“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.”