Patrick Condon is the James Taylor chair in Landscape and Livable Environments at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the founding chair of the UBC Urban Design program.
TransLink has released a report dated June 6 to the Joint Regional Transportation Planning Committee later shared with the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation.
It contains several misunderstandings and factual errors, some of which are addressed below.
The overarching misunderstanding is this: the concept of the Community Rail proposal is not driven by a desire or a need to connect the larger valley to the center of the Vancouver region as the TransLink response seems to imply, but to serve what is an increasingly self-contained urban region where more than 70 percent of all trips originating south of the Fraser now end south of the Fraser, a dramatic reversal from only 15 years ago.
For example, in that time the South of Fraser Region has seen population and employment growth that is fifty percent higher per year than Vancouver’s. Air traffic out of Abbotsford International airport is increasing by almost 50% per year. Employment (such as at the new Molsons Brewery, which left Vancouver for Chilliwack) is rapidly moving to the valley in search of more affordable land, a stable labor force, and broader transportation access than that possible in Vancouver.
Any assessment that does not elevate these facts to the status of first principles for analysis will be fatally flawed. Any assessment that is more than ten years old will be of little relevance. Any assessment that does not accept that rubber-based transportation systems in the valley are already in a state of gridlock and crisis and destined to remain so indefinitely absent a government response, is negligent. Detailed point by point responses are below.
1. Under the heading of “Purpose,” TransLink falsely claims that the Community Rail proposal is suggested as an alternative to SkyTrain to Langley this is not the case. While the Community Rail serves many of the same ends as a SkyTrain to Langley proposal, at far less than one tenth of the cost, the Community Rail proposal has a far broader ambition: to serve the entire valley with affordable rail, not just the Surrey to Langley leg of the narrowly defined Vancouver Metro area.
2. Under “Background,” first paragraph. TransLink mistakenly says that the line is owned by Canadian Pacific and Southern Railway. It is not. It is owned by the Province. Only freight rights were sold. Passenger rights were retained.
3. Under “Background” paragraph two. TransLink mistakenly suggests that freight conflicts with freight movement would be a hindrance. It would not. The master agreement between the Province and the rail users stipulates that freight must give way to passenger use and that if double tracking is needed due to use conflicts, the cost will be borne by CP.
In the same paragraph TransLink suggests that the alignment of the interurban line has “limited alignment with regional land use plans” which is hard to credit while TransLink is proceeding with a plan for very expensive Skytrain through the lengthy unoccupied Green Timbers reserve, the lightly populated Fleetwood, and the agricultural lands of the Serpentine Valley before arriving at the same Langley Centre area also served by the interurban line.
4. Under “Background” paragraph three.
TransLink suggests that the line “may be part of a longer-term future, and opportunities should be retained for future services.” which is a positive statement. However, valley citizens have long held the opinion that this future is now. Furthermore, TransLink overstates its mandate, which to date ends at the Langley border. The community rail proposal serves a region that extends at least 70 km east of that line.
5. Under “Background” paragraph four.
TransLink states that the line “does not directly connect relevant regional destinations (i.e. Surrey Central and Langley City),” while failing to acknowledge that the line does serve regional destinations such as North Delta, South Newton, and Cloverdale that their current plans fail to serve at all.
TransLink states that “resulted in less attractive travel times between key destinations” while failing to acknowledge that travel times are a function of the number of stops per unit distance and that the number of stops can be balanced against travel time objectives. Also, that the interurban line is already in its own ROW and would not be slowed by traffic conflicts.
TransLink goes on to assert that the line “would require significant capital investments to meet safety requirements,” apparently ignorant of the fact that the Alstom hydrogen powered vehicles proposed can run immediately on the existing line without significant alteration and already meet Canadian safety standards.
Furthermore, in the same paragraph TransLink states that these misunderstood cost factors would end up “resulting in costs similar or higher than those along Fraser Highway or King George, but without commensurate benefits.” An independent assessment would prove this assertion to be dramatically misstated.
5. Under “Background” paragraph five. TransLink helpfully suggests that “A new element of the Interurban proposal includes the potential use of hydrogen fuel cell trains, as being used in Germany for passenger service. This idea has not been evaluated.” We suggest that this evaluation be fast tracked as this technology removes many impediments. Self-contained power eliminates the need to restore electrification of the line, which would be the major cost if new catenary and electrical power systems were required. With hydrogen they are not – nor does hydrogen pollute valley air.
6. Under “Discussion” first paragraph. TransLink states, that “the Interurban alignment is indirect and through lower density and diverse areas. Both directness and density are critical factors in the performance of a successful rapid transit corridor” while their own maps shown clearly indicate that the interurban line connects key jobs centers including Scot Road, Delta/Surrey, South Newton, Cloverdale, and more of Langley than the proposed Skytrain line, while again failing to place this comment in the context of the much larger ambitions of the interurban proposal.
7. Under topic: “Freight volumes are expected to increase along the Interurban corridor.” TransLink makes much of the volume of freight traffic flowing through the so called “shared section” of the line, shared by Southern Rail and CP largely to the north of the City of Langley. As mentioned above TransLink seems unaware that CP is contractually obligated to pay the costs of double tracking this section should passenger use be impacted.
8. Under the topic: “Interurban requires substantial infrastructure investments comparable to building rapid transit along urban arterials.” Much of what TransLink asserts must stem from confusion about the legal status of the line. The line is owned by the Province and available for use, for free, for passenger use immediately. Furthermore, apart from the “shared section” discussed above, the line is very lightly used and largely during off hours. Thus, any discussion of double tracking the line is wildly premature.
The detailed responses above are provided to clarify what appears to be a deep misunderstanding on the part of TransLink staff regarding the interurban proposal. However, this discussion may obscure the main point. The main public benefit of the proposal is not in how fast a few commuters might get from Langley center to downtown Vancouver, but rather in how we might lay the spine for a more sustainable South of Fraser region. This region is experiencing explosive job and population growth, partly or largely driven by the exorbitant cost of housing closer to Vancouver. This growth, now almost entirely car dependent in form, has led to region wide grid lock. This gridlock is particularly severe on Route 1, where travel times during rush hours have slowed to a crawl, and where idling cars foul the air of the entire valley floor. We are suggesting that, at very very low cost, essentially the cost of just a few vehicles, interurban service could be resumed and could restore the walkable transit-oriented structure that gave birth to the valley economy in the first place.
Patrick Condon is the James Taylor chair in Landscape and Livable Environments at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the founding chair of the UBC Urban Design program.
Learn the facts behind TransLink’s misrepresentation of our Transit options
Press Release May 26th, 2019
By Rick Green
The latest TransLink Surrey SkyTrain Survey results were released by TransLink yesterday, exposing the organization for what it is very good at: irresponsibility with your tax dollars, conducting one sided Open Houses with only one option, conducting in-house on-line surveys with only one option, and conducting market research with only one option and one question.
Add all of this up, and you get a one sided result. Surprised?
Add to the above the fact that the area being surveyed is starved for Transit options of any kind. In Langley/Surrey you get results that have been deliberately and expensively manufactured by TransLink for your pleasure. Wasting tax dollars is something they do very well.
Real market research seeks out the public’s view on a selection of issues, and provides a variety of options to choose from. Conducting telephone market research and asking the question “would you be in favor of SkyTrain to Langley City down the Fraser Highway?” with no other option or details — What do you think the answer is going to be? As stated above, they are starved for a transit option of any kind.
The Translink survey is Fake Public Engagement, designed with a preset answer, and an insult to the intelligence of the region.
On the telephone market research survey, let’s break down their numbers:
In Surrey: a sample size of 595, a margin of error of +/-4%, 85% support and in numbers 505.
In Langley City: a sample size of 67, a margin of error of +/-12%, 90% support and in numbers 60.
In Township Langley: a sample size of 180, a margin of error of +/-8%, 92% support and in numbers 165.
NOTE: This phone call research again asked one question with only one option and you get 90%-92 %? In a transportation starved community, how did they not get 100%?
On Open House, filled out survey forms?
Translink has been pouring endless amount of your own tax dollars into the following: a website, Digital ads (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Search network, Google Display Network, G mail ads), Surrey Now Leader banner ads, advertorial, Facebook Posts, Langley Advance Times Banner ads, advertorial, Facebook Posts, SMS NextBus alert ads, eNewsletters, Social Media engagement using Facebook and Twitter (Facebook events were created for each open house), direct outreach through corporate, business and community organizations, Mail out postcards to Surrey and Langley businesses and residents, Street teams (staff hours) distributing postcards at transit hubs, Community Events in Surrey, Information Boards at Surrey City Hall, Langley City Hall and the Township of Langley City Hall, and finally, transit ads. Are you surprised at the result?
The level of awareness seems to have been the question of the day!
With all the money poured into a one-sided Public Engagement Campaign, the results are not at all surprising. Throughout the survey they talk about the plan for the South of Fraser — Surrey is NOT the entire South of Fraser region, but one portion of it. Once again, asking residents one question, on one option, in a region starved for any Transit option, does not constitute a survey of any value.
Consider the following:
Doug McCallum got elected with only 13.50% of the eligible voters in Surrey
Doug promised SkyTrain at a cost of $1.65 Billion, when we know the actual cost will be $3 + Billion!
Doug promised a City Police Force at a 10% cost increase– when we know the increase will be substantially greater!
With the Safe Surrey Coalition now disbanded, Doug McCallum is the lone remaining voice, and will cost residents and taxpayers throughout the entire region increased TransLink taxation costs, on top of increased Surrey taxation for increased Policing costs. This financial irresponsibility has got to stop!
Let’s review the Per Capita Costs below on all the transit options presented to-date:
- Original LRT, Guildford, Surrey Center to Newton
11 kms in length 104th Guildford to Surrey Center down King George Blvd to Newton
Pop. 312,340 @ $1.65 Billion = $5,122. Per capita
- SkyTrain Surrey Center to Fleetwood
7 kms in length down Fraser Highway to Fleetwood
Pop. 62,735 @ $1.65 Billion = $25,504. per capita
- SkyTrain Surrey Center to Langley City
16 kms in length down Fraser Highway (About $800 million thru a Dead Zone, 25% no population)
Pop 157,618 @ $3.2 Billion = $20,302. per capita
A better solution for our region would be the following, but the questions regarding this option were not asked or mentioned, Why?
- Surrey Scott Rd SkyTrain station to Chilliwack
99 kms in length on the Interurban Passenger Rail Corridor
Pop. 852,846 @ $1.250 Billion = $1,465. per capita
The Interurban Hydrail Passenger Rail proposal would serve 1.2 million people on an existing public right-of-way. Why wasn’t this option presented in their survey? The reactivation cost would be pennies on the dollar, and would serve 14 Post Secondary Institutions, 7 First Nations communities, and 16 cities, towns and municipalities, and prevent completely irresponsible and unnecessary clear-cutting of the Green Timbers Urban Forest.
Translink: Stop insulting the intelligence of the Public. Start by conducting a balanced public survey that will actually mean something, seek out new and valuable information, and save all of us billions of dollars while providing far superior service at a fraction of the cost.
The whole charade would be laughable if the implications were not so serious. TransLink continues to squander your tax dollars while the region’s 1.2 million residents are losing out on the FREE use of this existing corridor.
To do better, we need the Province to look at South of Fraser as a whole, and Survey us accordingly.
For more information in South Fraser Community Rail, contact Rick Green at 604 866–5752
Guest Speaker Rick Green, former mayor of the Township of Langley, outlined his vision of the “South Fraser Community Rail” at the Chilliwack Rotary Meeting.
Langley Advance Times Article:
“…The premier also mentioned other issues around transportation at the announcement, including a mention of the old Interurban rail line that once ran through the Fraser Valley as far as Chilliwack. Former Langley mayor Rick Green and former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm have been touting a plan recently to place hydrogen powered passenger rail on the line, which is currently used for freight rail:
The province would look closely at the idea, Horgan said, noting that transportation is not just about moving people to Vancouver but around the Valley as well”.
Projected population increases will keep land prices rising in the long term, so more radical action must be taken now
It is time to get serious about housing, transportation, regional planning and growth in the Lower Mainland.
When thinking about the region’s future and concerns about housing affordability and livability more generally, a useful starting point is demographics. B.C. government projections point to a significant increase in the combined population of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley regional district over the next couple of decades, rising from almost three million today to 3.8 million by 2040 – an increase of 800,000 people. The expected rise is even larger than the 700,000 people added to the region’s population over the preceding two decades. Most of this increase was due to immigration. It is reasonable to expect this pattern will continue, especially considering the Justin Trudeau government plans to sharply boost immigration numbers in the coming years.
Given the steadily increasing population coupled with a constrained and limited land supply, it doesn’t take a graduate degree in economics to recognize the price of land in the Lower Mainland will continue to rise at a pace well ahead of inflation. Yes, there will be periods of softening prices, as currently evident in the real estate market. But over the medium and longer term, land prices are going only one way: higher.
How then to address the challenges of housing affordability, congestion, longer commute times and a declining quality of life for many residents?
Higher taxes on residential real estate to discourage non-resident demand and a greater focus on the supply of purpose-built rental housing may help, but realistically they won’t do much over time. If we are honest, there has been an inordinate amount of talk about the need to improve housing affordability with no substantive, longer-term solutions emerging from all the chatter. Instead, it is time for some bold and strategic action. It is time to develop infrastructure that supports regional connectivity, provides workers with tolerable commutes and allows for a broader array of more affordable options for would-be homeowners.
A new Fraser Valley “innovation corridor” anchored by a commuter rail system running from Chilliwack to the city of Vancouver would help address many of the region’s most pressing issues. It would also offer new opportunities for regional economic development and growth.
A rail system, perhaps like Greater Toronto’s GO train, would have many important benefits. By providing decent and predictable commute times, it would vastly expand the potential supply of more-affordable housing options. It would help alleviate traffic congestion. Sure, some degree of congestion will always plague the region. But if a rail system delivered an effective alternative to driving, policy-makers could then reasonably talk about tolls and other forms of road pricing to help manage congestion. More trips on transit and less road congestion aligns with the province’s greenhouse gas plans.
It would also provide an opportunity for some regional vision and “out-of-the-box” thinking. A well-designed rail system supports the development of a second urban business centre, something the region desperately needs if it is going to remain competitive as downtown Vancouver becomes increasingly cost prohibitive for more businesses.
Careful consideration should also be given to developing the “innovation corridor.” Rather than picking a particular industry sector to champion, government should focus on building infrastructure that enhances the benefits that will flow from having a larger and more robust regional urban agglomeration.
A new commuter rail system, of course, comes with a hefty price tag. But there are good reasons to consider making such a large and bold investment at this time. Most importantly, the long-term economic returns from this kind of transportation infrastructure are virtually certain to exceed the cost of money borrowed to finance the project, particularly when borrowing costs for the province are likely to be below 3 per cent.
It should also be noted the province’s current debt load is manageable; the government could absorb $7 billion to $9 billion in debt to help finance capital costs without pushing its debt-to-GDP ratio up to levels that would concern rating agencies.
Jock Finlayson is the Business Council of British Columbia’s executive vice-president and chief policy officer; Ken Peacock is the council’s chief economist.
The federal government would also participate, and a strong case can be made that it should make a substantial contribution because a disproportionate number of new immigrants will settle in the Lower Mainland.
Such a large undertaking should also embrace creative financing options. Private pension funds are looking to invest in infrastructure. There is also the opportunity for government to capture some of the resulting increase in land value to help finance capital costs. From our perspective, financing the project is manageable.
A bigger challenge may be having sufficient capacity to build the project. But the greatest hurdle of all is political will: the project will need to be conceived and implemented by the provincial government but will also require co-operation and planning across numerous municipalities.
“South Fraser Community Rail would like to see hydrogen-powered passenger rail cars running from Chilliwack to Surrey.” – The Province
An advocacy group that includes a former premier and a former mayor is pushing for a provincially backed task force to come up with ideas to improve transportation options for South of the Fraser.
One project at the top of the group’s list is reopening the interurban rail line between Chilliwack and Surrey to passenger service, using hydrogen-powered rail cars.
“With the explosion of growth up in the Fraser Valley, it just adds more cars onto the road, it adds more problems,” said Rick Green, who was mayor of the Township of Langley from 2008-2011 and is a founding member of South Fraser Community Rail. “We believe an answer to that is to open up the interurban corridor with hydrogen rail. There may be other ideas people come forward with.”
Green said the plans currently laid out by TransLink — including SkyTrain between Surrey and Langley — don’t address the needs of communities in the South of Fraser region.
South Fraser Community Rail, which counts former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm among its members, is making presentations to local governments and community groups — the City of Chilliwack and business associations in Newton, most recently — and plans to appear before the Fraser Valley Regional District and TransLink’s Mayors Council and board of directors soon to make its case.
Green said the first priority is to convince the B.C. government to strike a “community-led” task force made up of representatives from each municipal council South of the Fraser, an MLA, an MP and a handful of community members.Jennifer Saltman for The Province
The task force would hold public meetings where people could make presentations and give their opinions and ideas, and then report to the province, TransLink and regional district with the results.
“We’re going after what’s necessary to bring this about, which is the political will and the creation of this task force,” Green said, noting that’s what differentiates his group from the others that have tried to revive the interurban line for years.
The 99-kilometre rail route between Chilliwack and Surrey was used for passenger trains until 1950, when it became a freight line. The rails and vehicles were sold to the B.C. Hydro freight division in 1988. Hydro is no longer in the rail business, and there is a licence for the Southern Railway of B.C. and a statutory right-of-way for CP Rail to use the corridor.
However, there are passenger running rights in the corridor, the preservation of which B.C. Hydro said, in a written statement, it supports.
“B.C. Hydro will discuss the future use of the corridor for transit purposes should the province and/or TransLink decide to pursue this option,” the statement said.
Green believes it would be simple and relatively inexpensive to reactivate the route and serve about 1.2 million people in five municipalities.
The group has estimated that rail from Chilliwack to Surrey would cost about $1.2 billion, or $12.5-million-per-kilometre. Green said the price tag could creep higher depending on a number of factors, but it includes everything from cars to real estate for park-and-rides and stations.
“We absolutely believe with all the numbers that we’ve crunched … that this would be a very, very successful venture,” Green said.
No one from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure was available for comment, but in an emailed statement the ministry said it’s encouraging to hear ideas from people enthusiastic about transportation infrastructure.
However, it’s focused on delivering projects in the 10-year regional transportation plan and any future investment decision would require co-operation and cost-sharing from all levels of government.
In an emailed statement, TransLink said that while it supports the principle of preserving interurban rail corridors for future passenger use, it’s too early to understand the viability of the proposed service, and it’s not part of the 10-year plan.
“TransLink is committed to delivering on the mayors’ 10-year vision commitments on an immediate short-term,” the statement read. “TransLink is now in the process of updating the 30-year regional transportation strategy, that will include examining future commuter rail opportunities with inter-regional connections.”
Former Langley Township mayor urges Chilliwack to support community-led task force
Article in the Chilliwack Progress: https://www.theprogress.com/news/making-the-pitch-for-light-passenger-rail-out-to-chilliwack/
Community rail proponent Rick Green appeared as a delegation before Chilliwack council to make a pitch for hydrogen-powered light rail from Surrey to Chilliwack.
“We’re leading the charge for South Fraser Community Rail, and calling it The Plan,” said Green, a former mayor of Langley Township. “It’s the smart way to solve the south of Fraser transportation and transit deficit.”
Green has made his pitch before in presentations for B.C. Premier John Horgan and the TransLink Board, and said the idea is backed by former premier Bill Vander Zalm.
Essentially, the plan is to reactivate the old “interurban corridor” using existing track, for emissions-free passenger rail service, powered by Canadian hydrogen fuel cell technology.
It would be cost-effective, “at less than eight per cent of the cost per kilometre of the Surrey to Langley LRT,” Green noted.
The old line was “protected” by a previous government for passenger use at “no cost for its use” due to a right-of-way owned by the people of B.C.
The estimated cost for the South Fraser community rail is $12.5 million per kilometre “all in.”
It would see a “spine” established as the main rail line, and a “rib” or road network feeding it by bus from the Pattullo Bridge and Chilliwack, “in the same way as the Skytrain,” Green offered.
The rail line would be “building economic growth,” while serving more than a million residents in 16 cities and communities, as well as 14 post-secondary institutions, the Abbotsford Airport, tourism and agri-tourism.
The Fraser Valley airshed “gets exponentially worse every year,” but the rail line would reduce emissions.
“One train would remove 177 cars from Highway 1,” Green told council.
“Development is a funny thing. We would all like to go back to the way it was but that isn’t going to happen,” Green said. “The Fraser Valley is growing exponentially and we have to manage it so we are able to live with a good quality of life.”
Green took issue with the support given from Chilliwack politicians for highway expansion as a solution to daily gridlock.
“Widening Highway 1, really?” he said. “Let’s be honest with residents.”
He said that would mean that widening a few kilometres at a time, which would take decades to achieve, and growth would outpace the expansion.
So what makes the community rail idea so attractive right now? he asked.
“The renewal of passenger rights in the Pratt-Livingston corridor, which is the section that goes through the two Langleys,” he said. “And the introduction of Alstom hydrogen technology, a B.C. invention and Canadian manufactured propulsion system from Missisauga.”
Green said the technology has been successfully operating in Germany for the past two years.
Green concluded with “the ask” for council support to establish a community-led and provincially endorsed task force to push the community rail proposal forward.
Coun. Chris Kloot thanked Green for the presentation. He called it a “no-brainer” and noted if the political will was there, the proposal “will happen.”
“I think it’s a project that certainly needs to happen sooner rather than later,” Kloot said.
In the end city council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Fraser Valley Regional District asking that South Fraser Community Rail committee reps be given an opportunity to make the presentation to the FVRD board.
Jennifer Feinberg for the Chilliwack Progress
More details on the plan for South Fraser Community Rail.