Seven-mile headache for Fraser Valley rail idea

Seven-mile headache for Fraser Valley rail idea

Abbotsford mayor, advocate agree that stretch of track poses large hurdle for regional rail idea

Unanswered questions about the practicality of a plan to run trains between Chilliwack and Surrey shouldn’t stall the push for passenger rail service in the Fraser Valley, council heard Monday.

Speaking on behalf of the South of Fraser Community Rail group, John Vissers told council that widening the highway won’t solve the regional transportation woes that plague the valley and that traffic will always be susceptible to accident-caused slowdowns. Instead, he said running trains on the Interurban line that snakes through the Fraser Valley would get more people out of their cars, reduce emissions, connect major regional institutions and allow travellers to breeze by traffic jams.

“We would have riders travelling across the region in times comparable or better to cars at a fraction of the cost,” he said.

He noted the line passes several university campuses; runs through the centre of Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley and Surrey; and provides access to employment areas like the Gloucester Estates industrial park. The group says a train could make the 99-kilometre journey from Chilliwack to Surrey in 90 minutes.

Members of Vissers group have been pitching the idea around the Lower Mainland this year. The idea isn’t new. But the support of former Premier Bill Vander Zalm and former Langley Township mayor Rick Green has increased attention on the idea.

The proposal now involves running hydrogen-powered trains, and the group says the up-front cost would be $1.2 billion – much less than SkyTrain. But there has been no discussion of how much it would cost to operate the service on an ongoing basis.

In 2010, the concept had been considered as part of a broad analysis of transit in the Fraser Valley, and operating costs were pegged at more than $100 million annually, although those were based on the use of diesel-fueled trains.

There’s another big problem, though, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun pointed out Monday.

CP Rail has rights to use a seven-mile stretch of the Interurban line in Langley.

RELATED: Plan to put hydrogen trains on interurban line from Surrey to Chilliwack picks up speed

RELATED: Making the pitch for light passenger rail out to Chilliwack

Braun, who used to own a rail construction company, noted that a contract signed in 1988 gave the railroad the right to use the line “in perpetuity.” Braun said he couldn’t imagine the company giving up that valuable access, given the money to be made from hauling freight around the region.

He said that if some agreement could be reached to allow for easy passenger access, he’d be willing to give the proposal a second shake. But he said he was doubtful that was possible.

“There are many hurdles, but this in my mind is the biggest,” Braun said.

“I agree,” Vissers conceded.

“How that will be resolved is anybody’s guess,” he added. “I know there are going to be huge challenges – probably lawsuits.”

Despite the challenges, Vissers said governments need to work on rail sooner rather than later, even if that means starting with smaller pieces of track.

Braun, though, said the city’s focus should remain dedicated to pushing for more lanes on Highway 1 to ease persistent and increasing congestion. He has previously suggested the Highway 1 corridor should be used for passenger rail.

Even Coun. Patricia Ross, a longtime ally of Vissers, suggested the obstacles were daunting.

“You and I have known each other for a very long time and I don’t think I can remember any kind of issue regarding sustainability where we have ever disagreed even slightly but this one,” she said. “I’m not saying I don’t believe in this. Don’t get me wrong. I just think the ask might be premature. There are a lot of other things that need to be sorted out.”

Ross said that TransLink had also signaled a lack of enthusiasm for the proposal, and that there is a need to determine the idea’s costs before any real discussion can begin. That she itself costs money, she said.

Coun. Bruce Banman, meanwhile, said he was willing to declare his support for the idea and a viability study. He said that while he also has doubts about the feasibility, “If we don’t start doing something – anything – to try to find alternatives to get people out of their cars, it’s never going to happen.”

Council, as is standard practice, voted simply to receive Vissers as a delegation.

The Fraser Valley Regional District, meanwhile, was slated to discuss the matter Tuesday evening.

Staff had recommended that the board “remain focused” on lobbying efforts to widen Highway 1, while asking TransLink to discuss its future regional plans with Fraser Valley governing bodies.


@ty_olsen
Do you have more information? Email: tolsen@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 13

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Madalyn Clempson, 18, of Chilliwack sings ‘Hiney Yamin Ba-im.’ She won the Intermediate Vocal Canadian Music award at the Performing Arts BC Virtual Provincial Festival. (YouTube)
Chilliwack youth bring home awards from provincial performing arts festival

Chilliwack’s 18-year-old Madalyn Clempson ‘a bit stunned’ to have won Intermediate Vocal Canadian Music

These three kittens, seen here on Thursday, June 10, 2021, are just some of many up for adoption at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Three kittens at the Chilliwack SPCA

Kittens were in ‘rough shape’ when they came into the Chilliwack SPCA, now ready for adoption

Jacqueline Pearce and Jean-Pierre Antonio received the BC Historical Federation Best Article Award on Saturday for their story about translating haiku written in the Tashme internment camp.
Article chronicling haiku in Japanese internment camp near Hope wins award

Tashme Haiku Club’s work was preserved and recently translated, authors write

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Chilliwack family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read