“It’s light rail or nothing.” That is the constant refrain from the Rail for the Valley group. Sadly, installing rail before testing the market with buses might lead to another white elephant that the people of Abbotsford and Fraser Valley can ill afford right now.
Before you invest in rail equipment, platforms, bus-and-rail interchange points, fare machines, and so on, it is better test a new route with a smaller investment in buses. Certainly, this is model that is used in transit operations throughout North America.
Just for the most basic of stations, you are looking at $500,000 to meet Transport Canada regulations, as well as outfitting them with basic shelters and other amenities. And most railcars start at $1,000,000. This all before you hire and train the staff to run the equipment.
Also the Southern Railway of BC route was built in 1910 and ambled across the Fraser Valley going around the long drained Sumas Lake. After Sumas Lake was drained more direct highways were put in place. In fact to travel between Trinity Western University and Chilliwack via the Southern of BC route requires an extra 12 kilometres than the Trans-Canada Highway.
So if rail is to compete on a time basis with the freeway where buses can travel at 100 km/h, the trains would have travel at 120 km/h. To upgrade the railway to a safe standard for those speeds would require hundreds of millions of dollars.
I will be first say that I want rail transit connect Abbotsford east to Chilliwack and west to Surrey. I enjoy riding rail and I still see its future in the Fraser Valley about 20 to 30 years from now on a more direct line than the Southern Railway of BC route. But I am also a realist and know that it is better start with buses that can be run on annual budget of under $2 million or the equivalent of two or three yet to be purchased railcars.
Still I admire the hard work and dedication the folks at the Rail for the Valley have. But we need affordable and real transportation solutions that be up and working tomorrow instead of costing of millions of dollars and taking five or so years to install.