The ongoing Island rail debate has offered a lot of opinions both ways but not much for open facts. I encourage those with pertinent information to tell us all how it will work before we are asked to spend an ever escalating $50 million or so.
Thankfully, the ICF has at least kept the line from being piecemealed into an assorted collection of unrelated properties that could never be reassembled to form an uninterrupted link up the Island. One example of this is the loss of the rail line access on the north shore of Cowichan Lake which now only benefits the owners of these individual properties.
That being said, a single track rail line cannot possibly serve as a commuter line for all but a very small portion of those driving the major highways. If you could carry 100 commuters per trip, you wouldn’t remove more traffic than might pass through Goldstream in less than a minute.
Short of twinning, one set of rails means travel in only one direction at a time, until that unit is completely off the rail line. Several trains could travel in the same direction, with staggered schedules, but you still wouldn’t have any significant effect on traffic density on the TCH and returning trains would still have to wait for the last opposing train before departing. Also, if there is a serious issue with any train, the whole system grinds to a halt due to a blocked track.
So the corridor is worth saving, but, as much as I love its history, returning rail traffic is an overpriced solution for a very limited few. Making this just another road would soon get bogged down much like all the other bypasses have or are now becoming. Note how the TCH in Duncan is no longer the shortcut through town that the planners envisioned so many years ago.
Making the Corridor a hiking/biking trail could be a side component of the plan but making that its primary use would be tying up an important piece of infrastructure for a small segment of the population. I suggest leaving the trestles and more scenic aspects intact with the less costly, necessary upgrades to handle feet and pedals (much like the Kinsol Trestle).
More robust crossings could be installed alongside these for the sole use of bus/tram type vehicle travel which are capable of high commuter capacity and can be moved out of the way if they have an equipment failure. Maintaining a road bed like this would be less expensive than maintaining a rail line and the sky is the limit as to alternate fuel, electric or whatever the future offers next.
As for rail freight, in its best case scenario it is still a depot-to-depot bulk supply system with road traffic inevitably having to make the deliveries in almost all cases.
None of this even considers Southern Rail’s piece of the financial pie, how much equipment they would be willing to commit or how their business model might negatively change as time goes on. This could be a costly reconditioned rail bed that very few can afford to use.