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