TransLink has released a report written for Lower Mainland mayors to assist in evaluating the pros and cons of a proposal to reactive passenger rail service along the existing Interurban line from Surrey to Chilliwack.
According to TransLink, activating passenger service on the line has “less attractive travel times between key destinations” due to a less direct route (compared to other alternatives); would not connect to key areas such as Surrey Central and Langley City; and would require “significant capital investments” to meet safety requirements and reliability objectives.
But TransLink’s review is being called “seriously flawed” by those pitching the plan.
A 99-kilometre, 90-minute route with 12 stops is proposed by the South Fraser Community Rail group, which says reactivated service on the existing interurban rail line would serve about 1.2 million residents in the region.
The TransLink report was released as proponents behind the push are holding “Rally for Rail” meetings, touting the use of “emissions-free hydrogen powered trains” along the track.
Behind the push is former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, former Langley Township mayor Rick Green and also Patrick Condon, founder of UBC’s Urban Design program.
The group argues their train proposal would cost an estimated $12.5 million per kilometre, compared to the now-dead Surrey light-rail project’s estimated $157 million per kilometre (a figure provided by TransLink last September.)
TransLink argues it would be expensive, given safety regulations.
“To meet Transport Canada requirements for rail passenger safety, LRT vehicles must either be separated from freight train traffic through scheduling, or physically, by constructing separate tracks,” according to a 2012 TransLink study that evaluated the interurban corridor as a potential route for rapid transit expansion.
The report states that “constructing additional track and stations, acquiring right of way to add the tracks along the existing interurban corridor, and overcoming related construction challenges would be costly.”
TransLink’s most recent report summarizes the findings of the 2010-2012 Surrey Rapid Transit Study, when the transit authority assessed the interurban section between Scott Road and Langley to “explore merits of utilizing the Interurban corridor for fast, frequent, and reliable rapid transit service compared to Fraser Highway or King George Boulevard.”
At the time, TransLink notes, the “Interurban corridor was not selected, nor recommended for further consideration” for the aforementioned reasons and others, including freight volumes along the rail line that are expected to increase as well as potential environmental risks as the corridor travels along the Agricultural Land Reserve and floodplains of the Serpentine River.
The 2012 assessment study also pointed to land use along the corridor being lower density than other routes, and noted that it runs through a significant amount of agricultural lands, “resulting in lower potential ridership catchment near stations.”
“If there was a request to revisit previous assessment that this corridor could not effectively meet the objectives for rapid transit, the above and other challenges would need to be reviewed in the current context to provide an updated assessment of the transportation performance of the line,” the report notes. “TransLink staff have not completed an updated assessment of this idea.”
The new element of the interurban proposal – the potential use of hydrogen fuel cell trains – has not been evaluated by TransLink.
“The concept of using existing rail corridors and infrastructure in the rapidly-growing Lower Mainland is one that TransLink will be exploring through the update to the long-range strategy, Transport 2050,” TransLink’s report to the region’s mayors notes. “Transport 2050 will examine the long-term demand for improved inter-regional connections between the Metro Vancouver region and the Fraser Valley and examine what corridors could viably serve that demand. TransLink staff have met with proponents of the idea twice in lengthy meetings to hear the proposal and have shared with the group that management will be recommending that the Interurban concept be considered through the Transport 2050 process.”
But Green with South Fraser Community Rail called the TransLink evaluation “seriously flawed.”
“We have done a professionally supported critique on the TransLink reports which will be released by Monday next week,” said Green.
“To me and all of our team TransLink are embarrassing themselves with the material they are producing in support of their decisions,” he said. “One thing is sure, we have woken them up to a fight against their irresponsible decisions. The fact is TransLink staff have been receiving a fair number of questions from the region’s mayors about the Interurban because frankly very few of them knew anything about it.”
The Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation has seen the report in a closed meeting, which was subsequently released to the public ahead of their June meeting. The region’s mayors are expected to receive the report as information at their next public meeting on June 27 in New Westminster.