Stephen Rees's blog

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

Time for action not studies

with 3 comments

The Province

An announcement of yet another study into transit for the South of the Fraser has been greeted with an unusually stongly worded response from an Asper newspaper. The study will look at lots of things, apparently, and include the use of the old interurban line but it is not going to report before the election.

You would be right in thinking that this is not sitting well with advocates for Rail of the Valley. Becuase commissioning a study is the easiest way to put off a decision. It gives the impression of activity when in fact nothing changes. Except in this case it looks like the Minister of Transport is acting with indecent haste to get his favourite highway project moving even though he does not yet have the necessary approvals in place or a P3 partner, come to that. Because Kevin Falcon would much prefer to see much more highway oriented development than a change in direction.

There actually is no reason at all for not proceeding now with a demonstration project. This would not be difficult to do – or much more expensive than the consultants. The difficulty for the government of course is that they could not control the outcome. Becuase even if their favoured consultants do surprise them by admitting that there is a case for rail for the valley. it is easy to bury reports – after all, that has been done more than once on this issue. On the other hand if people show that they will actually use a trial project it is much harder to kill the idea.

This government is no longer popular. Unfortunately, the crunch issue seems to be the carbon tax.  And the big pay rise for senior civil servants. Although Campbell’s personal rating is low, so is that of Carol James. And when reporting a province wide poll, no attention is paid to local issues. I think it is probably fair to assume that most people south of the Fraser still think that twinning the Port Mann is a good idea – in just the same way that so many Americans are convinced against all the evidence that drilling in hitherto protected areas will help reduce gas prices. But in both cases, the response ought to be – why are we so unwilling to improve the choice that people have? Yes we are currently car dependent – in both the US and South of the Fraser. So of course we are concerned about traffic congestion and gas prices. Those both have immediate impact on individuals and how they think. But people are also well aware that they have been consistently lied to. That there never was any real doubt about global warming – just a campaign of misinformation funded by the oil companies. They will also recall that building the Alex Fraser Bridge did not cure congestion for very long.

At the polls South of the Fraser next year some other issues will surface – that may not reflect widely outside the region but will certainly affect some formerly safe Liberal seats. Delta will not soon forget the TFN treaty, the power lines and the SFPR. North Surrey will also still be smarting, and places like Bolivar Heights will be a warning to those who live along Highway 1. But also the people who have been asking for improved transit for years will still be wondering why, once again, the City of Vancouver’s West Side seems to get favoured treatment (the UBC tube train) and the lack of basic transit service in Surrey, Langley and elsewhere is once again put on the back burner – even with threats of service cuts if Translink does not get to dip into their pockets again.

There is going to be a rally in Chilliwack on September 13. I hope to see some of you there. And prior to that a letter to the editor campaign – see, and click on “Rail For The Valley Campaign” to find instructions and newspaper email addresses.

UPDATE Friday 29 August

Nathan Pachal and Joe Zaccaria talk to the Langley Advance

Written by Stephen Rees

August 27, 2008 at 8:58 am

Posted in Light Rail, Railway, transit

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3 Responses

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  1. The push for rail on Vancouver Island is facing similar challenges. The Provincial government hasn’t made a peep about helping to get the rail line there up to standard, despite the willingness of the municipalities and the federal government to fund the necessary work. I think some sort of alliance between all the rail groups in BC would be a great step towards upping the pressure even more on Gordo & Co.

    Stephen I hope you don’t mind me posting this, despite the fact it’s an Island thing.

    For immediate release
    Aug 25, 2008
    Campaign to save Island Rail takes to the doorsteps

    NANAIMO – The campaign to upgrade Vancouver Island’s long-neglected rail corridor has garnered great support over the summer and is increasing its efforts to get Premier Gordon Campbell and the provincial government to get on board. This week, volunteers will begin distributing over 75,000 postcards to citizens along the 290-km rail corridor, urging supporters to send them to the Premier.

    “We’re asking the province to recognize the huge economic, environmental and community benefits of rail as part of an integrated transportation system for Vancouver Island,” says Chief Judith Sayers, co-chair of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF). “The province is being asked to contribute one-third of the $103.8 million needed to upgrade the line — less than $35 million over five years.”

    Thousands of Islanders have already signed up in support as “Friends of the Rail Corridor” through the group’s website,, and at displays at local fairs and exhibitions held each weekend up and down the Island.

    Businesses, chambers of commerce, tourism associations, economic development organizations, municipalities and regional districts are also signing up. And because First Nations are co-owners of the rail corridor, there is keen interest in how the project will bring opportunities for FN development and employment.

    “The response to our campaign has been overwhelming,” says Doug Backhouse, ICF’s Executive Director. “This issue resonates with people all across the Island. Once we explain the benefits of rail for industry, tourism, town-to-town and excursion passengers and for commuters – plus reductions in greenhouse gases, congestion, and sprawl – people say this makes so much sense for our future on the Island. When they find out how close we are to losing rail forever, they are shocked.”

    “We have increased the freight traffic since taking over but the poor condition of the track is making it increasingly more difficult to attract new business,” said Frank Butzelaar, President of the operating company, Southern Rail of Vancouver Island. “There are several major shippers that have expressed interest in shipping by rail but we simply cannot accommodate the heavy loads that they typically want to ship.”

    “We urge the province to get the ball rolling because federal funding is only available for a short time – and time is quickly running out,” said Sayers.

    Sayers said that federal officials agree the upgrading qualifies for a one-third federal contribution. But provincial and private sector commitments are needed to access the federal funds. The final one-third from the private sector is available based on a comprehensive business plan.

    The ICF is a partnership of First Nations, regional and local governments, which owns the 290-km rail line The Foundation together with business and community leaders are asking Canada and British Columbia to invest in Vancouver Island’s future and rebuild Vancouver Island’s crumbling rail infrastructure.

    For more information contact:
    Dave Traynor, Acumen Communications Group
    250-727-7464 (office)
    250-516-6232 (mobile)

    The Island Corridor Foundation is a partnership of First Nations, five regional and 14 municipal governments that took ownership of the 290-kilometre rail corridor in 2006 on behalf of the people and communities of Vancouver Island. Under an agreement with the foundation, Southern Railway of Vancouver Island acts as the rail operator for both freight and passenger services. VIA Rail, which offers the current passenger service, is fully supportive of the revitalization plan. Visit for more information.

    Lisa Mitchell
    Campaign Coordinator
    Island Corridor Foundation
    Join the Coalition! Write your MLA! Show your support!
    Our Island Our Corridor Our Future


    August 27, 2008 at 9:30 am

  2. Stephen,

    This is not at all what people think! I have been spending the past few days examining documents and later this evening South Fraser OnTrax will blog the full details of this study and what it will and will not do for the cause of the interurban.

    This announcement has clearly fooled even some transportation advocates and after our press conference tonight, we will blog the details. Please feel free to give me a call later this evening if you’d like to chat about it.

  3. Another rail study, whoopee! The Question is, who is going to do the rail study and have they ‘hands-on’ knowledge about LRT and diesel LRT? The last outfit to do a study were heavy rail commuter train types and didn’t have a clue about ‘other’ rail options.

    All we have is government stalling; a government that wants you to drive on their green and tolled highways and bridges. Somehow in Falcon’s mind that it is generational thinking that one wants to build $7 million/km. to $25 million/km. LRT instead of $100 million to $200 million+ SkyTrain. Guess what Kev, it’s my Generation.

    ……….and to Corey, keep up the good fight. Diesel LRT is also an option for local ‘commuter’ services on the Island as well. In an age where almost every major country has rediscovered the railway, Canada and BC seem decades out of touch with reality. The E & N (I do have a family connection) is a natural for not just freight or passenger, but tourist operation as well!

    My god, if the State of Nevada can rebuild the old Virgina and Truckee railway – 5% grades and many tunnels and bridges, BC could do the same here.

    I was involved with preserved railways for a while when I lived in the UK and the E & N would be a winner.

    Malcolm J.

    August 27, 2008 at 10:57 am

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