Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why the Interuban will not work today

An opinion article named “Why the Interuban won’t work today” appears in the Aldergrove Star today. In it the author says:

I'd like to see the Interurban service revived as I live only a block away from the tracks and the former "Jackman" station, about 1.5 kms north of Hwy. 1 on 264 Street. However, I'd be hard-pressed to make a solid business case for it, as there are only about a dozen families who reside within walking distance of the station. It's the same situation all the way out to Chilliwack, as urban growth has not settled alongside the rail line.

Southern Railway purchased the section of B.C. Electric rail line between Langley and Huntingdon from the province about 20 years ago, and uses it for shuttling one or two trains a day, so there would be no technical problem in accommodating revival of a transit service. The problem lies in the fact that there is no population density to justify it, nor are there any available non-ALR properties for park and rides, let alone connecting buses to travel to the urban areas from the old Interurban stations.

For that matter, this section of the Interurban is so far out in the "boonies" that none of the level crossings are controlled with lights or gates — some don't even have a street light for illumination.

There is a much better business case for running a tram along the BCR line from the Surrey SkyTrain station out to Langley City. The section of the BCR line along Glover Road was sold to the CPR many years ago and is heavily used for coal trains, but Langley Township councillor Jordan Bateman has led a worthy campaign to build a connecting tram line from Langley City along 200 Street to Hwy. 1. Willowbrook-Willoughby-Walnut Grove is a major urban corridor that would support such a transit system.

Now there is one fact that I wanted to correct from the article. BC Hydro still owns the right-of-way on the Interurban corridor. Southern and CPR own a freight license, track, and equipment. This is important to remember.

Anyway, I agree with the author that there is a “much better business case for running a tram along the BCR line from” Scott Road to Langley City. In fact, I believe that when Kevin Falcon's study comes out it will say that the Interurban line makes the most sense alone that alignment. I believe that Surrey to Langley will be best served by that route. As far as the Township of Langley goes, I believe that a tram/light rail along 200th Street makes the most sense for connecting the growing population of Langley Township with itself and the region via a connection in/near Langley City. The City of Abbotsford has come out with their preferred concept for light rail. This covers the urban areas of the South Fraser. Between Abbotsford, Trinity Western, and 200th is a lot of ALR land. Does it make sense to run between 200th and Abbotsford via the Interurban or Highway 1? At the end of the day, cost and speed will be the deciding factor.

I could get all worked up about this article, but the facts are these: Surrey wants light rail, Langley wants light rail, and Abbotsford wants light rail. At the end of the day, if all these communities (and the province) agree on how to make the system cover the most area for the least amount of money, and they system gets built in the next 10 years, I’ll be a happy camper.


Nathan Pachal said...

I received the following in my email as a comment for this post…
The problem is, the IRTSC proposal (light rail down South Fraser Way) is for 25-30 years down the road, as discussed by the City Staff presentation. The map you show, assuming light rail down Highway 1 connecting to South Fraser Way, would take a long time to build (at great expense) and would leave out most of Abbotsford and all of Chilliwack for 25-30 years until light rail finally makes its way down South Fraser Way.

Also, the Interurban corridor would make an ideal bypass route through Milner. Why doesn't the map also show that? (I assume 200th St. would have quite a few stops and would be a headache for people traveling, for example, between Abbotsford and Langley City or beyond.)

When people talk about a "business case," what do they actually mean? (Not rhetorical... honestly I'd like an answer.) Because we're not building light rail only for current ridership focusing on minimizing subsidies, as I believe "solid business case" implies. We're building it for sustainable economic and residential development. To me, that criteria far outweighs any concerns with any short-term "business case." We need to remember that Abbotsford is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada.

That's why we need to build NOW, and not wait 20-30 years for rail to make its way through Abbotsford and to Chilliwack and eventually Hope.

At the end of the day, I agree with your last paragraph, with the important caveat that we urgently need to get in place as well at least a basic Interurban service in the next 2-3 years, all the way out to Chilliwack... To send an immediate, strong signal to City Planners and to developers as to the future growth patterns of the region, and to, maybe most importantly, show the public that light rail is a real solution, and to inspire people to demand more. Seeing is believing, after all.
To respond:
We all want a system that can connect the most people, in the shorted time, with a reasonable balance between speed and cost. I'm not saying that we shouldn’t use the Interurban corridor to get to Abbotsford, but if the Provinces want to build rapid bus, maybe we could get light rail instead. As I said it’s only a thought… As far as Langley goes, In order to serve the most people in the Township, we would need rapid transit on 200th Street. If this could connect to whatever comes from Abbotsford and Surrey/Langley City, it would help with the whole freight issues around the Page Sub.
I think the business case for the South Fraser mean that our transit system should be running through urban areas, not ALR when possible.

Anyway, we do need rail now, and all the local government are talking about it. I’m not saying that we should scrap the idea of using the Interurban, but there many be some detours from it original course that will serve our region better…

Light Rail Guy said...

There is much wrong with this article. First, the BC Hydro Railway was sold off because the Social Credit regime DID NOT WANT MUCH CHEAPER LRT OPERATED ON THE ROUTE.

Why? After the electrification of the North East Coal Railway, there was serious talk of 'hanging wire' once again on the route and operating electric vehicles. A quick sale and no embarrassment to the expensive SkyTrain metro system.

Secondly, the author brings up the density issue, which is a 'man of straw' argument. No one can answer what density is needed to sustain a light railway.

There is no business case for any passenger line on the route unless it services Vancouver. The hype and hoopla argument for a Scott Road/SkyTrain, to Langley route is just that, hype and hoopla. Unless the interurban services Vancouver, just as the old interurban did, it will remain a curiosity and not a benefit.