Which Track Will Island Rail Take?



bumped into Phil Kent recently. It happens in small towns at coffee shops; we bump into community leaders. Phil Kent didn’t run for Mayor of Duncan this past election. He felt that while his heart was there, his health might not be. But that hasn’t stopped Phil Kent from stepping right back into doing what he’s done with some acclaim the past dozen years or so; public service. He has, by all accounts, been a popular mayor. Kent has found a new challenge in taking on the Co-Chair of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF).

“The Foundation is a very unique organization centred around a framework of representative governance, that is owned in 50/50 partnership with First Nations and the Regional Districts on the island,” said Kent.  “It was created by Vancouver Islanders to preserve the Corridor in perpetuity. For the benefit of all the people of Vancouver Island.  The recognition by the founding members of the incredible value of this asset should not be understated; they saw the opportunities the corridor represents, and preserved it for our future, not just in 2020 but 2050 and beyond.”
Kent’s take on the job seems to have an energy that belies his current health status. But it’s clear Phil Kent has more to give to the community.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to interview Kent as the Mayor of Duncan. What shone through at that time was his devotion to the City of Duncan and to the region in general. His ability to bend and shape public policy and action with what at times could be described as divided jurisdictional priorities, underscores his resilience, creativity and diplomacy.

One of the first moves of the ICF Board, with Judith Sayers and Kent as Co-Chairs, was to facilitate hiring Larry Stevenson as the new CEO. Stevenson is a local resident whose previous career spanned senior positions at CN Rail and Kansas City Southern Railway. Kent describes their operation as being focused and organized, and he said they decided early on that they would  “…make sure the phones get answered and that any issues are addressed.”

That sounded like Phil Kent.

In our discussion it was clear he had the same kind of energy and creativity towards the Island Corridor Foundation as he spoke with clear excitement about the value of the rail-bed and how it could be leveraged to future development of commuter rail, inter-city passenger service and tourism and  freight opportunities. And, as well, the role it could play in opening up Port Alberni as a deep-sea port alternative to Port Vancouver.

Kent visioned how the west coast of Vancouver Island, through the deep-sea port at Port Alberni, could manage some ship traffic normally rounding Victoria and entering the Salish Sea on their way to the Vancouver Port. Instead those ships could avoid the congestion and extra cost and off-load in Port Alberni where the freight would be put onto rail cars. From there they would travel to Nanaimo and cross the Salish Sea on regular freight ferries and barges. Costs could be lowered and a congested marine waterway around Vancouver Island could be improved.

Other options include commuter rail between Victoria and outlying suburbs. In fact, many people as far away as Nanaimo travel daily for work and services in Victoria and a viable rail service could provide an alternate transportation link to the Capital Region, making the existing route both less congested and safer. A fully restored line could deliver freight opportunities both north and south on the Island.

A recent announcement by the government suggests that any thoughts about rail will have to await yet another study and a recommendation from the Provincial government when the South Island Transportation Study issues a report, slated for completion in March of 2020,  which will determine if rail is even required. This news is frustrating to Kent and Stevenson who are understandably eager to get on with moving forward on the Foundation’s ideas and opportunities.

As we discussed the myriad options and opportunities, which would take many pages to detail and are at this point in a hazy future, I could suddenly see in my mind’s eye bright coloured, safe efficient and modern trains moving between and through our communities. Clearly that’s my imagination at work, but it demonstrates that our heritage rail resource is in good hands.

Kent says, “ Indeed, we have an incredible opportunity to preserve our Island Life by considering transportation differently than the single occupant automobile culture we have adopted in North America. As the Island grows and thrives, in fact, our Island and our communities are uniquely suited for it. This corridor is already in place.”

And Phil Kent is back on track.

More information can be found at: http://www.islandrail.ca/


  1. I am glad to hear that Phil is on board (so to speak). I am fully in favour of commuter rail service on Vancouver Island and against further investment in automobile based transportation options.


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