A Reply to TransLink’s Anti Valley Rail Screed

Zwei will comment on this and Translink’s rebuttal in the next blog post.
Translink has released a report dated June 6 to the Joint Regional Transportation Planning Committee later share with the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation.

https://www.peacearchnews.com/news/service-on-interurban-rail-would-be-expensive-miss-key-destinations-translink/?fbclid=IwAR2DqlC_P9oF_JLVhqovE2w9G-BiyITd6xt097Hto5FfPAvy8TA9q6qVpcI

It contains a number of misunderstandings and factual errors, some of which are addressed below.
*
Preamble:
*
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 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, with the exception of 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.
*
Conclusion:
*
The detailed responses above are provided in an attempt to clarify what appears to be a deep misunderstanding on the part of Translink staff with regard to 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 centre 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.
*
*
Professor Patrick M. Condon
University of British Columbia
James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments

2357 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC   –   V6T 1Z4
604 822 9291

Professor Patrick M. Condon
University of British Columbia
James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments

2357 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC   –   V6T 1Z4
604 822 9291

Comments

One Response to “A Reply to TransLink’s Anti Valley Rail Screed”
  1. Haveacow says:

    I will add to the professors point, the Hydrogen powered I Lint54, is a hydrogen fuel cell equipped version of Alstom’s top selling Lint 54 DMU /EMU commuter and regional rail vehicle. Ottawa’s O-Train uses the Lint 41 DMU for its diesel LRT equipped Trillium Line. The number in the title refers to the length of the individual DMU/EMU vehicle. It comes in 3 sizes 41 metres, 54 metres and 81 metres.

    The Lint series of vehicle would require a minimum of testing because Ottawa already uses a version of this vehicle and has already recieved special dispensation to run on North American railways from Transport Canada. Only the Hydrogen Fuel Cell technoogy and the Hydrogen storage facilities would need the intense testing required for operations on Canadian mainline railways.

    What Translink is really upset about is the same thing O.C. Transpo was upset about when the planning for the O-Train stsrted around 1997-98. They will have to negotiate with the railway for running rights. Then pay said railway while this system operates. To say most transit operators are uncomfortable with this, is a massive understatement. The history of your West Coast Express is an example of how much they (Translink), dislike not owning the right of way.

    The benign neglect of Translink regarding the West Coast Express (WCE), shows the nature of the relationship between it and true regional level transit lines. The Skytrain is at best a downtown to suburb based rail system. As a regional level rail transit system (downtown to distant suburb or exurb), the Skytrain operationally is a very expensive and clumsy. This also clearly displays how both the Skytrain technology and Translink have a big problem of dealing with the geographic scale of true regional rail based transit. Both are not equipped to handle the issue and as a result, do it very poorly. This is an issue I have discussed before on this website, as Zwei will atest. Skytrain’s high level of technological complexity means that, any long distance stretch of track with little or no development like the Langley extension, will require many decades to get to the point were the ridership numbers come close to the current network’s average ridership revenue plus subsidy vs operating costs. Technological complexity means higher operating costs. These costs become a big limiter to service frequency if there isn’t enough ridership.

    As per the service area boundary issue between B.C. Transit and Translink that is at best a red-herring! If Translink was interested in actually doing this Valley Service, the time between Translink proposing the idea and an agreement in principle with the province, could be measured in minutes. As soon as provincial officials realize that there is serious support for this locally in Translink, the process would instantly begin. I can see the meetings among provincial officials, “Someone other than us wants to operate a regional rapid transit service from Chiliwack to Surrey’s Skytrain Stations instead of B.C. Transit doing it! Sounds good to us!”

    Finally what Translink just won’t talk about is the extreme high cost of building with Skytrain vs. low to medium passenger cappacity DMU ‘s and EMU’s using very much underused mainline railway rights of way, that already exist. I peg the cost of the Valley Rail Line project at 1/7 to 1/8 of the lowest end of Skytrain construction. The operational costs somewhere between 1/5-1/3 that of Skytrain. Yes, it will carry fewer passengers but so will any Skytrain line going out this far from the centre of Vancouver.

Leave A Comment