that there's better uses for that space than having a train.” Stevenson acknowledged that full consultation needs to be done with all the First Nations affected by the railway, and said he’s looking forward to starting that process if the government commits.

What about putting buses on the corridor? That hasn’t been seriously considered, Stevenson said, but it could be a backup option if the money for a train service doesn’t come together. But he said the court ruling about the land use indicated if it's not going to be used for trains, the land may be returned to the First Nations from whom it was appropriated. Putting buses on the corridor wouldn't satisfy that requirement, Stevenson said, but would leave the right of way in a vulnerable legal situation.