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Off The Page: Vancouver Island’s Friends of Rails to Trails getting untracked

Podcast explores what a multi-use trail from Courtenay to Victoria would look like?
A segment of the Island Rail corridor, formerly known as the E&N Railway. File Photo

What would it be like to walk, bike or run up and down Vancouver Island from Victoria to Courtenay and Parksville to Port Alberni?

Alastair Craighead and Jim Smiley hope to turn that vision into reality as members of Friends of Rails to Trails Vancouver Island (FORT-VI). The pair are guests on the eighth edition of the Record’s Off The Page podcast.

FORT-VI’s goal is to have a continuous active transportation trail using the existing E&N rail trail when possible.

“There’s been a general interest for a lot of years in using that corridor for something other than the train,” explained Craighead, FORT-VI’s president on the podcast, who was also involved in creating Victoria’s 55-km Galloping Goose Trail.

He noted FORT-VI envisions the trails as a multi-use non-motorized trail, which would take about 10 to 15 years to come into fruition. Based on a similar trail in the Okanagan, it would cost somewhere between $50-100 million to convert the tracks to a trail.

For Smiley, having an extensive multi-use trail throughout half of the Island would be not only beneficial for residents, but for others as well.

“I am a very active outdoor person and I was a runner for many, many years. I cycle and I’ve done places like the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, and I’ve been to the Galloping Goose a few times. And it’s fabulous for me as a tourist destination.”

The tourist industry is interested in the concept, added Craighead. With fewer people flying internationally due to the pandemic, he believes a lot of tourism could be generated from the trail within the province.

FORT-VI is currently working at creating a business case, getting more information out to the public and talking to different levels of government.

Craighead said they have been working on the project for about four years and are getting ready for a feasibility study.

Smiley has already walked part of the overgrown railway tracks from Courtenay to Lantzville and says there are more than 40 river crossings with spectacular views.

As for his favourite one? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out.

To listen to the full episode, download Off The Page on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and everywhere podcasts are heard, or visit New episodes of Off The Page drop every Wednesday.

To submit podcast topics or guest ideas, email