Time to seriously look at rail

Time to seriously look at rail

The Times October 8, 2010

On Oct. 3, 1910, the first Interurban train rolled down the track from New Westminster to Chilliwack.

Over the next four decades, it was the main transportation link for people in the new rural communities. The service rattled back and forth across the Fraser Valley several times a day, taking rural residents to the urban centre and delivering their produce and meats to urban markets.

The commuter service was discontinued in 1950, but the track, owned by B.C. Hydro, is in working condition and in use by Southern Railway. Now, a century later, Fraser Valley commuters stuck on freeways due to accidents or congestion are again looking longingly at the train.

The Rail for the Valley group argues that the rail service should be a key part of B.C.’s transportation plan. In 2008, the province agreed to do a feasibility study for light rail as part of its ambitious $3-billion-plus Gateway plan. When the rail proponents tired of waiting for the transportation ministry to complete its study, they hired their own consultant. Leewood Projects Ltd., of London, England, made a detailed study, determining the endeavour would cost B.C. taxpayers about $500 million for a 98-kilometre route. (The Canada Line cost $100 million per km).

Public transit is generally not a money-making venture, but the West Coast Express has a remarkable record. According to Translink, the WCE recovers more than 90 per cent of its operating costs, even though it pays hefty fees to Canadian Pacific Rail for the use of its track. Rail proponents argue that since B.C. Hydro owns the track, there would be no lease fee. They note the population served by the Interurban line is three times that served by the WCE, which just added seven cars due to increasing demand.

Surely there is enough merit in the rail study for Transportation Minister Shirley Bond to stop ignoring this option and to take an honest look at reinstating light rail in the Fraser Valley.

All the pieces seem to be there–all that’s missing is the political will.

Ai??Ai?? Copyright (c) Chilliwack Times

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