The Island Corridor Foundation says it has complete confidence in CEO Graham Bruce, but if the public is to have confidence in the ICF, the foundation needs to be more transparent, including making public a solid business plan for restoring rail service to Vancouver Island.
The foundation was reacting to a consultant’s report that says the ICF’s credibility suffers from a lack of transparency and public trust, and that much of the distrust of the foundation stems from Bruce, seen as a “lightning rod” for discontent among some municipal politicians.
The ICF, a partnership of First Nations and local governments, owns the E&N Rail corridor. Its goal has been to restore passenger rail service on the E&N line, which runs between Victoria and Courtenay. Passenger service was discontinued in March 2011 because of safety concerns arising from inadequate track maintenance.
Kelly Daniels of aKd Resource Communities did a study of the ICF at the request of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, interviewing 40 people, including representatives from the five regional districts that are members of the foundation, the province and the foundation itself.
Daniels said “a significant majority” of regional-district directors expressed disillusionment with Bruce and his management style.
“Early poor communication and unfulfilled promises have resulted in a significant loss of trust and confidence in the CEO that also reflects badly on the ICF board,” says the report. “The damage to their reputation will be a significant hurdle to overcome in their efforts to gain back political support at the local level.”
ICF co-chairwoman Judith Sayers says the foundation has already addressed many of the issues raised in the report, including opening its annual general meeting to the public.
She said the ICF board of directors remains confident in Bruce’s abilities and that he “acts on the direction of the board of directors and he has done that admirably.”
A foundation statement says the Daniels report has “glaring gaps” and lacks specifics. Those are legitimate criticisms, but the ICF should address the perceptions and sentiments that sparked the call for the report.
The foundation keeps promising that rail service will soon be restored, but deadlines have come and gone with no visible progress. It says it can get the service up and running with $20 million in promised funding from federal, provincial and local governments.
But that $20 million likely won’t go far. A study done in 2010 by the IBI Group for the provincial government determined that making the railway safe and usable would cost about $70 million.
Repairing bridges to safely accommodate freight trains would bring the cost to $120 million.
And for what? The IBI study determined that if the railway were upgraded, it could carry up to about 600 passengers daily, a drop in the Colwood Crawl bucket. And that service would require a daily subsidy of $15,000.
The ICF is about more than trains. If it were not for the foundation, the rail corridor would likely have been chopped up and sold off, and the Island would be the poorer for it.
But the foundation’s main purpose, as its website states, is “making Vancouver Island rail a reality.” To do that, it should have a solid plan that shows rail service is viable, that public money will be well spent. A couple of diesel cars trundling back and forth between Victoria and Nanaimo might be a tourist novelty, but of little value to commuters.
The ICF needs to present a solid business plan, with a timetable, achievable goals, a market study and realistic financial projections.
Otherwise, the public can be forgiven for thinking that rail service here is little more than someone’s imaginary friend.
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