Stephen Rees's blog

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

A Guest Post by Professor Patrick Condon

with 4 comments

To appear in the Tyee

Dear Surrey Mayor McCallum.

Congratulations on your recent return to the mayor’s office in my favorite city, Surrey BC. I read where you are wasting no time to capitalize on the mandate granted you (by the 41 percent of the 33 percent of eligible voters that voted you in) to throw out 10 years of transit planning by former and current officials throughout the region. You have successfully trashed their plan for a 10 km surface light rail serving your Gildford and Newton Town Centers in favour of a 4 km Expo line extension to – Fleetwood?

I know you said during the election that you could build Skytrain all the way to Langley City Centre down the Fraser HIghway for the same money as the light rail plan, but sadly Translink and the Mayor’s Council dont agree. They say that since Skytrain costs twice as much per km as surface light rail, the 1.65 billion already allocated will only get you through Green Timbers Park (not a lot of riders there!) to Fleetwood (I bet the owners of the Fleetwood Park strip mall are overjoyed!).

Premier Horgan and PM Trudeau have already said they are still happy to fund the original plan but will not give you one dime extra for the switch to SKytrain. Worse still, the Mayors Council just voted to make you pay back the 56 million already spent on the light rail proposal, which ironically is about the same cost as the Grandview Heights Community Centre and Library, project you scrapped for lack of funds. Wow. That’s what i call a pretty bad day for sure.

But fear not, I can help. What if I told you that there is a way to serve Scot Road, West Surrey, North Delta, Newton Town Center, Cloverdale and Langley City Centre by rail for way less than the cost of the 4 km “FLeetwood Skytrain Express” (as some wags are calling it).

Wait, it gets better! What if I told you that you could also be a hero to the folks in Abbotsford and Chilliwack by extending the line all the way out to serve them too, still for the same money!

Wait! It gets better still! After all that there would still be enough to put a tram line down King George Highway to Newton Town Centre andover to Guildford so you won’t have to pay back that 65 million!

Interested? Here’s how.

For 75 years BC Electric served the locations listed above along a track that is still in use. It’s the old BC Electric Interurban Line. It turns out that the line was never sold, only leased, to CP rail. The conditions of the lease call for the return of the line to the Province if ever passenger rail service were to restart.

Better still, the lease also stipulates that if the frequency of rail service is such that the rail must be double tracked, CP must pay the costs! What can be better than a free double track ROW?

What about vehicles? Well you could run catenary lines on the route for an electric train, but they cost a ton.

Fortunately there is a simpler and far cheaper solution. Alstom Corporation , a global transit company that now supplies transit vehicles to Ottawa and Toronto, just launched a hydrogen powered transit vehicle that can be had for less than the cost of a handful of skytrain cars. And here is maybe the best part. Hydrogen fuel is manufactured right at the BC Hydro facility in Surrey . So the project supports the growth of local green jobs for Surrey too!

The concerns you have voiced about LRT vehicles getting slowed down in traffic and adding to congestion (which are misplaced I would argue, but admittedly strongly felt by some) go away with this plan since the track is in its own ROW for the whole distance with very few at grade crossings. And at grade crossings can be controlled by crossing gates (as is done for hundreds of commuter rail and tram/train systems in North America) or by simply slowing down the train to obey signals as they do in Portland OR. for the MAX Line tram/train.

More good news. This plan has already been studied. The engineering and business case was developed not too long ago in the “Proposal for Rail for the Valley” by Leewood Projects of Surrey UK (yet another Surrey tie in!). They estimated that it would cost around .6 billion for track, vehicles, stations and catenary for a commuter rail tram/train system of over 90 km! A tiny fraction of the cost per km of SKytrain and a 100 year transportation solution for the entire South of Fraser urban region.

That study was conducted in 2010 so it will cost more now. But the study assumed catenary infrastructure not needed if you use hydrogen power and track reconstruction which may not be a cost borne by you (as mentioned above) so who knows, costs could be less.

Worst case, let’s say the cost is a cool billion. You still have $600 million left to play with. And if you want to get the other mayors off your back you could strip the bells and whistles out of the light rail proposal you hate (but the Board of Trade desperately wants) and do a Portland Oregon style tram to Guildford and Newton for less than 60 million per km.

Or maybe you can mollify the other mayors, the board of trade, and your local environmentalists with a hydrogen powered bus rapid transit to Newton and Guildford for even less.

In short, you have many ways to make Surrey the centre of a thriving metropolitan “South of Fraser Kingdom” rather than the dead end of the Vancouver Skytrain line (and get yourself out of what looks like a tight spot politically). Now that you have successfully blown up the whole regional transit plan I am sure you can see the benefits of grabbing this fantastic life preserver, and give Surrey and the whole South of Fraser region the futuristic transit it deserves.

Your humble servant and Surrey booster
Professor Patrick M. Condon.Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 11.30.47 AM

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2018 at 11:34 am

4 Responses

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  1. This makes far too much sense for McCallum to go for it. 😦

    BTW I think you need dashes or brackets in thi sentence: ” But the study assumed catenary infrastructure not needed if you use hydrogen power and track reconstruction which may not be a cost borne by you (as mentioned above) so who knows, costs could be less.”

    Like so: But the study assumed catenary infrastructure – not needed if you use hydrogen power – and track reconstruction which may not be a cost borne by you (as mentioned above) so who knows, costs could be less.


    December 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

  2. Extract from “Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley” by Urban Systems for BC Transit, FRVD, MoTI and Translink

    While an expanded rail network remains a possible feature of the transit system in the Fraser Valley for the long-term, the provision of rail is beyond the Vision for several reasons:

    • Significant investment is required in the Fraser Valley just to get a desirable level of local, regional and
    inter-regional transit to move from a $10 million per year system to almost $90 million in 2031. The 2031 annual operating and debt service cost for a commuter rail service along the inter-urban line between Abbotsford and Surrey of approximately $68.9 million would almost equal that of the entire investment required to achieve the Vision.

    • The projected 2031 cost per ride ($70 – $110 / ride) and cost per service hour ($19,750 – $21,500) for a commuter rail service on the inter-urban line are significantly higher than most alternatives considered such as a premium bus service in a dedicated lane on the Highway 1 corridor ($5.75/ride).

    • As previously noted, the Vision includes an increase in service hours of more than 400% (to over 540,000 hours annually) and will likely take 25 to 30 years to implement. A peak only, commuter rail service for the entire interurban line would provide less than 1% of the service hours included in the Vision for the Fraser Valley.
    • The projected 2031 annual ridership for the entire inter-urban line of 1 million passengers (most of which is between Langley and Surrey) would be comparable to the projected ridership for an all day, frequent express bus service operating in a priority lane on Highway 1 between Abbotsford and North Langley-Surrey. In this regard, the ridership for the inter-urban line would be less than 5% of the entire projected transit ridership for the Fraser Valley.

    Although an inter-regional railway service between the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver may be part of a long-term future, a strong foundation of local, regional and inter-regional services as presented in the Vision is an essential starting point. In this regard, opportunities for rail service between Chilliwack-Abbotsford and Langleys/Surrey should be retained for a possible future service. This would include preserving rail corridors in the Fraser Valley Regional District and adjacent Metro Vancouver.

    Hat Tip to Denis Agar on Twitter

    This is just from the Summary – and unfortunately there is no date on it

    Stephen Rees

    December 18, 2018 at 12:38 pm

  3. It appears to have been released in Dec 2010, odd there are no dates in the document itself.


    December 23, 2018 at 4:42 pm

  4. The Strategic View of Transit was done in 2010 (see:

    Admittedly, the cost estimates in it for the interurban are based on a DRL analysis that was largely rejected by the folk from Rail to the Valley (resulting in them releasing their independent Leewood Projects study). The ridership numbers, however, were based on a rather extensive analysis of both present and future travel patterns based on the locations of trip generators and projections of urban growth (see the first paper titled “Transit Market Analysis”). I think they are perfectly valid, and demonstrate that the actual business case for interurban rail to the valley is not great.

    I recall that when RFTV reviewed this, their complaint (in defense of rail) was that the study expected buses to attract more ridership, which is “impossible” because of the usual “rail will attract more ridership than a bus” ideas. But when you consider the flexibilities offered by buses, like serving more access points (the 66 FVX currently has three stops in Chilliwack, including a park & ride stop–the interurban line does not reach the same locations and would likely only have one stop in Chiliwack), I think it’s entirely feasible that rapid buses–given dedicated or priority-lane infrastructure–would attract more riders than an interurban rail.

    My idea for connecting he Valley and Metro Vancouver is to extend a new frequent express commuter bus from Downtown Abbotsford westward along South Fraser Way, onto new dedicated ramps onto Highway 1; a bus station would be built in the highway median near High Street Mall to connect with the existing 66 FVX bus route as well as a new high-frequeny shuttle route to Abbotsford Airport. The bus line then would follow Highway 1 HOV lanes before exiting via dedicated ramps at Glover Road and following it to a terminus at SkyTrain in Downtown Langley. This route would be significantly more successful than interurban rail by virtue of serving the entire length of South Fraser Way in Abbotsford. Riders would be far more attracted to the frequent, single-seat ride to SkyTrain in Langley, instead of riding the bus the other way then having to transfer to the interurban rail.

    If we’re going to look at rail, then the interurban option needs to be compared against a Highway 1 rail option. Provisions for future rail in the median alongside the highway lanes can easily be made as part of any highway widening project, and the future installation of the rail tracks will not be expensive as it will be entirely at grade level. The straight tracks would permit running at much higher speeds, faster than highway traffic and perhaps approaching those of high speed rail (the Nippon Sharyo DMUs used on Toronto’s Union Pearson Express, for example, can hit speeds of up to 145 km/h). A future rail line would extend from SkyTrain in Langley along the BCER, until separating at Highway 1 to head east along the median.

    This high-speed commuter rail line is probably decades away, and as the strategic review noted, the CFVT needs to focus on expanding bus services first. And, if we’re going to do that, great rapid bus service on Highway 1 will be contingent on an eastward expansion of the Highway 1 HOV lanes from Langley. I’d like to throw my voice behind that, HOV lanes east to Abbotsford need to be part of any widening project.

    Daryl Dela Cruz

    December 27, 2018 at 3:47 am

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