A delegation championing interurban passenger rail service between Surrey and Chilliwack made its pitch at the mayors’ council on regional transportation meeting Thursday in New Westminster.
The rail corridor is roughly 100 kilometres of existing rail, owned and operated by Canadian Pacific and Southern Railway for freight transportation, between Surrey and Chilliwack.
Patrick Condon, UBC professor of architecture and landscape architecture, spoke on behalf of the Fraser Valley Community Rail committe. He presented the council with a report on the interurban railway corridor as an “important alternative” to a staff report issued on same topic, which he concludes reveals “what appears to be a deep misunderstanding” on the part of TransLink staff concerning the proposal.
“The main public benefit of the proposal does not lie in how fast a few commuters might get from Langley Centre to downtown Vancouver but rather in how we might lay the spine for a more sustainable south of the Fraser region,” Condon said. “This region is experiencing explosive job and population growth, partly or largely driven by the exorbitant cost of housing closer to Vancouver.”
Condon said that “at a very low cost, even just the cost of a few vehicles at first,” the proposal would go a long way toward relieving traffic gridlock which is “particulary severe” on Highway 1.
“Interurban service could be resumed and could start to restore the walkable transit-oriented structure that gave birth to the valley economy in the first place,” Condon said. “What we are talking about is providing the same access to rail service as your Fraser Highway proposal, SkyTrain proposal, and serve about eight times the population, for one third of the cost.”
According to a staff report before the mayors’ council on Thursday, similar pitches have been studied over the years. “All previous assessments have resulted in other priorities being advanced, due to challenges around projected demand, cost relative to bus alternatives, potential conflicts with freight movement, and limited alignment with regional land use plans.”
The staff report noted the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure evaluated the corridor for possible commuter rail service in its Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley in 2010 and found “issues around high cost per ride and low projected ridership relative to bus alternatives.”
The staff report also noted that the 2010 study concluded that an inter-regional railway service between Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley “may be part of a longer-term future, and opportunities should be retained for future services.” TransLink’s report states “a review of this and other ideas” will be done in the “evaluation phase” of Transport 2050 as the interurban proposal, “or elements of it,” might have “merit in serving and shaping that demand and supporting land uses and will be compared to other approaches.”
Meantime, in a separate delegation, Roderick Lewis asked the council to pass a motion to “immediately” write to the federal minister of infrastructure and communities “requesting commitments of sufficient funding to pay for all of the projected $1.3 billion shortfall in funding for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project.”
He also requested that the federal government be asked to pay at least one third of the replacement costs for the Massey tunnel, “what ever they happen to be, once they figure that out.”
“Why is this needed? Because there’s a federal election coming up and if you don’t get the commitments out now, you won’t get the funding, very likely, after the election’s over,” Lewis explained.
Lewis slammed Surrey’s former council and previous mayors’ council for “contemptible conduct” when they made decisions to have a network of street car line south of the Fraser, “when at the time there had never been any public consultations in which the public were asked, the south of Fraser cities’ public, ‘Do you want SkyTrain lines built south of the Fraser, or do you want street car lines?’”
The mayors’ council received a staff update Thursday on a preliminary report for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain expansion. “The mayor’s council has been kept apprised of rapid transit engagement activities and staff’s progree developing an agreement with the City of Surrey to pay compensation related to the SNG LRT project,” he report indicates. An update in July is expected to “provide context, project objectives and define the scope” of the SkyTrain project connecting Surrey with Langley “as well as discussing outcomes, cost and schedule.”