Stephen Rees's blog

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

Rail reality grows with Hydro’s revelation

with 3 comments

Brian Lewis in the Province keeps up the pressure – and seems optimistic – that Hydro will “continue to protect its historical rights to run passenger-rail service on a section of railway line it sold to CP years ago.” This is based a press release issued by Langley Township Mayor Rick Green quoting a letter from Hydro.

Brian says that Canadian Pacific Ltd., is “the railway-based corporation that many have loved to hate throughout its century-plus history.” But CP is a corporation just like all the rest. That does not make it evil. It is required by its shareholders to make money for them – nothing more and nothing less. No matter what the corporate mission statement may say, or what the PR flacks would like you to believe, once a company becomes a limited liability public concern, its obligations to the shareholders override any other concern.  The great mistake was to treat corporations as though they were “persons” which, of course, they are not. When people (as individuals) behave like corporations they are diagnosed with mental illness. But it is people who control corporations and often the owners are us. Through our savings, pensions funds, mutual funds and so on we own the shares of these corporations. Every so often some group or other – or sometimes just an individual – uses their rights as shareholders to make a fuss at an AGM. Often to very little effect. But in general shareholders are largely passive and content to collect their dividends – and are pleased when the share price rises.

CP does indeed make a fortune out of allowing West Coast Express to use its tracks. But the provincially appointed negotiators made that deal on our behalf. BC Hydro was prescient when it put the provision to keep the right to run passenger services on the tracks from “232nd Street, near Trinity Western University, through the downtown cores of the township and Langley City, then west to Cloverdale.” Especially since they kept those rights for free. CP would not have been built at all if not for the generous support of the Government of Canada in both cash and land grants. But as we have seen with the Arbutus corridor that buys us nothing in terms of transit service.

according to the grapevine, CP is lobbying the Gordon Campbell government to block Hydro’s intention of exercising its legal option of renewing the agreement that will protect public use of the line for another 21 years.

Who do you think Campbell will listen to? His corporate buddies – big business in general is the biggest supporter of the BC Liberals – and Gordo still seems to be in thrall to the notion that somehow largesse to corporations “trickles down” to the rest of us – all evidence to the contrary. Or a few pesky Mayors with a bee in their bonnet about the InterUrban.

CP needs the line to get coal and containers to and from Deltaport – which is the key to the Gateway. Actually the rail movement of freight to and from the port is by far the most important way stuff gets to and from the port – the truckers are a bit of a side show. CP has just signed a new agreement with Teck to carry 17.5 million to 19.5 million tonnes of coal from south east BC to the port in a year long contract, down from 25 million tonnes a year at its  peak.

The BC Liberals are convinced that widening the highway – and promising to extend the SkyTrain to Langley by 2030 – is enough. Use of the interurban right of way is relegated to endless studies – there has never been any significant gesture towards recognizing that light rail will be necessary to the future the valley. Indeed light rail has been perpetually held in abeyance in BC – in Victoria as well as in Vancouver and their environs. Light rail is what other places do.

On the other hand allowing BC Hydro to renew its right costs very little and just keeps the option open. It does not commit the province to actually do anything. CP have managed to live with this arrangement for 25 years and may well be persuaded that they have little to worry about. I suspect much will depend on what is intended for BC Hydro in the future – and who might be the successor to these rights.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Railway

3 Responses

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  1. Ultimately, if capacity becomes an issue with having both passenger and freight traffic, that section of track near Cloverdale would just be double tracked.
    It would be silly to give up rights for a fix that would cost relatively little (in the grand scheme of things).
    BTW – if the agreement is 21 years old, I think that means that it dates to the Social Credit Vander Zalm years.

    Ron C.

    July 8, 2009 at 11:20 am

  2. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) on the old BC Electric R.O.W. from Richmond to Chilliwack would be a tremendous way to add population density south of the Fraser, and give a boost to local Councils with new revenues from growth. Local businesses would get a shot in the arm as well. And if the new population was serviced by rail transit, the loading on local roads and regional highways would be barely felt.

    That’s a win-win-win that requires linking transportation planning with planning for growth at the regional level, and we have not seen that happening in British Columbia.

    TOD locates a “townsite” at each rail station. Readers here may be better informed than I, but I put it that a commuter rail can have stops at 1.5 to 3 mile intervals and still be efficient.

    Each townsite is a Pedestrian Shed, having a footprint measuring a 5-minute walk from the train stop. That’s equal to an area of 120 acres.

    Building out with high-density, low-rise, fee-simple row houses, we can achieve gross densities of up to 65 units per acre (gross measurement allows for land required to build roads and lanes). The single family residential product can still locate on the TODs, but in the zones further away than the 5-minute walking distance.

    The math is simple. We can yield 7800 units per station site (TOD). At two people per unit, that represents a population of over 15,000 per townsite.

    People living in this kind of town in California (Calthorpe, 1993) were shown to make 25% fewer car trips than suburban dwellers.

    MapQuest gives the Richmond-Chilliwack distance as 66 miles. If we take the lower spacing of one station per 3 miles, the plan would yield 22 station sites, housing 350,000.

    That’s 17.5% increase in GVRD 2006 population of 2.11 million. Station spacing can increase, and the footprint of the TOD can also add density on its periphery.

    Living a 10-minute walk from rail transit is still puts developers and future residents at an advantage. The footprint increase from a 5-minute radius to a 10-minute radius is not a 2x factor, but a 6-fold increase. At single-family densities, the TODS can yield homes for an additional 350,000 on their periphery.

    The TOD strategy is not only green, but it’s flexible.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    July 9, 2009 at 9:29 am

  3. “That does not make it evil. It is required by its shareholders to make money for them – nothing more and nothing less”

    What does “evil” mean if not “willing to sacrifice the public good for a private interest”? There is nothing neutral about the legal structures corporations exist under – those structures force them to act in evil ways.


    December 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm

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