Monday, April 14, 2008

South Fraser Community Rail in 2012

The year is 2012 and the sleek new Interurban rail line has received some track upgrades, sexy signaling to make things safe, and a European-style rail car that lets everyone know that the South Fraser Region has arrived.

The Southern Railway of British Columbia was selected to run the new Interurban line because they have been running freight on this BC Hydro track for years. Their selection made perfect sense from a coordination and passenger safety standpoint. South Fraser now has a community rail system that is actually run by friendly people who operate these trains hands-on, adding to the passenger’s peace of mind.

The inaugural trip from Abbotsford to Delta was a sight to behold as young and old presented big smiles to each other as they boarded the sleek new passenger cars. It was great to see young families board the train in mass. One could see this was truly “community rail” from all the chatter between neighbors and friends. Everyone was commenting on how this mode of travel was much better in that they could talk with friends and neighbors instead of sitting alone in their car in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

All the local mayors and politicians were on hand for the event. Those that had previously considered buses to be our only saving grace, now joked about catching the vision. They spoke of the numerous council debates, discussions and letters that prompted the technical studies and eventual agreements and work that made this dream a reality.

It was a grand day for those South of the Fraser and something that will impact many generations to come. One of the highlights of this day was that there were no losers or bitterness. We all won, and even Translink who is frequently dumped upon, enjoyed the sweet smell of success on this special day.

In 2008 Translink formed a new real estate division that swiftly sought to develop land along the transit lines. With the ambitious reality of a new Interurban community rail moving forward, Translink gathered some of the brightest global Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ideas and planners together to plot out a vibrant TOD strategy around the revived line. Phase I of the development was opened in Langley on this same historic day of the inaugural new Interurban journey. The development was as sleek as the new community rail cars. Timber, stone, and large glass panels enclosed stunning live/work suites with plenty of shops and restaurants surrounding the family-friendly parks, fountains and benches. The proud new residents all talked about how it was like living and working in a resort. The new train brought in customers and friends.

The South Fraser also received another benefit on this faithful day. Because this rail line was street level with nice new curbing that was level with the rail cars, those with disabilities could for once enjoy an effortless ride without worry. This street-level design also facilitated good security and public safety. The large glass panels on the rail cars, metal spacers between the seats, wider rail cars and an actual person driving the train allowed the passengers to feel that much safer.

The new station platforms were designed in a contemporary manner with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) elements like natural surveillance and ownership. The lighting is better than the elevated SkyTrain because these stations can get more light from the surrounding street scene. More eyes and ears on the streets reduce the need for lots of special policing.

With the density on the rise along 200th Street the rail and curbs are going in for the new streetcar service that will connect to the Interurban. A very happy young local councilor was spotted boarding an Interurban car with his wife and two daughters, along with several other councilors and mayors. The group stopped briefly to speak to the media about the new 200th Street project. Several councilors and mayors were chatting on the train with citizens about connecting their communities and roadways with the Interurban or the upcoming 200th Street systems. Several area councils recently approved changes to their development permit process by requiring all new developments to include TOD principles in the design plans where applicable. Provision of trackage will now be required to be provided during build-out of all these new neighborhoods.

There is now talk in the City of Langley of bringing another streetcar down the Fraser Highway to connect the shops and reduce vehicular traffic. For now they plan to use a free shuttle van that will pick up and drop off passengers at one of the new Interurban stations. Its rumored that developers are watching the ridership numbers and may be buying land and going through the process of making the new vision for Langley City a reality sooner rather than later.

The City of Surrey has reviewed a new Translink and P3 real estate proposal for some exciting TOD developments there along the line. With these new communities approved, the new Interurban will soon see more cars added.

Chilliwack has decided to jump on board the Interurban solution after voters there rallied the Transportation Minister for new funding. Speaking of the minister, he was seen getting in an Interurban car earlier this morning in Cloverdale along with a very popular mayor that got behind the light rail idea several years ago. The minister himself has become very popular and he is backing several major initiatives for massive communities centered around light rail. His P3 strategies have made good sense and have greatly reduced the need for huge amounts of public money to be poured into these transportation infrastructure investments.

This community rail experiment has certainly proved to be a beneficial one. It is bringing communities back together in a major way and creating some exciting opportunities. Its amazing that the revival of a 100 year old rail gem is causing a major renaissance in the South Fraser.

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