Sunday, April 10, 2016 


Out On The Rail Trail

8 myths that stagnate transit

Myrtle Macdonald, M. Sc., Director of Friends of Rail for the Valley, Chilliwack


yth: We donít have the population density yet. Maybe in 20 years. False.

1. We don't have the population density yet. Maybe in 20 years. False.

In 1910, we had 18,000 people in the Fraser Valley, and we had Interurban passenger rail service four times a day all the way from Chilliwack to Vancouver. In the 1950s, we had 80,000 people, but the Interurban was shut down because people were driving cars instead. Today, the Fraser Valley has more than 10 times the population (around 1 million), and traffic headaches you'd never dream about in the 1950s. All around the world, light rail is being built in regions with lower density. We don't even need to look to Europe, the spread-out city of Calgary has the C-Train, carrying 250,000 passengers a day.


2. The geography of the Interurban line makes it too slow and impractical to use. False.

The  It is not a winding route.  It is not a distant detour.  Between Chilliwack and Abbotsford it goes through a narrow strip of rich farmland only 2 to 4 miles wide and 25 miles long, the populous communities that Highway #1 bypasses. There is no public transit service for thousands of residents, including a variety of farmers, students and some entrepreneurs.  More than half of this area is the responsibility of Abbotsford Municipality and the rest of Chilliwack. Fraser Valley Regional District FVRD have a Transportation Committee with responsibility for Mission, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Harrison, Yale and Hope and for several mountain valley communities.


The entire Interurban tracks have a only a slight grade. We can expect speeds of 80-100 km/hr. From its terminus in downtown Chilliwack, the Interurban track runs through Sardis, Yarrow, down to Sumas and up past UFV to Abbotsford. From there, it runs westward past Trinity Western University, through Langley, Cloverdale and Surrey, where it could connect to the existing Scott Road Skytrain Station at the Fraser River. Passengers can transfer to cross the New Westminster rail bridge, where there are multiple possible routes into Vancouver.


The Interurban track is walking distance from ALL of our South of Fraser colleges and universities, most commercial centres, and a short shuttle ride from the Abbotsford Airport.  Light railways are usable in rain and snow even in the Alps.  Travel by highway backs up and slows down traffic almost every day.


3.  The cost would be excessive. False. 

A practical study and proposal by Leewood Industries states that establishing a 99 km. light rail service on the existing Interurban corridor, through Surrey, Delta, Coverdale, Langley and Abbotsford to Chilliwack would cost about one third the cost of the 11 km of the Evergreen Line.


4. It would make more sense to build a new rail line on Highway #1 median.  Not so. 

A highway rail route would be of no value to thousands of family farms between Chilliwack and Abbotsford.  A new rail line would require illegal purchase of fertile ALR land from small farmers, whereas the Interurban route is owned by BC, with right of way. The interurban route can have five minute stops at Yarrow, Arnold/Greendale and Vye/King Road to accommodate farm youth going to college and their mother or father going to a second job, or to the Abbotsford airport or hospital. They will start to prosper and no longer need a second job and a second or third vehicle to make a living. Neither Chilliwack nor Abbotsford municipalities provide a public transportation system. Fraser Valley Regional District FVRD please take note. Orchard and farm produce could be transported in the baggage car.  A refrigerated mobile Farmers' Market car could be attached and left at a different sidings for a day, six days a week all year round.  Southern Rail already own larger refrigerator cars so their expertise can be sought.


5.  The Interurban rail line is run down.  False.  

The Interurban Rail Line is used/(rented ?) by independent Southern Railway for heavy freight cars, each weighing much more than passenger cars. The line can be shared by freight trains and light passenger trains. The tracks could be upgraded for passenger service at low cost. All totaled, according to the comprehensive independent analysis by a respected firm Leewood, with an expertise in light rail, it would cost just under $500 million for a Chilliwack to Surrey diesel service running every 20-30 minutes connecting to Skytrain, or under $1 billion for an electrified service running from downtown Vancouver to Rosedale, 12 km past Chilliwack. These amounts include stations, trains and everything else. It sounds like a lot of money, but compare this to the $2.4 billion that was spent on Vancouver's 19 km Canada Line, the $1.4 billion price tag for the Evergreen Line Skytrain extension to Coquitlam, $2.8 billion for a planned 12 km Skytrain extension to UBC, and the $7 billion and rising price tag of the Gateway highway-expansion projects. Why not spend a bit of money on rail transportation in the Fraser Valley for a change?  Too long the population of one million south of the Fraser River has been treated as second class citizens.


6. Buses are Cheaper to Run and the New Bus from Chilliwack to Vancouver is very successful. False.

Yes ridership is four times what was expected, but bus travel is not favored by most. Buses need to be replaced every 10 years. Rail cars from Expo 86 are still going strong 26 years later. Buses need to have one driver servicing up to 60 people. Trains need one driver servicing a number of cars seating many more people, so long term cumulative operating costs are lower than buses. And of course buses are still dependent upon roads. Highway capital costs for widening and ongoing maintenance costs are exorbitant.


7. Rail services like the West Coast Express are heavily subsidized. Not true.

The West Coast Express service pays for itself even though there are expensive lease fee paid to CP for the use of their track. Unlike roads, trains can make money.


And unlike the West Coast Express, the Interurban right-of-way south of the Fraser River is owned by the government, as well as the rights to run passenger rail on the track. No expensive lease fees here. The Interurban would serve a population approaching 5 times that of the West Coast Express. North of the Fraser River the population density is low. It's estimated that the West Coast Express service is equivalent to taking 4,300 cars off the road and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 21,502 tonnes a day.


Highways and roads cost BC taxpayers billions. The Provincial Transit Plan calls for expenditures of $1.6 billion on buses alone over the next few years. Traffic congestion also has tremendous hidden costs: on the economy, pollution of the environment and health.


Ultimately, all of the Province's current transportation proposals for the Fraser Valley will only serve to increase the traffic on our roads. The Canada Line costs over $100 million per km, and the Evergreen Line, will cost over $120 million per km. That trend of building late instead of early has cost BC taxpayers billions of dollars for projects focused only on in the lower mainland.


8. With the current Economic hardships, the timing for construction of an Interurban rail system is poor. False

Instead it is ill advised to change the Deas tunnel. A proposed Skytrain extension as far as Langley will further bankrupt the transit system. The public have told us they prefer the more affordable light rail. The system will serve roughly a million people in the Fraser Valley, far more than any multi-billion dollar transit projects planned for Vancouver. The alternative to light rail service is to continue pouring millions into expensive government transit projects, with no benefit for the rest of BC.


With credit to Dr.John Buker, Ray Mufford and Graham Dalton.


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