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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for May 2008

CP Spirit of 150 Rail Tour – Schedule of Events

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CPR Empress on display at Railway Days in Kamloops
CP photo

From June 12 to July 6, the CP Spirit of 150 Rail Tour will visit 33 communities in the Kootenays, the Rockies, the Shuswap, Kamloops, the Fraser Canyon and Vancouver as part of the year-long BC150 celebration.

The CP Spirit of 150 Rail Tour is co-sponsored by Canadian Pacific, which is operating, staffing and maintaining the train. The train includes the vintage Empress 2816 steam locomotive and support cars, two vintage passenger coaches, a vintage business car, a heritage baggage car converted into a travelling museum and a vintage stage car.

The museum car features a selection of artifacts from the “Stories of you, me and BC,” a major exhibition at the Royal British Columbia Museum.

The stage car features the sound of British Columbia, with a live band and stage show by The Motherlode. Visitors can enjoy and interact with costumed performers depicting some of B.C.’s most entertaining and notorious historical figures.

June 26
Mission: West Coast Express Station, 33200 N. Railway Avenue (Between Home and Welton Street) 12:45 to 3:45 p.m.
Abbotsford: Gladys Avenue (extension of Highway #11) and George Ferguson Way/W. Railway Street. 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

June 27
Maple Ridge: North Mainline Track (Across from the Billy Minor Pub, 22355 River Road) 9:45 to 11:45 a.m.
Pitt Meadows: West Coast Express Station, 12258 Harris Road. 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

June 29

Port Moody: West Coast Express Station (West end parking lot, corner of Moody and Spring Street) 12 to 4 p.m.

June 30

Langley: Production Way, between 200th Street and Fraser Highway 2 to 4 p.m.

July 1 – Canada Day

Surrey: Cloverdale Village Square, Highway #10 (56th Avenue) and 176A Street (Rear Parking Lot) 10 to 4 p.m.

July 4

New Westminster: Advance Parking Lot, east of Westminster Quay, corner of Begbie and Front Street. 10 to 2 p.m.

July 5

West Vancouver: Ambleside Park, Marine Drive and 13th Street 10 to 2 p.m.

July 6

Vancouver: Rocky Mountaineer Station, 1755 Cottrell Street. 10 to 2 p.m.

for places outside the Vancouver region see the CP web page

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2008 at 11:00 am

Posted in Transportation

Railway Standards not being met

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Vancouver Sun

A ‘culture of fear’ at Canadian National Railway is making it difficult for employees to report safety violations that raise the risk of derailments and other accidents, a federal parliamentary committee says in a new report to the House of Commons.

The report confirms what has been fairly common knowledge among those interested in railways for a while now. Certainly after the Cheakamus River incident, many were pointing to the way that CN had got rid of all the experienced people who understood the reasons for BC Rail’s more cautious attitude to operation over this line.

CN has been extremely successful as a privatized railway, shedding its branch lines all over Canada but taking over other railways in the US to become one of North America’s most profitable systems. But in concentrating on the bottom line both basic safety and the environment have suffered. The locomotive fleet includes engines built in the 1950s, which are left running all day as they are so hard to restart if stopped. CN has not been one of the leaders in buying new , more efficient and less polluting switchers, although with fuel costs increasing they may have to change that.

The climate of fear is a cultural thing, that lower and middle management pick up from the gung ho style of the top managers. It will take a while to get that to change, and the first step is accepting responsibility. It also means treating employees as partners and not adversaries, which means that unions need to adapt too.

CN 1419 and 7067

A pair of ancient road switchers left idling in the sun in Richmond this week


From the CBC :12,000 wheel sets on trains a derailment threat: TSB

Roughly 12,000 rail car wheel sets used by Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway “have a high susceptibility to loosen” and should be replaced, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Thursday.

The 36-inch wheel sets were among 43,000 produced at the CN Transcona shop in Winnipeg. Most of the sets, manufactured between April 1998 and February 2001, have already been removed from service, but roughly 12,000 are still being used.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2008 at 9:34 am

Posted in Transportation

Things the Liberals stepped in during the spring session

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Vaughan Palmer helpfully lists the long and shameful series of unfortunate events that befell the Provincial Government during the Spring Session.

The gossip I hear is that there will not be a fall session. With the new gag law in place, and nothing happening in the leg, it is going to be that much harder for the opposition to get coverage. As Vaughan points out, not that they had to work very hard this session.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2008 at 10:28 am

Posted in politics

“Fixes to deadly Pattullo Bridge delayed again”

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Vancouver Sun

New Westminster Fraser Bridges aerial

As always everyone blames the infrastructure. When I started work back in the seventies, I had to deal with press stories headed “Killer Canal Strikes Again” as though somehow the canal had leapt from its banks and slaughtered the innocent. The tail end of the Sun’s story says it all for me

Local police said Thursday they are looking forward to news of how the bridge will be fixed.

“There’s obvious public concern with regards to the safety of the Pattullo Bridge,” said Surrey RCMP Sgt. Roger Morrow. “Any improvements are being welcomed.”

New Westminster Police Sgt. Ivan Chu said most crashes on the bridge are caused by drivers following too closely or making unsafe lane changes, and speeding is a particular problem at night.

“It’s the curve stretch where most of the accidents happen,” he said. “Because they clip one another because the lanes are so narrow.”

Chu called the bridge “daunting to drive…. It’s difficult to drive when you haven’t driven over it, because you have two curves, it’s uphill and then it’s downhill, and the lanes are very narrow.”

Hardie said there have been no front-end crashes on the bridge since centre-lane nighttime closures were introduced.

“The Pattullo Bridge is a perfectly safe bridge and people can cross perfectly safely if they maintain the proper speed and just drive safely,” he said.

Just as the Sea to Sky Highway was “perfectly safe” but presented an irresistible challenge to people with fast cars to see just how quickly they could get from Vancouver to Whistler. And, of course, a frightful number did not make it at all.

The answer to unsafe driving is not widening or straightening but enforcement of the existing laws. As I have written here more than once, average speed cameras are an obvious, low cost and highly effective solution. Following too closely and making unsafe lane changes might need additional cctv which would need to be monitored – but that is a lot safer than putting police personnel at risk on the bridge itself. And we do not need to study this, or have a pilot program. All it needs is for the Provincial Government to end its stubborn persistence in a policy that was introduced very early in its mandate, and was simply a way to appeal to the people who saw photo radar as a “tax grab”. Indeed, it can even be announced as a way to save lives while the “problem” of the bridge is being reviewed.

For I will bet that a few months after it is introduced the “problem” will have been solved.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2008 at 10:18 am

“Gateway to Gridlock”

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Stuart Ramsey writes to me that a four-page newspaper pull-out, produced by the City of Burnaby will be appearing this week in the Burnaby Now and the Burnaby News Leader, as the result of a Council motion to “prepare a statement with respect to the City’s position on the Gateway Program for publication in local newspapers.”

I have uploaded the pdf file here (burnaby-2008-05-29-gateway-newspaper-pull-out)  (if you are not a resident of Burnaby) as it seems to me that many people will be interested in the City’s position.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2008 at 9:53 am

Posted in Gateway

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Help Stop the “Gateway to Global Warming”!

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Forwarded at the request of Ben West

Our Environment Minister in BC may be close to signing the environmental certification for the Gateway mega -project.

If Barry Penner signs the certification for this project his legacy would be that of the Environment Minister that gave the green light to the most counter productive and in fact destructive transportation mega-project of our generation!

On Minster Penner’s website he claims “The BC Government is working to aggressively address global warming and climate change” he even goes on to clearly state “there is still more work to be done if we are to meet our legally-mandated goal of reducing BC’s greenhouse gas emissions by 33% by 2020“. How he could say this one day and then rubber stamp what many are calling “the gateway to global warming” is unconscionable.

Concerned British Columbian’s are writing letters and emails to the minister of the environment and the Premier insisting that the environmental assessment not be signed and that genuine consultation take place. This is your chance to have your voice heard and tell Barry Penner and Gordon Campbell to do the right thing.

Here are just a few key points to consider:

The various elements of the Gateway plan will drastically increase the lower mainlands contribution to green house emissions that cause global warming and pollution levels in the region. The tripling of shipping vessels and heavy truck traffic off delta port will feed into new induced traffic that will be find its way onto the SFPR, the Twinned Port Mann Bridge and then the widened highway 1 and then into the heart of the lower -mainland. To make things worse the Gateway Project will induce car dependent suburban sprawl that leads to further global warming emissions and less healthy community.

The South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) will harm and maybe kill off Burns Bog, the lungs of the lower mainland our carbon sink!

The expansion of Delta port on Roberts Bank has serious impacts on migratory birds such as the Sandpiper that relies on the region to survive as they fly north. Also Port expansion at Delta Port may severally impact Orca Whales whose population in the area are already dwindling.

The Gateway Project as a whole would impact 1000 hectares of farmland, some of B.C.s most fertile.

The Gateway mega project contradicts the last democratic community planning process that was held around the region, the Livable Region Strategic Plan. Gateway induces car dependent sprawl and starves public transit by monopolizing billions of dollars in public transportation funding.

All of this while not examining the impact of rising fuel prices on the feasibility of the project compared to other options. In fact it has recently been un-covered through a freedom of information request that the project managers used the price of $0.80 a litre in their models for studying the project over the length of the contracts which is the next 25 – 40 years!
No contracts can be signed until Barry Penner signs the environmental assessment.

No meaningful public consultations have yet to be held with the Premier, the Environment Minister or the Transportation Minister. The open houses and community meetings that have taken place have been well orchestrated Public Relation campaigns that were more like focus groups than a genuine attempt to decide the fate of this multi-billion dollar mega -project based on the public will. Make sure they hear your feedback. Send an email today!

Minister Penner
101, 7388 Vedder Road
Chilliwack, BC
V2R 4E4

Premier Campbell

3615 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
V6R 1P2

Please CC a copy of your letter to .

If you would like to stay informed about the campaign to stop “the gateway to global warming” and the campaign to get transit before freeways email with the subject line ADD ME.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2008 at 10:40 am

Posted in Gateway

Sapphire Energy turns algae into ‘green crude’ for fuel

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LA Times Business Section

I suspect we are going to be seeing more and more of stories like this one. A newly formed company says that is can produce “green crude” using algae, CO2 and sunshine, and that it is three years away from commercial production at costs comparable to “artificial crude” from the tar sands.

I have no idea of the veracity of any of this but I notice that the people interviewed are cautious as opposed to optimistic: they want to know what the greenhouse gas effects of the entire process are, probably due to being bitten by that issue by other biofuels. Then there is the question of tailpipe emissions. If it is just like the fuels we use now in that respect, then perhaps local air quality will suffer. So it’s not a magic bullet. And of course there are other promising technologies too. One of the great things about  $135 per barrel oil is that a lot of people now have some real financial incentives to get creative.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2008 at 10:38 am

Posted in alternative transportation fuel

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Canada’s biofuel mandate

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Bill C-33 would allow the government to ensure all gasoline produced for domestic consumption has an average renewable fuel content of five per cent by 2010 and that diesel and heating oil have an average renewable fuel content of two per cent by 2012. The motion, carried by a vote of 173 to 64, must be debated in the Senate before passing into law.

It’s the size of the majority that bothers me. And the Senate is unlikely to do be much different.

There are 20 biofuel plants in operation or under construction in Canada, which will use more than a million tonnes of wheat and nearly 2.5 million tonnes of corn annually.

And, of course, the people who are most pleased about this are not even mentioned. Canada’s farmers. Rural votes have always been much more valuable than urban votes, and though farmers are doing well now that is a bit of a change form previous years. And there is the continuing power of myth – that Canada is mostly rural and agricultural.

On the other hand we also know what the US ethanol mandate has done to distort grain prices, and controversial role it has been playing in its contribution to world hunger and high food prices. The obscenity of fat Americans filling their gargantuan SUVs while poor little kids go hungry has a “made for tv” quality about it that the ethanol lobby spin doctors have not been able to erase.

Mostly, for me, it is the dubious science. There is little doubt in my mind that in the full cycle analysis which includes the impact of fertilisers and the use of fuel to farm, transport and process the crop that the claimed savings in ghg emissions are at best overstated, and at worse the reverse of the truth.

I would like to blame the Conservatives but obviously I can’t. The lobbyists have worked both sides of the house successfully. Renewables would be a good idea if we had a source that was based on what is otherwise a waste product – which can be the case for both ethanol and biodiesel but at present, isn’t. Corn and wheat are food crops. There is plenty of woodwaste and straw – and land that could grow switch grass that would not support food crops. But there are no industrial sized plants producing cellulosic ethanol. It would be nice to think that Mr Harper might hold off on the implementation of this Bill until there is, but it seems extremely unlikely.

UPDATE May 30 Another UN report

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2008 at 10:18 am

ICBC selling insurance to unlicensed drivers

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There is a great deal of buck passing in this story – mainly between ICBC and its broker.  When BC decided to go for public auto insurance, it made a clever decision to enlist the brokerages, which quite literally bought off the biggest potential source of opposition. It actually only makes political sense. Because the major function of a broker is to find the customer the best policy for his or her needs, and since ICBC is the only place you can buy the legally required insurance there is not a lot for the broker to do. And the fact that a lot of lawyers in BC now specialize in fighting ICBC,  shows where the brokers feel their loyalty lies. It was probably fairly sensible to use existing outlets, but then there are also other places you have to go – like the ICBC  claims centres and the province’s driver services offices.

Selling insurance to people who are not legally allowed to drive is, quite simply, wrong. Placing the onus on the customer may sound like a good practice from a business perspective

“Anybody who wants to buy insurance can buy insurance from us,” McLelland [the ICBC spokesperson] said. “The principle is we want people to have insurance.”

McLelland said the corporation does not track how many insurance policies are issued to drivers who don’t have B.C. licences. He said it also doesn’t count how may claims are denied for breach of policy because the licence isn’t valid.

BUT they did not have insurance. Money was taken from them for a policy that was worthless. If you are in a business that collects tax for the government (the ICBC brokers dish out license plates and stickers) and administers government activities such as motor vehicle registration and compliance with BC legislation (you cannot license your vehicle if it fails the AirCare test for instance) then you do not get the privilege of picking and chosing which bits of the law on drivers and vehicles you are supposed to know about.

And ICBC having taking the premiums has a moral if not a legal duty to acknowledge that its systems failed, the policy should not have been sold but in this case, the innocent victim who was badly advised by an officially appointed agent he should have been able to rely upon and he should be recompensed.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 28, 2008 at 10:53 am

Posted in Road safety

Tagged with

Apply gas tax where it will work

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The Chilliwack Times manages to get itself into a froth over a recent LRC/Suzuki Foundation poll question which included the words “rapid transit out to UBC”.

The poll actually came out on May 7, so the opinion writer has had a while to find something to get offended about. And readers puzzled by the reference in this piece who rely on the paper version would be hard pressed to find out the actual context. Which of course was much more about the priority of highway expansion against transit than voting for UBC over Langley.

At least the Times is now talking about real transit options – and no longer saying we must have highway expansion becuase that is the only thing that will work out here. And of course the official position, as stated by Chillwack’s Mayor is that they do not want to be connected to other communities by rapid transit, they want to continue to be self reliant. Currently most people live and work close to home there and that is in itself worthwhile, and ought not (he says) be diluted by encouraging longer distance commuting. He may of course be a lone voice, but given his position and the undoubted virtues of his position, it does make for a harder sell for groups like VALTAC and Rail for the Valley.

I was not one of those who drafted the question, but it seems obvious to me that the intention was to draw on the current provincial government’s stated intentions. To build the Highway #1expansion and Port Mann twinning first and then turn their attention to transit – and their stated priority is the tube tunnel under Broadway. As I think I have made clear, this is not a sensible choice in transportation terms, but reflects the political realty that Gordon Campbell thinks his constituency comes first.

It was the clever boys in Vancouver and Victoria who killed the Interurban transit system that served a far less densely populated Fraser Valley half a century ago.

It’s long past time to correct that mistake.

Well reviving the interurban is certainly one option – but not necessarily the only one. Especially given the indirect routing and lack of dense nodes near the eastern section. And the general consensus at the time passenger service ended was that the BCER was losing money and ridership and was no longer necessary in a region with rapidly growing car ownership and a nice new freeway.

And if the Times really wants to make a difference to current policies it should be telling its readers to stop voting for the BC Liberals. Some of those valley seats are the safest in the province. Because it is not the “clever boys in Vancouver” who are calling the shots but the idiots you lot elected to Victoria!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 28, 2008 at 10:00 am