By Roszan Holmen, July 2016
A First Nation’s claim to Vancouver Island’s rail corridor could spell the end of the E&N revival.
RUN A TRAIN, OR LOSE THE CORRIDOR. That’s the latest message from the Attorney General of Canada, in its response to a First Nation’s lawsuit. The Snaw-Naw-As is calling for a return of the land taken from its reserve more than 100 years ago for the purpose of extending the E&N rail line to Courtenay. In December, it filed a civil claim in the BC Supreme Court against the Island Corridor Foundation and the Attorney General.
This spring, the AG filed its response, sending a clear message to the ICF: the clock is ticking to fix the tracks and revive the railway.
By Roszan Holmen, May 2016
Island politicians support rail—but not rail management.
WITH ITS ICONIC ROUNDED NOSE, the vintage Canadian Pacific F-unit locomotive cut a striking figure, parked outside the Nanaimo train station on Selby Street.
For the volunteers who poured years of energy and millions of dollars into rebuilding the historic station, the sights and sounds of a working train were cause for celebration.
By Roszan Holmen, December 2014
(In 2015 Roszan Holmen was awarded a Jack Webster Award for community reporting for this story.)
Records recently obtained by FOI show that after explicit warnings about the condition of the E&N Railway tracks in 2009, the BC Safety Authority allowed 22 months of further deterioration before passenger service was finally terminated in 2011. Now, with $20 million in public money allocated to upgrade tracks and restart service, critics say the plan is under-funded, won’t provide long-term safety, and therefore isn’t worth pursuing. At the same time, impassioned advocates see rail as a low-carbon solution to the increasingly congested and accident-prone Island Highway—and a potential boon for tourism.
"Look out!” That was the warning from the train conductor to his companions as he approached a tree lying across the railroad tracks, some five miles from Courtenay.