Study lauds light rail

Study lauds light rail

Light trains can carry South of the Fraser commuters, a new consultant’s report suggests.

By Christina Toth and Heather Colpitts, Postmedia Network Inc. September 24, 2010

One hundred years after the Interurban rail wound its way across the Fraser Valley, light rail proponents in Langley and beyond are optimistic the passenger service can make a comeback, after the release of a feasibility study on Monday.

Rail service could be re-established on about 100 kilometres of the existing BC Hydro-owned line for $500 million, with the main train depot located in Abbotsford, says a report commissioned by the Rail for the Valley group.

“We’re tremendously excited. This is the most comprehensive light rail study ever undertaken in this province, performed by an outfit with expertise in light rail solutions,” said John Buker, a founder of RFTV and a study coordinator.

“This is an independent analysis by a respected company based in Great Britain that has a very solid track record in rail planning, including work on, among other things the Channel Tunnel. This report will, at long last, provide us with an honest accounting of the potential for passenger rail service on the Interurban corridor. This is something that has been sorely lacking in all provincial government-commissioned studies to date,” he said.

The track is currently owned by BC Hydro, and is used for freight by Southern Railway.

Joe Zacharias, co-founder of South Fraser OnTrax rail advocacy group, said the report isn’t comprehensive.

But it’s good to see more expert analysis of Fraser Valley transit needs, the Langley resident commented.

“I think other experts could add to this body of work,” he said.

Langley Township Councillor Jordan Bateman, an advocate of better transit for communities South of the Fraser, said he’s pleased to have another assessment that shows the viability of passenger rail.

“Anything that advances the cause of light rail South of the Fraser is a good thing,” he said.

The author, David Cockle of Leewood Projects of England, reviewed the potential for an affordable and sustainable public light rail service on the existing and publicly owned Interurban rail corridor, which runs 98 kilometres from Surrey to Chilliwack, passing through Langley City and Township.

He proposes two options, one diesel and one electric, plus future links to Richmond, Burnaby, Vancouver and east of Chilliwack.

The report projects capital costs for the diesel/hybrid option for the Chilliwack-Scott Road line at $500 million, or $5 million per kilometre, and $606 million for an electric option, or $6.2 per km. There would be 10 stops along this corridor.

The report proposes three trains per hour on the route during commuter peak times on week days, twice an hour during non-peak times and weekends. Riders could use a microchip smart card that could be prepaid and reloaded for any combination of ride tickets.

Costs to the rider would have to be comparable or cheaper than current bus fares or driving, the author writes.

Travel times are estimated to be 90 minutes from Chilliwack to the Scott Road SkyTrain Station, 45 minutes from Abbotsford to Surrey, and two hours to downtown Vancouver.

The trip from Knight Road in Sardis to Abbotsford would be under 30 minutes, and from Chilliwack to Yarrow, 13.5 minutes.

The track would have to be upgraded to accommodate passenger trains travelling at 80 to 100 kilometres per hour, and switches, spur lines, controls, stations and other infrastructure would have to be considered.

Another potential hitch is that the stretch of tracks in Langley is heavily used by freight trains heading to and from the Deltaport shipping terminal.

The first Interurban line was a forward-looking project. It was opened with much pomp on Oct. 3, 1910, in anticipation of the thousands who would eventually live in New Westminster and Vancouver, and the many others who would settle in the Fraser Valley and grow food and harvest the timber for the urban dwellers.

Cockle’s report includes a quote from 1910 news story on the event, in which a one rural representative said, “you need us and we need you and this line is going to be the connecting link which will bring us together for our mutual advantage.”

The line closed in 1950 when upkeep became costly and more residents increasingly used their own vehicles to get around.

The Rail for the Valley group has waited for a $400,000 provincial study on light rail since 2008, when it was announced, but its scope didn’t include Vancouver, Surrey and Langley. The group concluded that it was doubtful the provincial report will shed much light on the true potential for a light rail service, said Buker.

“Hence our commissioning of the independent analysis by a company with expertise in light rail,” he said.

To view the report go to, or

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