E&N Railway in Langford (Chris Allen Photography)

After weeks of deliberation, the provincial government has announced plans to return 10.78 acres of the E&N rail line to the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation which passes through their land. 

On Tuesday, Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, announced the first steps in returning the land.

“We are committing $18 million to allow for future corridor planning involving affected First Nations and regional districts. The funding will also allow First Nations to assess identified concerns such as flooding, access, noise, or safety issues where the corridor crosses their land,” said Flemming.

Adding to the importance of the corridor from a transportation standpoint, Fleming said this is a matter of establishing transportation options for an ever growing population on Vancouver Island.

“As a province, we must be thinking about this corridor in the context of today and its potential importance in the future. By the early 2030s, Vancouver Island will exceed one million residents and with that growth we need to consider the future value of the corridor for the movement of people and goods,” said Flemming.

“As we were reminded during the 2021 atmospheric river event, when the south Island was cut off from the rest of BC along the Malahat, we need to ensure we are more resilient to climate change.”

While the province has announced the first steps advocating for the renewal of the rail line, it remains unknown whether the federal government will commit to supporting the infrastructure of operation. 

According to Larry Stevenson, the CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation, the century old rail line will require an estimated $431 million to effectively restore the 115 kilometer stretch of rail from Esquimalt to Nanaimo.

After a significant debate in favour of the project, Madam Justice Barbara Fisher set a deadline of 18 months on September 14th, 2021, for a decision to be made whether or not rail service will be re-established on the E&N corridor, and if not then the lands should be returned.

Since a decision has not been made for or against the return of the rail line, Flemming says the province’s first priority is to protect the rights of First Nations when it comes to the rail line reconnection project. 

“There is much more discussion to be had around the future of the corridor and that must be done in collaboration with the federal government, First Nations, and local government. The provincial government is committed to finding the best use for the Island rail corridor as well as supporting First Nations’ rights, jurisdiction and interests in these discussions.”

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