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Archive for January 23rd, 2008

Rail for the Valley

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Just in time for tonight’s meeting, yet another announcement from the government: at the end of simple repetition of earlier announcements and as the final word it says

The province and local governments will study together the potential use of the Southern Rail Corridor (the Interurban) for transit.
Kevin Falcon, Minister of Transport

This is not the announcement I want to hear. As with nearly every other problem this government is facing, the response is never action but always a round table, or a task force. There is not even a commitment to consult the public. All that is going to happen is that some civil servants and local government officers will sit around tables. They will spend most of their time and effort on a “communications strategy”. This will promise that further studies will be done once they can get funding from the federal government, to assess demand and study other places that have tried this approach. Kevin will probably use it as an excuse for another all expenses paid trip somewhere (like he did on fare evasion). Then there will be some more announcements.

This is the approach that almost guarantees nothing positive will emerge. All studies ever do is review earlier work, and find it lacking and require further study. The next set of announcements could, at the very best, say that given funding by the federal government, consultants will be appointed to do further work. Do not expect to see a passenger train running on these tracks anytime soon, unless someone decides it is time for a publicity stunt.

The only way you will know that they are serious is if they put out a call for tenders for the operation of a passenger service. Ottawa has had a diesel multiple unit running on low use freight track for some years now. The only adjustment the railway had to make was in the scheduling of freight trains. The situation here is somewhat more complex as some stretches of the SRY are used by long, heavy freight trains to and from Deltaport to the main lines across the country. I suspect that dealing with the Southern Railway of BC will not be a problem but expect fantastic demands from CN and CP, because that is the way they always treat government proposals for passenger service which interfere with their freight trains. That is the big issue that has to be resolved and “studies” by the province and municipal governments will not help.

The other thing that will come out of this will be more talk of population size and density. It is obvious that since there is no passenger train now, nor has there been for many years and there is little realistic prospect of one, the distribution of population is based on almost universal car ownership. Transit in the valley has always been a poor relation, and is not a realistic option for most people. So transit oriented development has not happened and will not happen. Since the government has not (yet) cancelled the freeway, and since its promises of more transit are at very best thin, distant and insubstantial, do not expect that to change. (The only exception of course is the extent to which West Coast Express made a difference: as with GO Transit its biggest issue now is that the car parks are full and they cannot afford to buy more land for more.)

The idea that transit – and especially rail transit – can be used to shape growth has not been considered, and will be summarily dismissed as “unrealistic”. Because the argument up until now has always been won by those who want transit to serve current demand. That will continue as long as transit supply in this region is as inadequate as it has been, is now, and will continue to be as long as we have a government that thinks announcements of studies are a good substitute for action.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 23, 2008 at 10:03 am

Posted in Railway, Urban Planning