Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Rail for the Valley

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

Rail for the Valley – new report

with 23 comments

Rail for the Valley released yesterday a report that looks at the possibilities for the Chilliwack to Surrey interurban line. This is the route that was once used by BCER to link up what were then small farming communities to New Westminster and Vancouver. The line was closed to passenger service in the early 1950s when, as in most of North America, high quality, fast electric public transit was being abandoned in favour of near universal car ownership. Since then, many people have seen that this was a very poor bit of planning, and that since the line still exists and is in public ownership, reinstatement of some type of rail based transit might be a good idea.

I was sent an early copy – and I must say that it failed to excite me. Rail for Valley think that it will help their cause, so I have provided a link to their blog where you can read their case and find a copy for yourself. What I had to point out to them was what is missing. It does cover – in great detail and at a high level of credibility – what the capital cost of reinstating service might be. That is based on widespread experience of utilizing existing railway rights of way for light rail passenger services.

But while there is a great deal of information about capital cost there is nothing at all about revenue – or indeed operating costs. I looked for, and could not find, any attempt to assess what the potential ridership might be, or what the revenue stream would need to look like. It would appear to me that the absence of any demand forecast leaves the biggest question open – how are we going to pay for this? This has to be the first question to be asked. The assertion that light rail has a record of attracting users out of cars is not nearly enough to convince a skeptical public that this idea is economically feasible. What kind of revenue can be expected from fares and how much support is to be required from the various levels of government?

The problem I see is that this report concentrates on what the project might cost – and even goes into detail on service levels. But there is no assessment at all of where people want to go and how much of that can be met by travel on this line – or indeed if it can provide the right combination of fares + time (generalised cost) to be attractive.

We spent a lot of time at that Abbotsford Committee looking at the way the line through that city is aligned north south when the dominant movement pattern is east west. And eventually concluded that a new tram line was needed, with a bus lane being the intermediate step along the way. And that was without any demand modelling!

In Greater Vancouver transit expansion is stalled. Translink can no more consider this proposal than it can anything else since it has no money for any expansion. So this report ought to have concentrated on what could happen outside the Metro area. There is no regional transportation agency in the valley – nor is there any way to collect much to support the (woefully inadequate) transit that is there now. So a report that used reviving part of the interurban at low cost within the imagination ability of local politicians might have a chance. Presenting a mega project with no hope of financing is not realistic and is far too easily dismissed.

The real problem for the valley is the Port Mann Bridge is being replaced by a much wider structure and the freeway is being widened as far as the Metro boundary. Piecemeal widening is occurring further east as well. The reason for that is that the BC Liberals and their friends like to think that the regional strategy has “failed” – and  that there are huge opportunities for lots of money to be made by continuing to develop  farm land at low densities. This pattern suits developers, car salesmen and indeed business interests in general. It is what they know how to do, since they have been doing this for the last fifty years and more. And they are convinced that despite the end of cheap energy they can continue as before. The impact of burning fossil fuels is something they think can be safely ignored, or will be mitigated by technologies and government subsidies, and that they can keep doing that with impunity indefinitely. They recognize no limits to growth.  Indeed their entire premise is that economic growth is essential, that people want to believe that their personal disposable  incomes will increase (even though in real terms is has been static for most households) and will continue to vote for this pattern. Indeed as they just have done in the Delta by-election.

We would have got much better value for money if the Port Mann/Highway #1 project had been replaced by transit expansion. Indeed, Premier Campbell liked to boast that the Canada Line provides the capacity of ten lanes of freeway in the space taken by two. So one might have expected that he would have considered that, if he actually was concerned – as he so often professes – about climate change. But, of course, his track record is to say one thing and do the opposite. Which is now getting him in trouble with his core constituency. There is of course a great deal of anger. Here it has been captured by Van der Zalm and his antiHST campaign. I see some similarities with the Tea Party movement. It is about taxes. It is about the fact that people feel stretched financially and are worried about the future – and that the elites do not seem to be listening to the voters. That spin and rhetoric is used on them – and that their experience does not match what they are being told. I suspect that the anger will intensify as the new highway and bridge fills up with traffic, the tolls are raised and the commute times increase – but by then it will be too late.

The way to pay for Rail for the Valley was not to waste it on freeways. The way to save the valley from sprawl was to strengthen the ALR, not weaken it, and build transit oriented development (TOD). But TOD does not work is there is no transit.

RfV say they are not in a position to produce a demand forecast – and that is true too. Anyway, the way we do modelling here you can put in any land use pattern you like – just as the province did for its freeway forecast. They used the same future land use pattern for both “with” and “without” scenarios. The model has no feedback loop between network and land use. It ignores induced travel. It says that trip making is simply a function of population size and distribution. So it is not exactly realistic – but it would still show that if the freeway had not been built and the people still came in their millions then a new railway line would have carried them. And some spread sheets would also demonstrate that would have been financially supportable – given some way to link travel choices to social costs. Not unreasonable assumptions – unlike the wildly unreasonable assumptions that are made by the Gateway program and the “business as usual” crowd in general.

Quite what the model would forecast if you now put in the widened freeway and its greatly dispersed population pattern that reflects real decisions as opposed to wishful thinking  I can only imagine. The case for the use of the existing right of way might still be shown to be more viable than a new one. The costs of acquiring land for transportation being one of the largest single elements – and a quick glance around the place where that by election occurred will now show exactly how much land the SFPR is taking over. It is not a small project.  But in current decision making timelines, any demand forecast for the valley has to assume the current projects are completed and up and running before the trains (or trams) arrive.

At the same time as this report emerged, so did the discussion about how to pay for more transit in Metro Vancouver get restarted. There is to be a meeting this week between the Mayors, the Premier and his Minister of  Transport. Some kind of deal will – it is hoped – emerge that will allow Translink to expand beyond its present services, and for the Evergreen Line to the North East Sector to be built at long last. I doubt, somehow, that the interurban will take up much of their time. Though places like Surrey and Langley have made it clear that they will not tolerate any new funding mechanism that just pays for one line that does not serve them. More buses – and bus lanes – seem the easiest way to meet that demand even if that will not exactly satisfy them. But that is the nature of compromise – a solution that leaves all parties equally dissatisfied. The Fraser Valley, of course, is not part of that process.

UPDATE There was a short report on the local CBC News

Written by Stephen Rees

September 21, 2010 at 11:04 am

Great debate over future commutes

with 30 comments

The Sun trots out all the usual suspects to talk about the current push to get Translink extended beyond Metro Vancouver (“Pemberton to Chilliwack”). It actually is a pretty daft idea right now, given that Translink cannot balance its books and is threatening to hike fares and cut service if it cannot get a new funding source.  So of course the surrounding communities are quite right to be concerned about why this is being pushed right now. It looks like a tax grab – for Squamish and the Valley to pay for transit in Vancouver.

The context has to be that Surrey is still very badly served – and has a transit mode share of 4%.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie acknowledges Langley and Surrey are lacking in efficient transit services, mainly because the cities came into the game late and transit patterns were based on trips to and from Vancouver

Which like all sounds bites is only partly true. The use of the word “efficient” is odd too – efficient for whom? The transit system – such as it is – came after the development. The land use pattern was typical North American suburbia – single land uses, widely separated,  with lots of space for cars to move and park. In fact the whole thing was designed with cars in mind – not people. The underlying assumption of the transportation engineers and land use planners was that everyone who mattered would drive everywhere. This pattern and preconception is being repeated, despite the fact that we know it is not sustainable – even in the short term. And the plans of the province to widen the major freeway within Metro simply reinforce that. The so called transit plan is to do a lot less, a lot later. By which time everyone will be stuck in a pattern that is hard to change.

Transit must precede development. Retrofitting car oriented suburbs is difficult, expensive and often less effective. Of course it is true that much of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster grew up around the streetcar in a dense walkable pattern. But equally much of the outer areas grew up around the interurban and railway stations. It just that there has been a lot more development in recent years, when we were enjoying cheap energy and built as though there was no tomorrow. We need more transit oriented development (TOD)- the only kind that is going to be viable soon – and we cannot get that without the transit service. My bet would be that if passenger service is reintroduced on the old BCER tracks there will be a lot of interest in doing TOD around the stations – and recreating the walkable urban centres we used to enjoy before the spread of the “plaza” and the “power centre”.

George Peary the Mayor of Abbotsford spouts nonsense –

“Light rail transit might be a solution, but it’s very expensive and won’t happen overnight, he said, while reviving the old Interurban rail line isn’t viable because it runs along old milk routes, not through residential neighbourhoods.”

The old Interurban runs north south through Abbotsford. That’s nothing to do with milk but everything to do with geography – and the fact that the line was built before Sumas Lake was drained. Light rail is not “very expensive” if you have existing tracks and you want to use what you have and plan accordingly. But Abbotsford’s plan is now to build transit along South Fraser Way and try to get redevelopment onto the parking lots to turn the “corridor” into a real urban street. This is far sighted – and much less “expensive” than watching the whole lot become a wasteland, when the cost of fuel leaps again and people simply cannot afford to drive so much. What could “happen overnight” is the conversion of the curb lanes to exclusive bus lanes. A number of cities have done this as a way to make the bus more attractive – and add additional features over time to spread the cost and help build the ridership towards one that will support rail. How successful that is depends very much on the developers’ confidence that the bus service will indeed persist and improve. It is not an easy sell, especially when transit systems across North America – facing exactly the same challenge that Translink does – are cutting service and raising fares to balance their books in the face of rising demand. Investing in tram tracks looks like a real commitment to a new system in a way that diamond lanes don’t.

Getting some passenger service onto the interurban need not be very expensive. It would not be ideal in Abbotsford perhaps – though it seems to me that the rail corridor through town is in need of a stimulus – but in other parts of the Valley it would serve most of the post secondary educational institutions rather well. The reason it could be relatively inexpensive is that the right of way – and the right to run passenger trains – still belongs to the Province. And the Washington Group who own the tracks and run an occasional short freight train – are not averse to a deal.  As usual, the best is the enemy of the good.

Possibly the least likely scenario is the one espoused by Kevin Falcon who talks about SkyTrain reaching Langley by 2030. Not only is that just not good enough to deal with present challenges but it is also nowhere near likely to get outlying communities to sign on to his  expansionary plans for Translink.

Chilliwack has probably had the right idea all along. Stay clear of suburban sprawl and concentrate on being as self contained as possible. Most people who live there work there too. There is not much inter-city commuting to or from Chilliwack. It is still almost completely car dependent, and its transit system is quite appalling. But that is the choice the voters there made.

By “improving” the Sea to Sky, that choice has been lost to Squamish. The developers who pushed for this in the name of the Olympics will take a bit longer to get there huge returns – but it will still happen, becuase there are plenty of people who can still be suckered into long driving commutes. Becuase that is what has been happening for the last 60 years and people still do not seem to have understood that is the problem.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 3, 2009 at 10:35 am

Not fast enough

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Quite a good piece from the Province that got copied to the Financial Post on Rail for the Valley. Mostly positive, but oddly neglectful “the Golden Ears Bridge and other improvements” is hardly a adequate way to deal with the Gateway and the present government’s determination to make sure we get lots more freeways but no trains – and that is supposed to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions! But then that may be the only way to a story like this into the Asper’s papers.

He is right about one thing. This will be big issue in the upcoming election just as it was in recent municipal elections

Written by Stephen Rees

December 22, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Tagged with

Group wants interurban back on track

with 7 comments


Quite a decent piece on Rail for the Valley. John Buker has apparently decided to get in ahead of Monday’s Abbotsford Council meeting which I wrote about earlier. The idea of a demonstration poroject is the one that seemed to get most response at public meetings in both Abbotsford and Chilliwack. But it seemed to get less response from the Interegional Transportation committee and therefore is not the main plank of their report.

One of the things that I tried to stress was that is is feasible for this to happen without expecting a lot of money from the province. It would need a partnership with the current freight operator (owned by the Washington Group) and one of the companies that operate passenger trains. It would almost certainly be a limited time temporary thing, but it would meet the objection of the sceptics “I’m from Missouri, show me”.

Rail can capture people’s imagination, but a demonstration would be a practical way to allow people to experience what is possible and at relatively low cost. In my view this is more likely to actually lead to a real service in the near future – and much mire likely than any report or plan to shift attentiion away from freeway expansion to a much more efficient mode – and one that can be implemented in a shirt time scale. It would also increase choice – something that is notably missing now and in the current plans.

Ken Hardie’s response stressing the north of the Fraser and the suggestion that West Coast Express could get to Chilliwack seems to miss the point completely. Chilliwack has very little long distance commuting since it took the idea of a complete community seriously and is relatively self contained. The growth of the valley population will be mainly in the south – Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford – where there are no real current plans to do more than small increases to bus service. This is not nearly enough to meet present needs let alone the expected growth, which will all be highway oriented absent any other alternative. It is also clear that the current FVRD councils have no interest at all in getting swallowed up in SoCoBriTCA. No is there any expectation that Kevin Falcon is actually listening to what people in this part of BC are saying. They do not want SkyTrain – which in current plans is too little, too late and at huge cost. They want a lot of rail now and at low cost!

Written by Stephen Rees

October 31, 2008 at 8:39 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Tagged with

Abbotsford’s new direction

with 3 comments

For the last few months I have been attending the Select Committee on Interregional Transportation set up by the City of Abbotsford. To some extent this was prompted by a meeting I spoke at there a while ago, when the University of the Fraser Valley students Environment Society held a forum on rail for the valley. There have been all kinds of proposals and studies done on this subject over the years – and more are under way now in various guises. The FVRD, for example, has been trying to damp down citizen enthusiasm for rail with its own study that dismisses it as uneconomic. The potential for rail as an alternative to freeway widening was, of course, always blithely dismissed by the Province, who never really wanted to look at any alternatives. And in a spectacularly inept bit of back pedalling when the Province did announce its “transit plan” (the $14bn one that was to paid for by everyone else – not one of whom had been consulted) the Fraser Valley was left out completely, and promises for Langley and Surrey were as far off into the future as possible. Some SkyTrain extension beyond its present King George terminal, but it would not get to Langley before 2030 at the earliest.

The general mood of the South of the Fraser seems to be one of simmering discontent. The BC Liberals seem to have regarded this as home turf where they could not be displaced, and therefore seem to have stuck to the “not enough people” argument for far too long. These communities are where growth is going to occur, and the Mayors of Langley, Surrey, Abbotsford and Coquitlam have all signed a “Livability Accord”. 65% of the growth in the Lower Mainland in the next ten years will be accommodated in these four communities. Even right wing politicians like Jordan Bateman in Langley are promoting streetcars or light rail as a way of making transit more attractive and permitting denser, transit oriented development. Indeed, the developed parts of Surrey are denser in total the developed parts of Burnaby. But the level of transit service is abysmal.

Sensing this mood, I have been advocating that a pilot or demonstration project is what is needed now – not more studies. This is because studies actually do not win many arguments, and tend to lead to more debate and more studies. Indeed, as a consultant in private practice, I was only too happy to be commissioned to do a study – because of the high probability of subsequent work created by the release of the “final report” – which was usually anything but. People are, of course, skeptical – and quite rightly. But the fond memory of the interurban between Chilliwack and Vancouver is strong, and local enthusiasts have been fanning those flames for a while.

Modern transit is actually rather different to the electrified Pullman cars that shuttled up and down the Valley for fifty years – until more than fifty years ago. But in 1968, for Expo, train service was restored briefly. And a lot of people are still wondering why trains seem to have been left out of most Olympic plans.

The Select Committee turned out to be an interesting and diverse crowd. There were two (sometimes more) councillors – and different staff at different times. Most members were local citizens who had expressed an interest or were members of one of the rail advocate groups. There were a smattering of others, like myself, with some professional interest but who came from away. The Committee, by the way, did not pay for travelling expenses, so I picked up the tab for my monthly treks out to the east, and most times for supper too (except for last night when pizza was brought in). I tried hard to find a way to do the trip by West Coast Express but was defeated by the lack of transit accessible accommodation near City Hall.

At the first meeting, back in June, I thought we were going to be arguing about freeways and intersections. Much was made of the need to incorporate Abbotsford Airport as it draws passengers from a wide area. The Interurban is also problematic for Abbotsford. Interregional connections that are most important are east-west. Mostly to Langley. Chilliwack having been, for most of recent history, sucessfully isolationist (most people who live in Chilliwack work there too). Mission has West Coast Express of course – and there is a timed bus that meets every train to connect to and from Abbotsford. But even so it is only really useful for travel to Vancouver in the early morning, and most of the travel in general (not just commuting) around Abbotsford is to adjacent communities.(Abbotsford and Mission share local transit service provision).

The Interurban was built before Sumas Lake was drained, so its route is not direct. In fact in Abbotford it runs due north – south from the river to the US border at Huntingdon. And travel in those directions really did not concern us very much at all.

For years, Abbotsford has had very low transit service,as local politicians were reluctant to pay towards empty buses. Kelowna, which is of comparable size, has twice the amount of transit service.

South Fraser Way - the main drag through the centre of Abbotsford

South Fraser Way - the "main drag" through the centre of Abbotsford

But a quick glance around the city shows low density development, quite a lot of farmland and a major freeway, with a new lane being added in its generous median. So at the first meeting, I was not at all surprised that the Chamber of Commerce made a strong pitch for a “multi modal” approach.

But over the summer the world changed. And so did Abbotsford. Abbotsford’s OCP calls for higher density development. But without better transit, that will not happen. In the fall sheet change, transit service increased significantly, with an emphasis on higher service frequencies on the busiest routes. This will not be an isolated change but is a signal of more to come. Oil prices peaked, and house prices tipped over the crest too. Development faltered, and then the credit crunch hit.

People travel in the summer – and so do their families – and people on the committee started talking about what they and their children experienced elsewhere. Modern transit no longer seemed a distant prospect but both doable and necessary. I am not going to reveal what our recommendations are before Abbotsford Council has seen them, but I will say that I have been surprised – not least because last night we approved the report unanimously. Throughout the discussion has been positive and respectful. We are also getting a bit worried about what the outgoing Council might think. But we do know that the staff – and the new City Manager – are very progressive. We did promise to report before the Civic Elections, and we will do so.

What is also relevant is that my shtick has also been going down well in Chillwack and Langley. Not just me of course, but a whole band of rail advocates – although there have been some fissures, I’m afraid. And in local politics they do seem to be inevitable. Turnout in local elections is notoriously low – below 30%. But those who do get involved are committed – and often driven. There is also change in the air. Simple demographics and aging boomers, with lots of new people arriving. Some of whom are now comfortably established and secure enough to raise their heads above concerns of simply getting established. It is probably significant too that Abbotsford has grown by incorporating neighbouring communities – and that at a time when bits of Langley and Surrey were splitting off those cities. So they know about building consensus.

After the Council Meeting on November 3, I will either put the report on here, or post a link to it. Be prepared to be surprised and, I hope, pleased

Written by Stephen Rees

October 24, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Rail for the Valley meeting in Chilliwack

with 9 comments

The crowd giving a cheer for the cameras

The crowd giving a cheer for the cameras

It is very heartening to see a room full of people – and more standing at the back. And when you can fill a hall at election time, the politicians try to get a few minutes face time in front of the crowd too. Peter Holt gave a very thorough PowerPoint presentation with all the facts, and then Malcolm Johnson provided the cost comparisons – and some more pictures. Which left to do the wind up. And the line I took was that the people of Chilliwack should not be fobbed off with yet more studies. This topic has been studied many times – and mostly by people wanting to find excuses not to do it. So what needs to be done now is to canc el the latest study and use the money instead to mount a demonstration project. Some local candidates waffled arounbd a bit but I am pleased to report that the federal NDP and Green candidates both came out in favour of rail. I was heartened that most people in the room applauded when I pointed out the futility of widening the freeway. All except one very irate truck driver who manged to shoot himself in the foot by being very rude. Not surprising then that he had been an unsuccesful candidate in earlier elections.

Hopefully we will see some coverage in the Chilliwack Progress – and there was somone there with a big video camera, so possibly something on local cable too.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2008 at 5:49 pm

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

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

Rail for the Valley Rally

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This picture is of a low floor diesel light rail train running on existing freight rail track in Ottawa, which would be the easiest way to get started on passenger rail for the Fraser Valley.

An interesting afternoon yesterday at the Township of Langley’s new municipal hall (memo to self get new map book and/or update Mapopolis).

As I was on the panel I did not get my notebook out, but I did learn quite a lot. For example, SRY actually owns the track but not the right of way. The successors to BC Hydro do not want anyone stringing trolley wire over the tracks, even though that is what the double line of poles once supported. So the introduction of a pilot program or demonstration project may not be a straightforward as I once thought. On the other hand it comes down to money in the end, and all it takes is for the province for reset its priorities and do transit first rather than highway expansions.

Yeah, right, like that’s gonna happen!

Turnout was somewhat low – but then it was a very nice day for a change so I expect a lot of people who might have gone decided that a day outside would make a nice change, and I cannot say I blame them. Those that did come were not only interested but interesting – and the discussion was generally well informed and very civilised. It was nice to meet Malcolm Johnson – who is much nicer in person than the on line persona he adopts. We must have known each other “virtually” for a long time. Also notable was that all the panel members drove there – and much of the discussion was really about why transit service south of the Fraser is so dreadful. And why the Province and the FVRD both seem committed to keeping it that way.

The Fraser Valley Heritage Railway seem to be very confident that they will get going soon.

And as predicted I was able to recycle most of Cris Leinberger’s material. When you speak last after four other people that is not a lot that can be said that is new or original – but people seemed to like it.

UPDATE  April 30 There are very positive reviews in the Langley Advance, Langley Times and also on VALTAC’s blog

Written by Stephen Rees

April 27, 2008 at 8:47 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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