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LETTER: Poor design keeps SkyTrain as the poorer choice for Fraser Valley transit

Interurban link from Chilliwack through Langley to Vancouver better and cheaper than SkyTrain

Dear Editor,

It was such an ill-informed column about the valley rail proposal [Interurban won’t run again, Langley Advance Times, June 7 Painful Truth], that one would think it was a plant by those who want to spend billions on SkyTrain, which itself has proven poor in attracting customers.

SkyTrain’s high boarding numbers come from over 80 per cent of bus passengers forced to transfer from bus to SkyTrain, thus over 80 per cent of customers using SkyTrain are making a minimum of four boardings a day.

The real issue is that the regional rail network, SkyTrain, comprises of a conventional railway (Canada Line) and a proprietary unconventional railway called ART Movia Metro (Expo and Millennium Lines).

The now-called ART Movia metro is so unpopular because of poor design and operating characteristics that it has undergone six official name changes, and only seven such systems have been built in the past 40 years.

The author of the column shows his ignorance of railway operation.

A passenger and freight service can operate on the same line, and do so on literally thousands of railways around the world today. It is all about signaling and allocation of pathways for trains – the science goes back to the pre 1800s plateways, before the modern railway was even conceived.

The master agreement included with the portion of track purchased and used for the CPR allows up to 33 per cent “wheel-age” for passenger operations, with the owning railway (CPR) paying full cost of all track improvements, including double tracking.

A maximum of two freights a day on the remaining portion of line, poses absolutely no problem for passenger operation.

The Leewood Study, commissioned by the Rail for The Valley Group, done by Leewood Projects UK and released a decade ago, found that such a service was viable. The study was vetted by Canadian transportation specialists and Transport Canada.

In Europe, the Leewood Study had great exposure for its forward thinking and affordability, and featured in two transportation trade magazines.

In Canada it was ignored by the SkyTrain-centered cabal planning transit in civic, provincial, and federal levels.

The Leewood Study saw per km cost of a DMU/EMU/TramTrain service varied from $5.2 to $7.2 million/km.

ART Movia Metro’s cost per km is well over $140 million/km. Onerous operating and maintenance costs and lack of flexibility in operation makes it cost prohibitive to extend through Surrey to Langley.

The automatic ART Movia Metro was never designed as a regional railway, and it operates extremely poorly in snow.

The success for a return of the interurban is dependent on it operating into Vancouver, providing a seamless journey from Vancouver to Chilliwack. The failure of building a combined road/rail bridge replacing the decaying Pattullo Bridge and the decrepit Fraser River Rail Bridge, demonstrates a lack of foresight by regional politicians, especially the Mayor’s Council on Transit.

If Fraser Valley politicians want a rail connection to Vancouver, a rail service using the former Interurban line is the way, or they will be waiting at a station for a SkyTrain that will never come.

Malcolm Johnston, Rail for the Valley

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