Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vic West and the E&N rail line

I was thinking this morning that there's a fair to middling chance that I am taking more pictures of Victoria than anyone else currently. I don't think of myself as a "photographer," and I make no claims as to the merits of the pictures, I just like taking them. Like an alcoholic I can't stop. This morning, for instance, all I wanted to do was get a few up close shots of the E&N Dayliner trundling through the rail yards I had photographed the day before. This morning was cold and very damp with a heavy mist. and I was going to just take one picture and then get back inside. Then there was one more, and then another, until fifty pictures later I was almost in Esquimalt. Even in the dampness Victoria's face is as lovely as ever, as if she is just come out of the bath. The moss-covered rocks jutting from the sea, fissured and abraded, give off a subdued but vivid glow. Victoria is named after a queen, and men know how it is with a beloved woman. If you don't love her in her changing moods you don't love her at all.
Vic West is not very big. You can walk from one shore to another at its widest point in twenty minutes. And yet in that twenty minute trudge, you will traverse areas of million dollar condos, run-down industrial areas, narrow jumbled up streets, social housing, and small bungalows from the early years of the last century. Through it all winds the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway.
Not much is left of this relic of days gone by. Once, and not that long ago, the whole foreshore of Vic West was covered with rail yards. It must have been a sight, rows on rows of steaming locomotives amidst the reek of burning coal. That was before our industrial base started moving to Asia. Now all that's left of those days are these semi-derelict brick structures in a setting of weeds and rusty rails. But the Dayliner still wends its way up the Island to Courtenay every day- at least when it doesn't break down. I have yet to take that trip. If I'm going to do it it will have to be soon, before the money-losing operation is cancelled.
There's lots of talk about modernizing it and turning it into a commuter service. It sounds like a good idea, but experience all over the continent indicates that the costs of such rail schemes are always underestimated while ridership is always overestimated. I have lived along this line most of the time I have been on Vancouver Island going back to the '70's and I can tell you that the tracks and crossings are in very bad shape. It doesn't take an expert to see that trains capable of higher speeds would necessitate a complete rebuild of the entire route. I would like to see a convenient and inexpensive travel and commuter option. I would love to hear the chuffing of a steam train carrying visitors back and forth every day. But one has to look at costs and weigh them against the benefits. I will say this. People who think that a commuter train from Langford would reduce the traffic on Highway 1 are seriously deluded.
And then there is the curious fact that the same kind of people who advocate big projects like these are the same people who object to projects that would bring in more taxes to help pay for them. As for example, the proposed megayacht basin in Vic West. This project would bring money into the city in the form of taxes, and tourist spending from visitors with very deep pockets, who might want to resupply here or put in for repairs or maintenance. Recently our Mayor Fortin remarked that we just did not have enough of a tax base to pay for all the services Victorians demand. And yet he has no trouble turning up his nose at an addition to our tax base, and an addition to our economic base.
I'm not saying I'm for it, but if I understand right, the developer jumped through every hoop required of him. The zoning was in place, all the environmental considerations were met. It was ready to go. Lots of construction jobs would come on stream at a time of a building lull in the city. Contractors would make money. The city would have more money to spend on services. Where is the downside? Well, you might say that the megayachts are ugly, and I would agree. Those acres of white fibreglass leave me cold. I would much prefer to look at the homebuilt liveaboard I posted recently. It has a certain homely charm. I have always detested tasteless ostentation- those ugly megacondos that line the shore, for instance.
But the developer did follow all the laws and regulations, didn't he? Did he not in good faith spend large amounts of cash complying with those rules and regulations? What legal or moral grounds does the city have to refuse to allow him to build? Is there some suspicion that tons of illicit drugs are going to be smuggled in? What are laws for? Are they just put into books for their looks? Are they not to be taken seriously? Are they to be changed- retroactively- when the outcome doesn't suit us? If that's the case then we live in a lawless society. And, word gets around. Investors who are hurt by the capricious behaviour of city officials will tell their friends. "If I were you I wouldn't put any money in that city. Beautiful place, but it's run like a third world country."
Plans to turn the ancient E&N line into a brand new spiffy commuter rail may be deferred to an indefinite future date, but crews are already at work building a cycling and pedestrian route along side of the tracks. I do like these things even though I don't bike anymore, but I will mention one problem that is never properly addressed when facilities like this are planned, and that is law enforcement and safety. I can tell you from personal observation that parts of the existing Galloping Goose trail are already being well used by drug traffickers and hookers. We can't forget that there are bad people in the world and that bad people are not necessarily stupid. They can spot a new opportunity as well as anyone. I don't doubt that a dedicated trail patrol should be included in the plans for these types of facilities. Victorians rightly love their trails and walkways. We have lots of swimming pools, playing fields, skating arenas, but many of us just like to be out of doors enjoying Victoria. I think it's a pretty good use of our tax dollars. We just have to remember where those dollars come from, and we have to remember that once built it will have to be maintained and policed.

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