(This letter was sent to the AV News February 22, 2023. You may also be interested in this post about Passenger Rail schedules on Vancouver Island)
A report released by the BC Government on its website recently, listed as a “primary finding” something many have said for a long time (17 years in my case!):
“There are many opportunities for freight rail traffic on Vancouver Island that could be realized with significantly less investment than previous studies have identified”
I had to do a double take, but there it was. It suggests a connection to Duke Point and Harmac and reconnecting Crofton to maximize efficiency, carbon reductions, and opportunities for shippers across the Island, including Port Alberni.
Momentum seems to be building. The deadline for the railway is fast approaching and it seems people are realizing that both business and people can benefit hugely from its reinstatement and modernization.
I’ll be urging every politician I know to make that happen.
Here are some key excerpts from the report in question:
Positive Primary Findings
Primary Study Findings
There are many opportunities for freight rail traffic on Vancouver Island that could be realized with significantly less investment than previous studies have identified.
• These opportunities would shift many truck trips to rail, both on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland, providing a range of benefits.
• Developing a rail connection to Duke Point would provide synergetic benefits for the area and the Island Rail Corridor.
• Stakeholders agreed that maintaining the Island Rail Corridor is important to the overall resiliency of the Island, given its limited highway network.Page ES-1 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
Benefits – Commercial and Environmental
If all of the most-likely opportunities were realized, HDR estimates that a volume range of between 4,500 and 11,400 annual carloads on the Island Rail Corridor could be achieved in the near to medium term, provided that rail shipping and handling fees are competitive with other modes. These rail opportunities could enable between 10,400 and 25,570 annual truckloads on Vancouver Island to be taken off the roads, which is equivalent to an estimated 2 to 4 million truck kilometers per year. This shift would result in an annual greenhouse gas emissions savings estimated to be between 1,741 and 3,636 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.Page ES-2 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
1 Million on Vancouver Island before 2041.
The population on Vancouver Island grew from 799,400 in 2016 to 864,864 in 2021, equivalent to a compound annual growth rate of 1.59 percent. This is higher than the provincial average annual growth rate of 1.47 percent over the same period.Page 5 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
[Comment: considering this study does not take into account recent growth during/post pandemic in Port Alberni, I believe the ACRD projections are low and likely Strathcona (Campbell River) as well]
Rail for Resiliency
Maintaining the Island Rail Corridor and re-introducing rail service would provide resiliency benefits for Vancouver Island businesses, the supply chain, and the economy as a whole. The island currently relies on a limited number of physically constrained and busy highways, such as the Malahat portion of the Trans-Canada (Highway 1), and Highway 4 to Port Alberni, which includes challenging gradients (up to 7% over “the Hump”) as well as constraints through MacMillan Provincial Park and along Cameron Lake.
Incidents, disruptions, or even routine maintenance and upgrades on these routes can effectively halt travel and trade, as there are often no adjacent connections (road or other). Nearly every stakeholder that we spoke with underlined the importance of retaining the Island Rail Corridor from a strategic perspective, especially given the impact that recent events (such as the Malahat washout on November 15th, 2021) have had on Vancouver Island supply chains.Page 41 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
Taking the load off the Malahat
The rapidly developing Duke Point area at the Port of Nanaimo is a significant economic hub and generator of freight activity on the Island. Freight volumes and development in the area are expected to increase, in part due to population growth on the Island and the associated growth in demand for consumer goods, which will be predominantly directed to Duke Point (both containers and trailers) due to capacity constraints at Swartz Bay near Victoria. These capacity constraints at Swartz Bay have already increased Duke Point traffic. These capacity constraints at Swartz Bay have already increased Duke Point traffic.Page 40 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
Rail is proven technology, while zero-emission heavy duty trucks are still largely under research and development. Shifting freight from truck to rail would help reduce congestion on highways in the short term and over the long term as the population continues to grow.Page 9 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
Freight Rail Opportunities
Greenhouse Gas emissions
Freight rail transportation is typically more efficient than truck transportation from a fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions perspective.Page 38 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
[Comment – Emissions savings would be even greater if Electrification is pursued]
The study also identified additional carload opportunities for the Island Rail Corridor network if the three rail barge slips currently located at Wellcox, Harmac, and Crofton were consolidated into one. This would not only minimize the longer term capital requirements for the three rail barge slips as they age, but also provide increased rail barge sailings between the Lower Mainland and the Island, resulting in reduced cycle times for rail shipments and additional service opportunities driven by the scale and volume density created by the consolidation.Page 39 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
Helping the Lower Mainland reduce traffic and emissions.
The re-introduction of rail service on Vancouver Island would enable more forest products to be directly loaded onto railcars on the island, shipped by rail barge to the Lower Mainland, and then transported via the Class I railways for furtherance across North America. This would eliminate the current truck drayage trips in the Lower Mainland and potentially reduce transloading and handling of goods as well.Page 41 Island Rail Corridor Freight Analysis – December 5, 2022
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