How Not to Be left At Station, For A Train That Will Never Come

A letter sent to the Mayor and council’s of the Two Langley’s and Delta, sent by Malcolm Johnston, on Jan. 2, 2019.


“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.

Carl Sagan

On December 13, 2018, the mayor’s Council on Transit was bamboozled by both the mayor of Surrey and TransLink.

A decades worth of transportation and regional planning was tossed out the window, with the Mayor’s Council on Transit agreeing to change from LRT, to SkyTrain This condemns the two Langley’s without having any rail transit for at least a generation, if ever.

SkyTrain cannot be built for the same cost as LRT. Unless the LRT is designed to operate as a light metro and even still, studies have shown that light rail designed and operated as a light metro, operating on a grade separated rights-of-ways, would still be about 5% cheaper overall to operate than SkyTrain!

SkyTrain is not coming to the two Langley’s. The funding, including inflation will mean the Surrey extension will end in Fleetwood, most likely terminating at 168th Ave.

 Photo: At-grade SkyTrain. The Berlin Wall effect.

The cost for SkyTrain increases dramatically every year because the cost of cement is increasing at a rate of three times the rate of inflation and by 2022, because of the escalating cost of cement and specialty steel, the price to build with SkyTrain will increase by at least $100 million annually.

SkyTrain uses about ten times the amount of cement as LRT.

It has been known since the early 1980′s, by BC Transit and now TransLink that SkyTrain costs a lot more to build than LRT with no benefit. BC Transit and now TransLink have masqueraded this fact by over engineering light rail planning, in short gold-plating LRT projects to make LRT look like it costs almost as much to build as SkyTrain.

This dishonest approach to transit planning continues as evidenced by the vast costs of Surrey’s proposed LRT.

Added to this dismal picture: With no sale of SkyTrain in the past decade, with only 7 built in the past 40 years (only 3 seriously used for urban transit), and zero interest in SkyTrain internationally, Bombardier may cease production altogether; even before the completion of the Surrey SkyTrain extension. This will leave the Langley’s standing at an empty station platform, waiting for a SkyTrain that will never come.

 There is another way.

In 2009, the Rail for the Valley group engaged Leewood Projects of the UK to do a study on the viability of reinstating a modern version of the former BC Electric interurban servcie from Vancouver to Chilliwack. The Leewood Study was released in 2010, finding such a servcie was viable, using TramTrain, a version of LRT that can operate both on-street and on the mainline railway. The cost in 2010 for such a service was CAD $7.3 million per km to build. Accounting for inflation, the cost in 2018 would be $8.4 million per km.

What I propose is an abridged Leewood plan, using light diesel multiple units, such as the Stadler GTW traveling from Trinity Western University to Vancouver’s Central passenger station, a total distance of 52.5km.

Using the Leewood Study distance matrix (page 77) the distance by rail from Trinity Western University to Scott Road is 30 km. and the distance from Scott Road to Vancouver Central station, by rail is 22.5 km.

The travel time terminus to terminus would be under 60 minutes, faster than by SkyTrain!

The cost per kilometer for the full build system proposed by Leewood Projects was $7.235 million per kilometre.

Accounting for inflation the cost in 2018 would be $8.47 million per/km.

The cost for the 52.5 km route using the Leewood Study figures, updated to 2018 plus a 25% contingency would be $555.8 million.

There is more.

The master agreement that came with the sale of the former BC Electric, rights-of-way (from 180th St. to 232nd St., approx. 10 km) to CP Rail stipulates.

  1. That passenger servcie is guaranteed up to 33% wheelage on the route.
  2. That owner railway is liable for all upgrading costs for passenger service!

The distance from Trinity Western University to the junction at 184th St. is 10 km. thus the cost to implement a Vancouver to Trinity Western University rail servcie, with two trains an hour (30 minute service), minus the 10km. portion of track which will upgraded at the CPR’s expense. This would reduce the cost considerably, with a revised cost of around $450 million!

The Stadler GTW

The rail-cars or diesel multiple units to be used would be the Federal Railway Administration approved Stadler GTW.

The Stadler GTW can come in may configurations including a ‘two rooms and a bath articulated car with the diesel section in the middle and a five section double motor articulated car. As many as four units can be coupled together in multiple unit operation.

 Stadler GTW

The basic concept of the Stadler GTW is rather unconventional: the car is driven by a central “power module”, also known as a “power-pack” or a “drive container”, powered on both axles. Two light end modules, each with a truck, rest on the power module, which produces useful traction weight on the driving axles. The end modules also use the space very effectively, although the railcar is divided into two halves by the power module. Most units have a path through the drive container for passenger access. The end modules can be delivered with standard pulling devices or buffer gears, or with central buffer couplings. They are built with a low-floor design except above the bogies and at the supported ends (more than 65% of the rail car is low-floor). All of the usual comforts to be expected in a modern local network rail car are provided, such as air conditioning, a multi-purpose room, vacuum toilets (in a washroom suitable for the disabled) and a passenger information system. The GTWs can be Diesel-electric or electric-powered (via overhead wires or third rail). Maximum speed 115 to 140 kph. Up to four trains can be operated in multiple unit. A Bistro unit is also available.


To start, simple stations or stops would be located at Western Trinity University; City of Langley between the Fraser Highway and 200th St.; Cloverdale; King George Hwy.; and Scott Road just in Delta; and Vancouver Central.

 Photo: A simple station near Boston.


More station/stops can be added where demand merits and the operation can be extended to Abbotsford and Chilliwack, when funding is made available.

Due to the affordable cost to implement the service the new rail service can be built and operated as a real P-3 project, which could both include Stadler and the Southern Railway of BC, costing the taxpayer little or no money to operate!

An user-friendly rail service, built around the concept of economy and affordability would be a success, serving the many destinations along its route.

The reverse flow of traffic may entice tourists to venture into the Fraser Valley with the knowledge that a comfortable train will whisk them back to Vancouver, when their exploring is done.

Photo: A Diesel TramTrain in the French countryside


Instead of a SkyTrain that will never come, a passenger DMU service from Vancouver to Trinity Western University, servicing North Delta, Central Surrey & Cloverdale and the two Langley’s could be up and running before the Fleetwood extension is completed and by building it with a real P-3, would see real railway experts, plan what would be the most affordable way to proceed.

TransLink need not be involved at all!

Agreements must be made with the SRR of BC and the BN &SF and CN Rail, but this is the job for our provincial and federal Ministers of Transportation, to ensure pathways are available for a two train per hour per direction service.

The plan is there; the tracks are in situ and what only lacks is the politcal will to make it happen.

It is time for Langley politicians not be left lonely at the station, waiting for a train that will never come.


Malcolm Johnston




2 Responses to “How Not to Be left At Station, For A Train That Will Never Come”
  1. Haveacow says:

    The Berlin wall effect, just think another potential historical movie shoot location for Vancouver!

  2. Rob Sutherland says:

    Berlin wall effect, indeed. Alexei Yurchak, a professor of anthropology in the former Soviet Union coined the term “hypernormalization” to describe a population in the 70′s and 80′s that knew the system was not working but couldn’t imagine an alternative to the status quo. The delusion needed to be maintained.
    Seems we are equally brainwashed here.

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