Regional Railways – The Missing Piece of The Transportation Puzzle!

When government is spending almost $4 billion to build a mere 16 km of SkyTrain light-metro, extending the Expo line, 16 km to Langley; almost $3 billion to extend the Millennium line 5.8 km; and over $4 billion replacing the Massey tunnel,  provincial politicians must seriously consider the regional railway option.

The taxpayer is begging for cheaper passenger rail options but the politicians seem completely deaf to anything but hugely expensive light-metro.

Regional passenger railways, is one of the missing ingredients for a comprehensive transportation plan for the metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley region, Vancouver Island and the interior.

A regional passenger railway is not a commuter rail, nor a mainline ‘varnish’, rather it is, as the name implies, a regional railway to serve the region it operates in, offering an attractive and cost effective service that will attract the motorist from the car.

Rail for the Valley; the E&N Railway and the Okanagan corridor are prime examples where a regional railway would provide a user-friendly and affordable transportation service, providing an attractive alternative to the car.

The updated cost for the Rail for the Valley’s Vancouver to Chilliwack  regional railway is $1,207,692,027.00) or $8.71 million per km in 2021 dollars.

Add TramTrain to a regional railway, then the scope of operations increases with the much greater flexibility in operation and the greater the flexibility in operation, the more customers transit attracts.

With global warming and climate change so evident in BC, it is time to completely rethink the current “rubber on asphalt” and photo-op ready light-metro schemes in the province and instead, start investing in regional railways, especially TramTrain, with provincial transportation planning.

A French TramTrain operating on a regional railway, offers a new dimension to rail travel.

How to cut half a million car journeys and 32k tonnes of carbon in a year? A new regional railway is the answer

By Philippa Gerrard

August 16, 2021, 5:00 pm


The proposed route the new rail line would follow from Aberdeen to Peterhead.

The proposed route the new rail line would follow from Aberdeen to Peterhead.


Plans to revive forgotten railway stations around the north-east won’t just benefit rural residents, but could actually help save the planet.

Earlier this year Campaign For North-East Rail (CNER) set out plans to bring modern infrastructure to the “forgotten” corners of Aberdeenshire, reopening rail links to Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banchory.

Primarily the proposals look to offer a lifeline for what they call “isolated communities”. The Buchan towns of Peterhead and Fraserburgh have the dubious honour of being further from the British rail network than any other town in the UK.

But a new environmental report suggests that the impact of reintroducing rail links to the region wouldn’t just benefit residents and local businesses, but would also significantly contribute to saving the planet.

Step One: How to save 80 million miles of CO2

According to the group’s calculations, the railway could save at least 32,000 tonnes of carbon annually.

That is the equivalent of more than 80 million miles in an average car, or the carbon footprint of operating a UK university for six months.

“Rail is a drastically more efficient way of moving heavy goods and, of course, passengers,” said Wyndham Williams, an engineer and one of the minds behind the CNER report.

“The main reason for that is from an engineering perspective. Frictional losses are so much lower – rails on a track are much more efficient than rubber tyres on a road – and the other main reason is that you can also stack up freight trains so they have 50 containers on them.

Which means one locomotive is hauling the equivalent of 50 trucks with 50 diesel engines.”

Step Two: How did the Borders Railway do it?

Sitting down to crunch the numbers, the group applied strict parameters to their workings.

Together they analysed everything from vehicle statistics, regional tourism and oil and gas freight, to Brewdog beer shipments, fish tonnages and HMP & YOI Grampian visitor numbers.

These numbers were carefully measured and cross-checked before the group compared their findings to the Borders railway.


The Borders Railway has a lot of similarities to the proposed Buchan route.


Opened in 2015, the Borders to Edinburgh railway line reconnected Galashiels and other local communities with Scotland’s capital by rail for the first time in 45 years.

With virtually the same length of track, the same number of stations and a similar population, the two railways have a lot in common.


Comparing the Borders and Buchan railways

Railway                        Length             Stations     Largest town      Population      Pre existing railway         Cost

Borders Railway        35.3 miles           10             Galashiels            14,632                4.19 miles                 £426.28 million

………………………       (56.8km)                                                                                         (6.75 km)                  (CAD ($740.3)

Buchan Railway         35.1 miles          7                 Peterhead             19,270                5.95 miles                £401.79 million

……………………….        (56.50 km)                                                                                        (9.57 km)                (CAD $697.8)


“It’s been a blessing really that the Borders railway has been done,” said Mr Williams. “We don’t have to make guesses, we’ve actually got data, we’ve got passenger numbers, we’ve got costs.

“Peterhead and Galashiels are comparably sized places which are very similar in distance to the nearest big city, so we can lift this data and apply it to the north-east economy to make very reasonable assessments.”

Step Three: Rail freight is key

One of these assessments is that 450,000 trips will be shifted from private car to rail each year, but it’s not just passengers who will be reducing their CO2 contribution by taking the train.

Significant expansion of rail freight is a key ambition of the Scottish Government, precisely because of how much carbon can be saved shifting goods in this way.

Not only is less carbon released, but Mr Williams and others working on the campaign believe that long haul freight will be moved faster and more reliably on the proposed Buchan line, removing thousands of lorries from congested roads.

“Plus the route will be fully electrified from day one,” he said, referencing one of the Scottish Government’s other ongoing programmes, a zero-carbon railway by 2035.

The campaign’s railway map of its proposals, which include an integrated bus link between Banchory and Braemar.

“This means it will use 100% renewable fuel and no carbon would be generated from the journey at all, whether its freight or passenger.”

If they’re right, the numbers make for a compelling environmental case in favour of the proposed railway.

The investment and upheaval might seem huge from where we are standing now at the starting line but without big long-term projects like this which challenge the status quo, it’s difficult to see how Scotland will achieve its green targets.

“I was personally quite surprised by the numbers,” said Mr Williams. “I have never looked at anything like this before but the numbers are very compelling. There is a huge contribution to be made here.”

Regional rail passenger services offers a quality alternative to the car.


2 Responses to “Regional Railways – The Missing Piece of The Transportation Puzzle!”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Although the article is about regional rail, the central point is that generally speaking, there are in North American public transit 3 or 4 General types geographic or spatial segregated levels of service. Or 3 to 4 stratifications based on linear distance from the core or multiple cores of an urban area.

    1. Local Service, usually a bus or streetcar route based around neighborhoods of areas of a city or region. Stops are basic and usually between as little as 50 metres up to 300 metres apart.

    2. Trunk or Main Routes. This can be a bus or a train operating in mixed traffic or rapid transit on some type physically segregated right of way or both. The stops or stations can vary wildly in quality and spacing as little as local spacing (50 metres) or up to 1 to 3 kilometres apart. They operate in the 5km to 40km service areas, across a city or city to suburb scaled trips.

    3. Regional Routes, usually buses, heavier rapid transit vehicles and mainline railway equipment operating in a express or semi-express like service, operating over regional distances of 10 km up to 240 km. City to distant suburbs, City to surrounding but politically separate communities or between regional communities in a less centralized or poly centred regions.

    4. Inter-City travel. Bus, trains, airplanes traveling short, medium or long distance many trips might be international in their final destination.

    The main issue at the core of this comment is that the Skytrain, as Vancouver knows it, is a Trunk based, rapid transit system that is starting to be used as a regionally based system. The issue is the technology associated with it and the way it is operated makes anything associated with true regional passenger service, incredibly expensive to build, operate and maintain. A cost that the regional transit operator can no longer afford without significant financial help from higher levels of government. Not just in capital costs (all transit agencies need that financial help) but now just operational and maintenance costs.

    There are other rail rapid transit system types that can cheaply operate as both trunk routes and as regional based routes. Tram-Trains based on the Karlsruhe Model or the Train to Tram system of Chemnitz. Technically, Ottawa’s Trillium Line (Line #2) is a Chemnitz type of operation. Buses in the form of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) can be used like this to go between trunk and regional operation types of service as long as, operating costs are kept low and passenger levels don’t get too high, this is a big issue with BRT.

    Just one of the many reason the Expo Line Extension to Langley is so expensive and becoming more so everyday is that, to maintain the line and store the trains, a new maintenance and operations centre must be built adding half to three quarters of a Billion to the final bill. As you expand service outward (horizontal expansion) regardless of passenger levels, more satellite maintenance and storage centres are needed. Eventually more and more infrastructure support is needed the further you expand outward. The simpler the operational technology, the less need there is for expensive infrastructure support. The regional railways the article is talking about or the conversion of commuter based rail lines to actual regional railways (what is currently happening with the GO RER Network in Toronto) is a much more cost effective technology for this purpose at a regional scale, needing far fewer maintenance, storage and operations centres, as service expands outward..

    In the case of the $3.95 Billion Expo Line extension to Langley, a great deal of capital and operating costs are being added to Translink’s annual operating budget, for a rapid transit line extension that in 20 years, might, might have as many daily passengers as the current #99 bus. That’s $247 Million per km, for an above grade, double tracked right of way including above grade stations, for the entire 16km

    The #99 busline’s heavy traffic could be handled for the next 10 to 15 years as it has been in other cities, with some capital spending and better more efficient bus operations/management practices. All at a fraction of the capital cost ($496 Million per km), for a below grade Light Metro Line under Broadway.

    Zwei replies: Just wait, a little birdie has told me that there are loud screams of “shock and disbelief” in the upper floors of Sapperton’s ivory towers as the cost for SkyTrain to cross the Serpentine Valley (a peat bog) are going to increase over $500 million as they have to freeze the bog to pour the concrete for the supports. With at-grade LRT this was not a problem. The same little birdie told me Horgan was expecting Justin to pay for the entire lot, including Translink’s and provinces share and this was what some ministers were telling their supporters. There is great fear that if the Conservatives gain government, federal funding will cease leaving lots of egg on Horgan’s face..

  2. Bunnyman says:

    Did you notice the City of Vancouver paved the old arbutus railway to prevent it being used again as a railway?

    Zwei replies: It is still officially a disused railway line, pavement can easily be torn up.

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