South Fraser Community RAIL

An environmentally friendly hydrogen powered passenger train connecting the Pattullo Bridge in Surrey to Chilliwack

TransLink’s wrong-headed Fraser Highway to Langley SkyTrain debacle, explained

This is the latest edition of our regular South Fraser Community Rail Newsletter. Please subscribe to stay in the loop of the latest updates! 

TransLink’s wrong-headed Fraser Highway to Langley SkyTrain debacle is starting to be seen for what it is…. WRONG! Know the FACTS… This cannot be allowed to continue.

TransLink and the Mayors’ Councils handling of the LRT/SkyTrain issue has been a sham from the start, long before the emergence of COVID-19.

This Newsletter should remind all decision makers and the public as to why we are in the position we are in, wasting an immeasurable amount of your tax dollars and time, with nothing to show for it.

All of the time and money wasted has been to satisfy the wishes of a NEW Mayor who won with 13% of the popular vote! If common sense prevailed, your well-planned LRT line would be well under construction today.

Consider the following series of events that got us to where we are today instead:

FACT:     Through a comprehensive community-involved plan over about ten years, Surrey secured approval and funding (Federal, Provincial and Regional) for light rail, LRT from Guildford down 104th to Surrey Center, down King George Blvd to Newton. Proposed in 2012, with construction to to begin in 2019.

FACT:     The original 10.5 KM LRT line was supported as a mode for internal transit for Surrey, designed to build and support communities within Surrey, with an approved senior and regional government funding envelope of $1.65 Billion. This LRT line was Phase 1 of the ten-year plan.

FACT:     $50 million dollars (regional tax dollars!) were spent in engineering funding for this LRT project through TransLink.

FACT:     The 2018 Municipal election campaign was won by the Safe Surrey Coalition and new Mayor Doug McCallum.
His two major promises:
1) Establish new Surrey Municipal Police Force at the same cost as the RCMP
2) Change the approved and funded LRT project to a Skyrain extension from Surrey Center to Langley City, at same cost of $1.65 Billion, and not a penny more!

FACT:     The first TransLink Meeting after the election with majority of NEWLY elected Mayors, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and Mayor Kennedy Stewart of Vancouver supported each other in a pre-arranged weighted vote, blindsiding the Mayors around the table, most unaware of what was happening. Vote passed for Vancouver Subway to Arbutus, and support for the suspension of the Surrey to Langley LRT, moving forward to instead develop a draft SkyTrain business plan.

FACT:      IMPORTANT – The Mayors Council, at the urging of TransLink Senior Staff and Mayor McCallum, changed support from LRT to SkyTrain based on Mayor McCallum’s well publicized (during the election campaign and to the Mayors’ Council) assurance that they could do it for the same $1.65 Billion and not one penny more. In reality, the cost will be $3.5 – $4 Billion. Due to this fact, the project should NEVER have been approved in the first place nor allowed to proceed today. The promise was not kept. Mayor McCallum’s mis-represented project can only possibly proceed at OUR expense.

FACT:     IMPORTANT – Mayors’ Council changed support from LRT to SkyTrain based on Mayor McCallum’s assurance Surrey would repay TransLink the entire $50 million spent on LRT preliminary engineering, who then goes outside the meeting and says he is not going to pay. It has now been “agreed” that Surrey will provide $30 Million in property plus $9 million in cash?

FACT:     The change from LRT to SkyTrain initially was justified in that the Surrey to Langley City SkyTrain fulfilled Phase 2 of TransLink’s 10-year plan; so in their pronouncement, this was just a matter of switching phases. Unfortunately, there were four problems with that position:

  1. There was a significant cost difference between the LRT (planned in the financials) and a SkyTrain project (not planned in the financials). The difference? LRT $157,142,857 per km vs SkyTrain $225,000,000 per km. TransLink knew this info from the outset.
     
  2. TransLink’s decision to go with SkyTrain for Phase 2 was decided through a non-public, flawed internal study that looked at one corridor option only. The valuable Interurban corridor was never considered despite its identified value and connection to a far greater population, inter-regional connectivity that was identified and protected by a Provincial Government for passenger use at no cost for its use at a fraction of the cost!
     
  3. TransLink’s plan for SkyTrain did not consider the negative impact on Green Timbers Urban Forest, or the cost of going through 7 kms with no population (Green Timbers and the Serpentine Flats). Further, they did not consider the high construction cost to build through the Serpentine Flood Plain soil conditions.
     
  4. Surrey (Fleetwood & Clayton), Langley City and the Township of Langley have not appropriately planned for, nor have they adequately informed their residents on how much additional density will be required to justify the high cost of SkyTrain down Fraser Highway to Langley City, should it happen.

To give residents an idea of how much density will be required, we offer the following visual from Port Moody’s plan surrounding their Evergreen Line. COVID-19 has changed the game entirely, both in cost and density:

port moody inlet plan, coronation park

2,800 homes are being proposed next to Port Moody’s SkyTrain’s Inlet Centre Station. A massive redevelopment will completely transform an existing 13-acre, low-density neighborhood immediately adjacent to SkyTrain’s Inlet Centre Station.

According to a city staff report, the developer’s intention for Coronation Park, the tentative name of the project, is to build six towers between 32 and 36 stories, each with a six-story podium and five six-story buildings. If you want to see the reality, check out what has happened to the Brentwood area development in Burnaby. Are you prepared for this for your community?

In Summary

It is long past time that the TransLink Board of Directors Rethink and review their decisions and planning related to SkyTrain, LRT and the Interurban South of the Fraser. The decisions to proceed with SkyTrain are wrong on every count, and are totally disingenuous.

Yes, COVID-19 has triggered some reconsideration, however, are our decision makers going to lead or are they going be led by TransLink staff or some internal biases by a few TransLink Board members (more on this at a later date)?

It is time for some real leadership by the TransLink Board and the TransLink Mayors’ Council, and an intervention by the Provincial Government if necessary.

A review of the staff reports on the Fraser Highway SkyTrain project to the Mayors’ Council from Geoff Cross (Vice-President) and comments attributed to Kevin Desmond (CEO) put a great deal into question. 

Despite our four points listed above, CEO Kevin Desmond comments “Whether ridership levels will recover is a million dollar question” and yet Geoff Cross states “TransLink still believes the project makes business sense and hopes to put forward an investment plan in the fall.” (Quotes from local published media.)

Really, in whose imagination?

To CEO Desmond: this is not a million-dollar question, THIS IS A MULTI BILLION DOLLAR QUESTION! Obviously, there are conflicting statements being made by senior TransLink executives.

“There’s an active discussion right now around North America asking – Is this the death knell of public transit?” said Councillor Craig Cameron of West Vancouver. “I don’t think it is, but…. Do we believe the new normal that we get to, is going to be significantly lower than Pre-COVID peak? Are we going to have to do transit differently?” … “it would take some time to evaluate the level of ridership that is realistic in the months ahead” said Desmond.

In a number of comments, TransLink staff are continuing to base their plans on a boost in senior government funding, which is not even close to be being realistic, especially in light of our NEW normal.

Continuation of this debacle will cost all of us responsible transit
improvements for our immediate communities.

This debacle is the result of TransLink capitulating to the wishes of the Mayor of Surrey who was demanding his election promises be kept – Well they could never be kept, they were irresponsible and disingenuous, and yet our TransLink Mayors’ Council and Board supported him anyway! Why?

  • SkyTrain in place of LRT at the same cost – $1.65 Billion and not one penny more! Actual Cost: $3.5 – $4 Billion. Promise not kept, should be denied.
     
  • Surrey Municipal Police Force in place of RCMP at the same cost! Another promise not kept, should be denied.

Time to Rethink

It is not too late to go with the original LRT project. Surrey would not have to pay back the $50 million already spent by TransLink!

Throughout all of this discussion, our transit provider, TransLink, is still not facing the reality that they are promoting an outdated, highly overpriced, unaffordable, and poorly performing technology at a great cost to us taxpayers.

We urge the Provincial Government to implement the “South of Fraser Transportation and Housing Study” already promised through this year’s Throne Speech and Budget Announcement before ANY decisions are made on South Fraser Regional Transit or Inter-Regional Transit.


South Fraser Community Rail Society
Contact Rick Green / 604 866-5752 
southfrasercommunityrail@shaw.ca

Alstom Purchase Of Bombardier Rail, and how the COVID-19 virus could scuttle Translink Plans

Where do we go from here?
Where do we go from here?

This is the latest edition of our bi-monthly South Fraser Community Rail Newsletter. Please subscribe to stay in the loop of the latest updates! 

The recently announced purchase of Bombardier by the Alstom Group plus COVID-19 is a game-changer for TransLink’s SkyTrain plans that are yet to receive senior government final approval for the Fraser Highway proposal to Fleetwood, let alone Langley City.

We urge the Federal and B.C. Provincial Government, TransLink Mayor’s Council and the TransLink Board of Directors to hit PAUSE on any plans to proceed until ALL facts on the Alstom purchase are known and our future transit needs under a NEW normal are understood!

Alstom Purchase of Bombardier

FACT:    SkyTrain is Bombardier’s sole surviving system for new system purchases!

FACT:    Alstom will be dropping all marginal product lines once the sale has been approved by the regulatory bodies due to cost of supporting same and competitive pressures for critical lines of business!

FACT:    TransLink must make technology decisions which will determine how much cash will be pumped from your wallet due to EXPO/Millennium line rebuilds and the proposed King George-Fleetwood let alone Langley expansion!

FACT:    It is imperative the provincial government and TransLink hit the “PAUSE” button on the proposed Fraser Highway extension until the sale has completed mid-2021 and the consequences of going forward are known and the alternative option is carefully considered!

COVID-19 Impacts

Fact:      SkyTrain Expo and Millennium Lines are running at 18% of normal, Canada Line is running at 14% of normal, SeaBus is running at 10%, West Coast Express is running at 6% while buses are running at roughly 15% of normal.

Fact:      60% of TransLink revenues that depend on farebox, gas tax and parking revenue have collapsed with NO assurance on their rebounding within any reasonable timeframe.

Fact:      Significant additional spending by senior governments was and is essential, on balance they have both done a good job. With a projected Federal Deficit for 2021 of well over $250 Billion and growing plus an additional high cost to the provinces finances, a cautious use of tax dollars is required.

More details of the Alstom purchase of Bombardier, and its impact on Translink/Taxpayers:

France’s Alstom Group has reached an agreement to purchase the Bombardier Transportation Rail Division for about USD $8.2 Billion. Alstom has agreed to maintain the HQ for North American Rail operations in Montreal for at least the next 5 years as the Caisse de dépôt will be the largest external shareholder in this new entity.

How will the advent of COVID-19 affect the proposed sale/purchase? Will it be renegotiated, will it go ahead, what is the affect of Bombardier? Huge implications either way.

This agreement is subject to the EU competition regulator’s approval and this is not expected until mid 2021. Until approval has been rendered by the competition regulators, it will be business “as usual” with both parties slugging it out in the marketplace for any, and all new business contracts. It is estimated Bombardier Transportation currently has about C$35Billion in orders on the books which will migrate to the new entity on completion.

How will the advent of COVID-19 affect the proposed sale/purchase?

This sale presents ominous clouds to users such as TransLink, of the Bombardier SkyTrain product line.

Once the deal has been blessed by the regulators and formal sale takes place, Alstom Group will have to take a sober look at the various Bombardier technologies they have acquired in terms of their future viability in the marketplace. A major future slugfest is expected as Alstom, Siemens and other rolling stock suppliers sharpen their teeth on dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the state owned Chinese CRRC with annual revenues of more than $100Billion.

Products such as the LIM-powered SkyTrain product could be first on the chopping block. How long will Alstom commit to supporting this sole-source product line with ONE customer for spare parts and new manufacture, especially now with all the focus being on Hydrail (Hydrogen powered transit)?

Many countries have now mandated the use of Hydrogen to eliminate the use of diesel. Alstom happens to be the acknowledged leader in Hydrail.

In-light of recent events, TransLink will have to very-seriously-reconsider as to whether SkyTrain technology on Fraser Highway is the correct solution for deployment. 

If TransLink insists on proceeding using the SkyTrain product, they are still stuck with a sole source supplier, Alstom Group, which will have doubled in size overnight and have even less interest and motivation to be a supplier of this product. Pricing this product line properly to reflect the true cost of maintaining it as a commercially viable product will make it even more expensive than the past.

It may be time that TransLink is forced to make the bold transition to technologies and product lines which can be sourced from multiple vendors.

Yes- it will be painful, but the sooner they start, they are in a position to entrench/guarantee their supply position for spares/upgrades for old technologies (SkyTrain) as they place orders for new technology (iLint hydrail) as partial compensation for Alstom maintaining the SkyTrain supply chain.

The alternative might be a letter from Alstom Group advising of the total discontinuation of the SkyTrain product line with TransLink having either the option of a final “last buy” of rolling stock/spares or the shotgun “offer” to purchase the rights, licenses and tooling to manufacture the Skytrain product line.

Can Metro Vancouver and our taxpayers afford the cost and risk of TransLink being in the rolling stock fabrication business?

Economic Impact of COVID-19 to the Province of B.C.

We do not have to look beyond the just-announced unemployment numbers for the months of March and April in B.C.. How does close to a 400,000-job loss and an unemployment rate of over 10% look?

So, consider the following –

  • What will a restart of the economy look like?
     
  • What will our NEW normal in Transit look like?
     
  • Who, how many and how often will the public be ready to go back to public transit without fear of contracting this deadly virus? What will the public’s trust quotient be?
     
  • How many bricks and mortar businesses will reopen? How many will re-engineer their existence?
     
  • How many businesses large and small will rethink how they are going to operate in the future i.e. work from home just might be looking more attractive in terms of increased productivity at a reduced cost?
     
  • Transit use during this pandemic has been reduced by over 84%, how much of that will come back and/or how long will it take? Will TransLink’s current funding model sustain some form of existing transit operations for 4 months? 6 months? Or 8 months?
     
  • How long will it take for gas, parking revenues and fare revenues meet the needs of our NEW transit needs?
     
  • What will our new economy look like after potentially a 6 – 10-month, (or more) shutdown?
     
  • We recall TransLink’s dismissal of the $50 million previously spent for the planning of the previously approved 11 KM Surrey LRT line on 104th Ave to Surrey Center down King George Blvd to Newton. This is the time to regroup and go back to utilize those previously expended funds and the planning they were used for and move forward with that plan.
     
  • We need to support fiscally responsible regional and interregional transit for the lower mainland out to Chilliwack.
     
  • We need to support environmentally responsible interregional transit for the lower mainland out to Chilliwack. 
     

Conclusion

At a cost of $200 Million per KM (TransLink numbers), continued expansion of SkyTrain will bleed out all available capital financial resources PLUS the costly operational financial resources to properly expand Transit on the lower mainland, from Lions Bay to Hope. 

A 99 Km state-of-the-art South Fraser Hydrogen Community Rail passenger service (at no-cost for its use!) will serve 10 times more taxpayers/residents, industrial parks, 14 Post Secondary Institutions and the Abbotsford Intern. Airport AT THE SAME COST as 7 Km. of the Surrey Center to Fleetwood Sky-train.

Our region(s) need fiscally and economically responsible efficient transit that is environmentally friendly and CleanBC appropriate.

With very-limited financial resources available from government going forward, lets implement a system that makes sense!

South Fraser Community Rail Society
Contact Rick Green / 604 866-5752 
southfrasercommunityrail@shaw.ca


UPDATE: Letters exchanged between Former Premier and Mayor of Abbotsford on Interurban

Last month we published a letter that Former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm sent to Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun setting the record straight on the public interurban rail rights, the 99 km rail line that connects Surrey to Chilliwack.

It was under Bill Vander Zalm’s direction that the public rights to this line were preserved for the future use by the people of BC (via BC Hydro) when the freight division was sold in 1988.

Many have raised questions about the nature of Abbtosford’s Mayor’s ongoing obstruction of the consideration of public use of the rail line, given his own history and ties to the private rail industry that has benefitted from their exclusive use of it.

We have since obtained a copy of Mayor Braun’s reply to Vander Zalm’s open letter, as well as the Former Premier’s response, which we have attached below.

As Bill Vander Zalm asks Henry Braun, WHY would the provincial government of the day publicly and legally, with all their lawyers, announce the protection of the rail corridor for future passenger use as a condition of the sale of freight rights to then Itel of Chicago (now CP Rail), but leave out the critical joint section?

Answer: They didn’t. We, and others, have had legal opinions that support our interpretation of the Master Agreement, which guarantees the right of public rail usage, as originally agreed.

Is it going to take a court to force CP to live up to its purchase obligations?

Full text of the reply and response:

March 24, 2020

Dear Mr. Vander Zalm:

Re: Proposed South Fraser Community Rail

Thank you for your letter of March 6th in regards to the proposed South Fraser Community Rail (SFCR) (formerly the BC Hydro/Southern Rail/interurban Rail).

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, but the world has rapidly changed in the last few weeks, and as a City we’re working hard to respond appropriately to these events. Thank you for your patience.

Like you, I fully respect the work of the SFCR volunteer group and commend them for their efforts in seeking alternative, green transit in the Fraser Valley. However, I honestly feel that there are some challenges that will make this railway line unworkable as a commuter rail line.

As you are aware, one of my companies, back in 1987/1988, was one of the bidders to purchase the line, which at that time was one of the most successful short-line railroad in North America. As a result, I am very familiar with the agreements that were created and exist today.

I have specific concerns related to the “Master Agreement” between BC Hydro and CP Rail. Although the right of way (or land) is still owned by the province, the trackage above the subgrade (ballast, ties, tie-plates and rail) is owned and managed by CP Rail. Please note the following from the Master Agreement:

• There is a joint section of rail (7miles), also known as the Pratt Livingstone Corridor, of which: “CP Rail shall have the sole control, management and administration of the Joint Section.” (Annexure V Section 2.1, 1988 Master Agreement); and

• “This agreement does not contemplate the operation of passenger trains upon the Joint Section by any railway company other than Hydro.” (Annexure V Section 2.7, 1988 Master Agreement)

Based on this agreement, CP Rail is free to operate on the joint section in a way that maximizes their benefit. They can, indeed, double track the joint section, as you have mentioned, but their priority would be for freight use. There are already dozens of freight trains currently running along this 7-mile line daily, thus the viability of running a regular passenger transit service is not feasible, particularly as freight traffic continues to Delta Port through the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor. In fact, TransLink’s 2019 Report on Interurban Passenger Rail estimates that freight service would increase by “up to 28-38 trains per day by 2021, with some train lengths up to 3,660 metres.”

Furthermore, this agreement between BC Hydro and CP Rail is granted in perpetuity and would require the two parties to re-open this agreement.

TransLink’s 2019 Report also indicates concerns that I share related to directness and connection to population centres, travel times, the substantial infrastructure investment that would be required in order to meet standards for passenger safety and other construction challenges, and environmental risks as the line travels through the Agricultural Land Reserve. I understand, however, that Translink is recommending that the concept of interurban rail will be further examined through the Transport 2050 process.

I think that it is important to emphasize that the line flows through a number of agricultural communities that do not have the densification to sustain a viable rail transit system. Municipal plans would have to be made to increase density in these areas within the Agricultural Land Reserve and would require significant infrastructure investment. The City of Abbotsford is focused on building “up” and not “out” to create a sustainable community within our urban core.

I appreciate the work done by South Fraser Community Rail. However, with the challenges this concept presents, I believe it is necessary to find other options so we can create the best long-term plan, based on current and forecasted population growth, that will link our region in a sustainable way. A very important regional investment like this would continue to build a thriving region with a strong economy and quality of life for all of our residents.

Yours truly,

Henry Braun

Mayor

Response from Bill Vander Zalm:

April 6, 2020

Dear Mr. Mayor:

Thank you for the detailed response to my letter of March 6 th, re: the proposed South Fraser Community Rail. I respect your opinion, but we can only agree to disagree.

We’ve had several legal opinions on the Master Agreement, and those opinions concur with the interpretation we have held from the beginning. We hope a Court of Law will not be necessary to confirm this. Even when considered from a practical perspective, it is logical that an agreement designed to protect the right of use for public transportation in the Fraser Valley along this corridor would not be concluded, leaving a key section, the joint section required, completely out of long term planning.

I understand your desire for Abbotsford “to go up, not out”, but if we agree with the need to provide affordable housing for young people today and in future, there are good locations near old time Station locations perfect for this. Locations such as Kennedy, Sullivan, Newton/S. Surrey, Cloverdale, Langley City, Township of Langley, Fort Langley/Trinity, Gloucester/Aldergrove, Bradner, Mt. Lehman/Abbotsford Airport, City of Abbotsford/Downtown, Huntington, Sumas, Yarrow, Sardis and City of Chilliwack that would allow for higher density use and still allow space for young families.

I will continue to oppose spending a huge amount of taxpayer money on a short 7 km stretch of Sky-Train from Surrey Centre, through Green Timbers, to Fleetwood, when about the same amount of money could be responsibly spent, using a pollution free Hydrogen (LRT) train, on existing rail all the way from “the Vancouver Hook-up” at the Pattullo Bridge Sky-train station to Chilliwack.

So, the facts are, contrary to the 7 Km. Fleetwood Sky-train population catchment, the 99 Km South Fraser Community Rail will serve 10 times more taxpayers/residents, industrial parks, 14 Post Secondary Institutions and the Abbotsford International Airport at the same cost.

Mr. Mayor, the dedicated tax paying volunteers, that give freely of their time and resources, are not prepared to see well over 1,200,000 South of Fraser, Fraser Valley residents, and tax payers, wait until 2050 before the Vancouver Regional District and the Fraser Valley Regional District decide if they have the time and resources to consider transit for the Valley. Many I am sure, are your taxpayers.

Respectfully,

Bill Vander Zalm

Bill Vander Zalm letter to Mayor Braun : Soldier With Us for Passenger Rail

Below is a copy of the letter sent by former B.C. Premier Bill Vander Zalm to the current Mayor of Abbotsford, Henry Braun in response to his previous dismissal of putting passenger trains back on the Fraser Valley Interurban rail corridor:

Dear Mayor Braun

As best I can, I have been following your comments about the proposed “South Fraser Community Rail.” Your questioning of the work being done by this hard-working volunteer group, which has the livability of the Fraser Valley as its’ primary objective, is welcome, but unfortunately not based on facts. You obviously are entitled to your own opinion, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.

When I was a teenager, I used to take the 10-cent ride from Bradner to Abbotsford on the B.C. Electric (forerunner to B.C. Hydro as you know) Interurban. B.C. Hydro came to see me in 1987 when I was premier of the province. They had already discontinued the “Tram Service” from Vancouver to Chilliwack in the early 50s, for lack of passengers, and were now wanting to sell their freight division because of heavy financial losses. They needed government approval to sell any of the assets.

My very capable Minister Mr. Jack Davis and I agreed immediately that their request was not acceptable as presented. After considerable research and study the Minister and I concluded that the “urban rail right-of-way”, everything above it and beside it was not to be sold under any circumstance. We concluded that the rails, then used exclusively for freight, could only be leased with renewable options. We further required that the rail line be maintained in top condition, when required for Transit, passenger transportation. The agreement would further state that the successful bidder, lessee, would need to double track, at their cost when demand exceeded capacity.

In the Press Release, issued by Minister Jack Davis at 2 PM on July 27th, 1988 re the successful bidders on the leases, he stated “the successful” Itel offer was approximately 32 million dollars and that CP rail had purchased the “running (freight) rights” over 12 Kms. of B.C. Hydro’s right-of-way, otherwise known as the “Pratt Livingstone corridor” in the Fraser Valley for 6.3 million dollars.

Obviously, as we have seen recently with the pipeline protest, as informed responsible citizens, we are all concerned with maintaining the free movement of freight in our country and province, although I believe both Itel (Operation since purchased by Southern Rail) and CP have done very well over these last 30 years and that is good, but progress must continue. The “Master Agreement”, which covers the Pratt Livingston Corridor, lays out very specific obligations by CP Rail – sharing the line equally with Passenger Traffic at no cost, and double tracking if traffic volume requires it, at CP’s expense. These were not requests, these were and are contractual obligations – in other words, conditions of the sale of freight rights.

Mr. Mayor, you are well aware of the exponential population growth in the Fraser Valley and are also well aware that it has only just begun. The use of the “Interurban rail corridor” for a pollution free hydrogen passenger train, all the way from Chilliwack to connect with the Metro Vancouver Skytrain at the Patullo bridge, is a “win-win”.

The enormous amount of money saved alone should be a win-win for the taxpayer.

The 99 Km Inter-Regional South Fraser Hydrogen train will serve over 10 times as many people as the 7 km Skytrain to Fleetwood, less than half-way to Langley City, but in the end the cost will be about the same. (99kms for the price of 7kms?)

The South Fraser Interurban Line would open up many opportunities for “lower cost housing” and employment.  The Fleetwood Skytrain would serve a relatively small population and not serve any traffic producing facilities. The South Fraser Interurban Line would serve the populations of and traffic for N.W. Surrey, N. Delta, Newton, Sullivan, White Rock, S.Surrey, Cloverdale, Kwantlen, Langley City, Langley Kwantlen, Fort Langley, Trinity University, Township of Langley, Gloucester Industrial Park, Aldergrove, City of Abbotsford, Sardis, and Chilliwack. Contrary to statements made it does go through the Fraser Valley’s population centers, high traffic industrial parks, and within a 5-minute shuttle Bus ride to the Abbotsford Airport and in Chilliwack, the entire Canada Education Park.

The truth is the Fraser Valley was developed around the Interurban Rail Line.

Mr. Mayor, I’m glad I have the opportunity of providing you with the correct information. I hope we can get you to soldier with us, to prevent a huge waste of money on the proposed Skytrain proposal which would keep the Fraser Valley from getting the needed transportation for this generation and a generation here after. Work with us in getting effective planning for lower cost housing growth at the Inter Urban Station Nodes and thereby preserving “green space” and Agricultural lands.

If further detailed information is required and more questions asked, please do not hesitate to call me or our astute and hard-working South Fraser volunteer leader, a former Mayor of Langley Township, Mr. Rick Green – 778 705-9282 / 604 866-5752 or email southfrasercommunityrail@shaw.ca

Respectfully yours,

Bill Vander Zalm

Rail on the Agenda – News Update!

Over the past 4 months we have been working very hard behind the scenes coordinating partners of our South Fraser Community Rail initiative and much more. To this end, our team is looking forward to delivering you a steady diet of what we consider to be good news in our efforts to reactivate the Interurban with a state-of-the-art Hydrogen Passenger Rail service South of the Fraser.

Our goals have been consistent from the beginning of this campaign, going back to March of 2017 with our almost 2-hour presentation to then Candidate John Horgan and Provincial Campaign Manager Bob Dewar. They are:

  • The promotion of Interurban Passenger Rail reactivation to all residents and all elected representatives South of the Fraser
  • The creation of a Provincially-led Transportation Task Force South of the Fraser, which will include public input and examine all transportation options, including the Interurban

A number of years before the 2018 Municipal Election, Surrey – with the support of the region’s Mayors – secured Provincial and Federal approval and funding for 11 kms of Light Rail (LRT), down 104th and King George Blvd. to Newton in Surrey.

Along came Mayor McCallum who – after winning the 2018 Surrey election – scrapped that well-planned and approved LRT and instead promised SkyTrain to Langley down Fraser Highway for the same price, within the already approved funding envelope of $1.65 Billion.

Of course, everyone knew that was impossible, since the existing funding would mean a dead-end for SkyTrain in Fleetwood. There is no more money, despite McCallum and the Mayors of the City and Township of Langley claiming that funding is coming.

Currently, the latest proposal is in front of the B.C. and Federal Government, for approval (or rejection) this summer.

This decision is a blatant waste of money and will continue to take away funding dollars from other Transit improvements though out the lower mainland out to Chilliwack if it is to proceed.

We are continuing to fight for what is best for our region- stay tuned!

On the topic of the Transportation Task Force, your Society Directors have been working for 6 months with our contacts in Victoria, requesting that the government lead such a Task Force.

In recent months, we have joined forces with the Surrey Board of Trade and the Chilliwack City Council to promote this initiative. We are expecting a number of other organizations to jump on board in partnership of this initiative.

Our efforts appeared to have paid off with a mention of the Innovation Corridor and South of Fraser Commuter Rail in this year’s Throne Speech. All of this was confirmed in the Budget Detail documents that outlined this provincial government initiative, and cited “an inclusive multi-modal transportation and development strategy for the Fraser Valley.” We will be working on understanding and having input into the study’s terms of reference and process, and communicating our efforts back to the public.

According to Minister Travena, speaking at a SBoT luncheon that our group attended, this study will be rolled out over the next two months.

Once we acquire all of the details surrounding this study, our SFCRS team will be rolling out our campaign with all of the necessary detail pertaining to the reactivation of the Interurban Corridor.

We will be involving citizens PLUS transportation professionals who have much to offer.

These efforts will (and must!) include all of you who support this initiative. This will be THE time for all to get involved. You are and will be instrumental in our success.

Coming up over the next 4 weeks:

  • An interesting public letter from someone who knows the facts that will dispel any claims that the Interurban Corridor cannot be used. This letter will be sent in hard copy and email to all elected politicians (Municipal, Provincial and Federal), the Boards of Directors of TransLink, B.C. Transit, the Fraser Valley Regional District, members of the TransLink Mayors Council, and all media;
  • A Press Release detailing the reality and impact of the Alstom purchase of Bombardier on our local transportation market, and on TransLink’s use of SkyTrain technology;
  • A Press Release titled “Reviving Community Rail for a Sustainable Fraser Valley – Organizing Affordable Housing and Mobility around the Interurban line,” which will include important information laid out by Professor Patrick Condon of UBC

While the wait is frustrating to all, we have achieved significant breakthroughs in our quest to bring environmentally friendly, inexpensive and convenient state-of-the-art passenger hydrail to the 99 kms South of the Fraser.

More options urgently needed!

Sincerely,

W.R. (Rick) Green
President SFCR
Former Mayor, Township of Langley 2008 – 2011
Home / Office 778 705-9282 / Cell 604 866-5752

South Fraser Community Rail Society / Members-
Rick Green, Lee Lockwood, Roy Mufford, Peter Holt, Brit Gardner, Gery Warner, Scott Thompson, Salvatore Vetro, Tony Edgar

&
Bill Vander Zalm, former Premier of the Province of British Columbia 1986 – 1991


Want to get involved?

1.

2. Sign & Share the petition to the Province to reactivate rail:
https://www.change.org/p/premier-john-horgan-reactivate-interurban-passenger-rail-for-surrey-langley-and-chilliwack

3. Join Us on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/connectthevalley/

BC to Host 2020 International Hydrail Conference

South Fraser Community Rail is pleased to announce our support and participation in the upcoming 2020 International Hydrail and Global Sustainability Conference. The 15th annual IHC conference will be hosted this year June 1–5 by the K’uL Group, Penticton Indian Band and University of British Columbia Okanagan.

BC is lucky to have the opportunity to host this year’s IHC event. Last year’s conference was in Hamburg (Germany), next year’s will be in France, and 2022 will be hosted in Japan.

the International Hydrail Conference (IHC) began in 2005 as an academic event in Charlotte, NC (US) to showcase hydrail innovation — powering trains with hydrogen — an upcoming technology that will replace diesel.

Since September 2018, a first line in Northern Germany near Hamburg became fully operational with self-powered hydrail regional passenger rail in scheduled daily services.

Passengers and residents love the silence and the emission-free rides. At RAILLIVE 2019 in Birmingham (June 2019) three manufacturers presented their hydrail railcars, showing hydrail becoming a reality. IHC celebrated this with a special workshop in Hamburg last June, an excursion to the township of Bremervörde where ALSTOM operates it’s hydrail iLINT Coradia railcars.

South Fraser Community Rail, the proposal for a 99km passenger rail reactivation from Surrey to Chilliwack, has been attracting the attention of the Province of BC and international hydrail proponents. Vancouver Island and the Okanagan are also actively pursing opportunities to apply hydrail passenger service to their own regions, and we are excited to join forces to make these visionary plans a reality.

For more information on the upcoming conference, or to apply to attend, check out: 

https://kulgroup.ca/2019/10/29/2020-international-hydrail-and-sustainability-conference-ihc/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhckEOu06aw&feature=youtu.be

An Interview with Bill Vander Zalm

Bill Vander Zalm in front of his Ladner home

Abbotsford Today recently sat down with Former Surrey Mayor and BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm to learn more about his involvement with the South Fraser Community Rail campaign, and the history of the Interurban rail corridor.

It was Vander Zalm’s government that preserved the Interurban rail line for future passenger use by the Province of BC when they sold the freight division back in 1988.

Listen to Bill tell his story of political involvement, from shovels to HST, and why he believes passenger rail is a winner for the people and Province of British Columbia:

Bill Vander Zalm interview with Abbotsford Today

Revival of interurban line will help create more sustainable cities, advocates say | Globe and Mail

By Kerry Gold for the Globe and Mail

Metro Vancouver has as much of a traffic crisis as it has an affordable housing crisis, with thousands of cars backed up on major arterial roads between Vancouver and Abbotsford every day.

But TransLink, the transportation authority for Metro Vancouver, doesn’t believe that reviving passenger service on the old interurban rail line is the solution. Interurban passenger service was routine more than 100 years ago throughout North America, including a route from Vancouver to Chilliwack. Most jurisdictions sold off the lines once the car came along, but the interurban land in Metro Vancouver remains publicly owned, which has triggered proposals to revive it. A story in last week’s Globe and Mail explored that idea.

But TransLink cites the legal difficulty in negotiating with private companies that currently use the track for freight. They say the interurban does not support a more immediate plan to provide better transit to the region’s second downtown of Surrey Centre.

As well, it would be pricey to refurbish the line and because of its many stops, it would be too slow an option for commuters. Studies have been done over the years, which did not favour the idea, TransLink says, including a consultant’s south of Fraser area transit report in 2007, a provincial government report on Fraser Valley transit in 2010, and a TransLink assessment in 2012 as part of a Surrey rapid transit study.

TransLink says it will revisit the issue of interurban service as one of several options as part of its new regional transportation strategy, called Transport 2050.

“The lack of connections to population centres and the slowerthan-bus travel time are more compelling reasons why the idea has not been recommended for consideration for either rapid transit or inter-regional rail options,” TransLink’s spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Housing affordability and better transit are inextricably linked.

To that end, citizen activist groups have been arguing for the benefits of restoring passenger service on the old line that runs from Surrey through the Fraser Valley. The rail line is currently used for freight, but it is owned by BC Hydro, a Crown corporation whose private predecessor, BC Electric Railway, built the line in 1910. The line was built to link farming communities with the city, serving more than a dozen tiny communities and helping grow the Fraser Valley. It got decommissioned when cars and buses ruled the day, but now that congestion is making the region unlivable, proponents want to bring the old way of train travel back.

Some say it’s a better option than the costly SkyTrain proposal to link Surrey to Langley. There are residents in those cities who vehemently oppose the idea of an interurban service over the faster SkyTrain.

Daryl Dela Cruz, a 23-year-old student, formed a citizens’ group in support of SkyTrain instead of an interurban train from Surrey to Langley. His group mounted a petition that has about 6,000 signatures and they campaigned during the civic election to make it a central issue.

“We’re saying, ‘Hey, your [interurban] line theory might not be a bad idea, perhaps more study could be done – but it’s not a replacement for the SkyTrain,’ ” Mr. Dela Cruz says.

Others say the interurban is more inclusive of the entire Valley, which is quickly expanding and it shouldn’t be disregarded because of SkyTrain. They argue that the interurban goes through Langley Centre, as well as areas that the SkyTrain would miss, including North Delta, South Newton, Cloverdale and Abbotsford.

TransLink says that while those areas are important, its mandate is to prioritize urban centres identified in the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy. The interurban does not go through Surrey Centre and it takes a winding route to Langley Centre, TransLink says.

“We have been tasked with delivering fast, frequent and reliable rapid transit between urban centres – the interurban project does not achieve that goal.”

The pro-interurban groups say that the number of stops could easily be adjusted, and because it has its own path, the service wouldn’t be affected by car traffic.

It would therefore be faster than driving in gridlock.

TransLink responds: “The interurban is not completely separated. There are many crossings at road intersections. As per the facts in the agreement with BC Hydro, there would definitely be conflicts with freight operations.

Passenger trains would be slowed by car and freight traffic, if not completely separated.”

BC Hydro owns the land and two private freight companies own the track that sits on the land. Those companies are CP Rail and Southern Railway, which owns the vast majority of the track. Hydro has a long-standing agreement with CP Rail that allows negotiation of the track for passenger service. There is also a clause that permits CP to double track the line at its own cost. BC Hydro spokesman Geoff Hastings says it does not have such arrangements with Southern Railway, which would require negotiations.

Mr. Hastings says that BC Hydro and the private railways would have to reach an agreement before TransLink could enter into separate commercial negotiations with the companies on acquiring passenger service rights.

“Entering into these agreements also requires the co-operation and consent of CP and Southern Railway, as passenger service would have to be scheduled around freight movement.”

John Vissers of Abbotsford

John Vissers is a recently retired owner of a construction company that built multifamily housing. He has lived in Abbotsford for 30 years and sits on the city’s development advisory committee. On a good day, Abbotsford is a little more than a one-hour drive from Vancouver.

His city might not be as dense as Surrey, but what policy-makers are missing, he says, is that Abbotsford is expected to expand to about 200,000 people – and nobody is preparing for that. He was involved in the development of an official community plan to add density and create urban areas as opposed to sprawl, but that can only be accomplished with better transit. Mr. Vissers says Abbotsford households are so car dependent that they often own three or four cars.

He supports the revival of the interurban as an expedient way to develop affordable housing and a walkable city.

“Why aren’t we doing this?

What’s holding us back and why are the policy-makers not interested?” he asks. “That’s the thing that mystifies me. We own the land and we did it 100 years ago, why can’t we do it now? I think they are using a 20th-century model for their thinking.”

The needs of the entire Valley should be considered, he says. He is not opposed to residents in Surrey and Langley who want SkyTrain.

“I see us as complementing SkyTrain and saying, ‘Here is another tool in the toolbox, another way of adding to the capacity for public transportation.’ We are looking at how we can move people regionally and at an affordable price. We don’t want to wait another 20 years, and why should we?” Developers will embrace the interurban system because the line goes through downtown Abbotsford, he says. City council recently agreed that a proposal for a 600-unit downtown housing project should go to public hearing. If built, it would significantly densify the downtown core. His city is expected to grow by 40,000 in the next 20 years alone, and yet there is no significant plan for transit.

He says the people of Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack can’t wait for another 20 years.

“We are transitioning from a sprawl city to a livable, walkable, sustainable city,” he says. “We’ve developed an official community plan to absorb that increase, without growing our footprint, which is pretty exciting.

“But what we haven’t done is find any other regional transportation than that freeway. We know it’s a big mistake, but we haven’t really developed a plan to address that.”

Developer Michael Geller, who builds low- to mid-density projects, also embraces the interurban idea. He says the interurban would encourage development around the stations and revitalize communities. He argues that commuters would rather get work done while sitting in a train than sitting idle in a car.

“When they brought these train lines in in the old days, that’s what dictated where development went,” he says. “With trams and trains, you can have more stops than when you have a SkyTrain. And so you begin to get the development that happened 80 years ago.

“Housing development and transportation, they go together, and I think it’s just a matter of time before we do have a tram service or train service or some hybrid back out to Chilliwack … because you have housing choices out there you don’t have in Vancouver or north Vancouver, and it will help with affordability.”

Source

Push begins to rebuild Vancouver-Chilliwack rail line | Globe and Mail

July 9th, 2019

By Kerry Gold for the Globe and Mail:

Imagine a modern regional tram that could get people out of their cars and connect communities between Surrey and Chilliwack, similar to the passenger lines that have long existed in European cities.

The line already exists. It’s the old interurban track that was built by B.C. Electric Railway and completed on Oct. 3, 1910, when then-premier Sir Richard McBride drove the last spike. The Lower Mainland was undergoing a real estate boom at the time, and construction of the interurban rail line, and streetcars, opened up major new opportunities. The cars were bigger than streetcars, and ran from Vancouver to Chilliwack. But regional trams and city streetcars couldn’t compete with cars and buses, and the last interurban passenger service on the line was discontinued in 1958.

Now, with another major boom under way, and the search on for affordable housing in walkable urban communities, there is a campaign afoot to bring it back to the Fraser Valley.

“It’s getting worse by the day – the traffic is almost impossible, and the big difficulty is, if you keep widening a freeway and build more overpasses, a freeway simply creates more sprawl and more need for transit,” says Bill Vander Zalm, the former premier whose government ensured that the ownership of the interurban line would stay as publicly owned land.

Mr. Vander Zalm is one of the spokespeople helping to launch the South Fraser Community Rail campaign. ”With proper transit, if you look at where SkyTrain was built … wherever there is a station, there is a hub of housing. It happens at stations. So if we take the Fraser Valley community rail to Chilliwack, we are going to get development hubs, more affordable housing – it will prevent sprawl, keep the green space and agricultural land. It’s all a good thing.”

A 1923 map shows the route of an interurban train line between Vancouver and Chilliwack.

The line was operated until the 1950s by the B.C. Electric Railway. BC HYDRO As a kid, Mr. Vander Zalm lived in Bradner, a small community near Abbotsford along the old interurban line, and he would ride the tram to Langley. Passenger rail service was integral to the region’s growth, and the interurban was a massive undertaking at the time. In his 1948 history of the B.C. Electric Railway Company, Lighted Journey, author Cecil Maiden wrote:

“The conception was a bold one, yet if a line could be driven to Chilliwack, 64 miles up the Valley, it might prove an inestimable boon to the growing farm communities then moving in substantial numbers into the district.”

Mr. Vander Zalm says that after many of the interurban rail lines around North America were decommissioned in the latter half of the 20th century, displaced by an expanding highway system, it was routine for jurisdictions to sell off the land. But when the B.C. government sold off BC Hydro’s freight rail division to an American company in the 1980s, it retained ownership of the land. “We wouldn’t allow the sale of the track,” he said. “We would allow the sale of the freight rights, and we had a provision that if ever we needed the track for transit, for moving people, they’d have to give it up immediately, and make sure it was in good shape, etc.”

“We saw it coming – this is 30 odd years ago – and it took a long time for it to materialize, but I think the time has come. “I think we were the only ones in the whole of North America that kept a train track for moving people.”

With increasing home prices, the Fraser Valley has grown far beyond a farming region, as people “drive until they qualify” for home ownership. Highway 1, which connects the valley communities, is overwhelmed with daily gridlock. According to the 2016 Census, 11 per cent of workers, or 130,405 people, commute for more than an hour a day in Metro Vancouver. The return of an existing rail line – one that’s in good shape and already owned by the province – for passenger service has been an idea kicked around by various groups for a couple of decades – but relatively few people are even aware the line exists. The newly formed South Fraser Community Rail Society has put forward a proposal to resurrect the old line as a means to better connect the Fraser Valley and promote growth in the region in a way that’s more livable. A new interurban transit line would create hubs around which density could grow, and walkable communities could link up with other transit services.

Former Langley mayor Rick Green, who is spearheading the proposal, says the group is self-funded and apolitical. It includes retired politicians and community activists, and supporters such as Mr. Vander Zalm and the University of British Columbia’s Patrick Condon, who is professor of architecture and landscape architecture. Mr. Green got interested in 2006 and mobilized significant interest, but then in 2011, he failed in his re-election bid and the proposal lost momentum. He and a few other advocates decided to take another run at it, particularly with talk of extending SkyTrain into Surrey. For a meeting with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Green arrived with massive binders of documentation, including a B.C. government news release from 1988, which states that the sale of BC Hydro’s freight division “does not include land under or either side of the rail bed nor does it include air rights above Hydro’s rail corridor. These have been retained in order to accommodate future rail passenger, real estate or other developments along former B.C. Electric Railway routings in the Lower Mainland.” The fact that it remained within the public domain all these years is huge, he says. “It’s amazing how many people weren’t aware of it, and as we have over the last couple of decades talked to people at various candidate celebrations, and everything else, you put up your maps, and 99 per cent of people who look at it say, ‘why aren’t we doing it?’” Mr. Green says. “The explosion in the population, the exponential growth out to the valley, is far greater than we anticipated, and why did that happen? Growth of property values. Everybody wants a home they can afford,” he adds.

Over the next few weeks, the group is officially launching their campaign and spreading the message that the interurban rail will serve the bulk of the population south of the Fraser, as well as key job centres along Scott Road, Newton, Cloverdale, Langley and beyond. Mr. Green is armed with data, such as the estimation that it would cost $200-million a kilometre to build a SkyTrain line from Surrey Centre to Langley City, as opposed to the $12.5-million a kilometre they say it would cost to reactivate the interurban line from Scott Road to Chilliwack. He says the interurban project would connect 16 existing communities, 14 postsecondary schools, the Abbotsford International Airport, several industrial parks and bring students closer to several postsecondary campuses.

There are almost 1.2 million people living in the Fraser Valley region. It is growing faster than Vancouver, UBC’s Prof. Condon says, and traffic will only worsen as people seek affordable housing. His students did analysis and found areas where they could easily fit half a million housing units, he says. Modern passenger rail cars that run on hydrogen, as used in Europe, would offer a pollution-free alternative to the automobile, he says. “I think it’s an almost immediate solution to a critical problem,” Prof. Condon says. “If we can establish this now, it will help to organize the future land uses around transit as opposed to the automobile. “Most of the lands that the interurban goes through are previous industrial areas, and I would call them almost derelict now, not being used to maximum capacity – and they are perfect candidates for high intensity, mixed-use, walkable areas with housing and jobs within a 10-minute reach of the interurban line.” His theory on why the idea hasn’t been taken more seriously is a “Vancouver-centric” view of transit and land use. But times have changed, and it’s not all about Vancouver any more, he says. “Over 70 per cent of the car trips that originate south of the Fraser River stay south. So the idea that everybody is crossing the river to get to jobs is no longer true.”

From https://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/vancouver/article-push-begins-to-rebuild-vancouver-chilliwack-rail-line/