Revival of passenger rail between Chilliwack and Surrey?

Councillors plan to present the idea this week at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

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Langley Township aims to revive a railway that could bring passengers between Chilliwack and Surrey in just 90 minutes.

The idea will be presented to politicians at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this week.

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Councillor Tim Baillie tabled the motion in late June, saying he wants to see the hydrogen-powered rail cars back in action during his lifetime.

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“If I’m going to spend an hour and a half in traffic coming from Chilliwack to Surrey, which is very easily accomplished nowadays, I’d rather do that sitting on a train and able to maybe have a cup of tea and read.”

The motion drew unanimous support from the Township mayor and council.

The proposal has long been a hope of a former Premier, Bill Vander Zalm, and former Township mayor, Rick Green — both of whom have pushed for a provincially backed task force to improve transportation options for the south of the Fraser region.

“We feel very strongly that it will be a real economic boom to the region, where there is currently no plan to provide mass transit,” Green said. “There is one road in and out of the Fraser Valley — Highway 1 — and its widening will not be completed until 2034.”

Baillie said the motion will push the provincial government to seriously consider the mass transit option.

“I’m tired of watching the north side of the river… you’ve got a gondola going up the north side of SFU (in Burnaby) before we get any decent transportation that connects the south side.”

Green’s South Fraser Community Rail group estimates reviving the interurban railway, which was constructed in the early 1900s, would cost about $1.2 billion, a price that could creep higher depending on factors.

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The 99-kilometre rail line would have roughly a dozen stops through the Fraser Valley, including Chilliwack’s Yarrow and Sardis communities, Abbotsford’s Sumas area, Langley’s Fort Langley village and Surrey’s Newton, with trains running 16 hours per day.

Coun. Michael Pratt said he wants to see transit that serves cities not reached by the proposed $4-billion, 16-kilometre expansion of TransLink’s SkyTrain from Langley to Surrey.

“SkyTrain is a great technology for those people who actually live in close proximity to the line or an easy transit to a station, but for those thousands of us in Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Delta, we don’t get the same benefits,” Pratt said.

“Anything that has the chance to get more Township residents moving and relieve our horrible traffic congestion is worth studying.”

However, TransLink is skeptical.

A 2019 report issued by the transit authority claims the railway would not provide service through high-density neighbourhoods such as Langley’s Willoughby, Walnut Grove, Murrayville, or Aldergrove. Much of the line in Langley courses through rural areas.

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Commute times along the route would also be slower than for those travelling by car or on the expansion of SkyTrain, which TransLink estimates will take riders less than 25 minutes to go from Langley Centre to Surrey Central Station. It is to be operational in 2028.

“Competitive travel times are important to transit investments as they are a main factor in successfully attracting ridership,” states TransLink’s report.

The interurban corridor was used for passenger trains until 1950 when it became a freight line. It is now used to carry cargo across portions of the route, which is owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The annual UBCM conference is scheduled from Sept. 18 to 22.

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