by John Vissers and Alexandria Mitchell
The BC provincial transportation plan is running out of political fuel, dollars and sense. How long can we continue to promote, finance and build 1970’s infrastructure, expecting it to meet the needs of our rapidly changing 21st century communities?
Extravagantly expensive and monolithic elevated rail systems like Skytrain can serve only Metro core areas, while heavily subsidised by taxpayers who can never benefit from them. FAIL
No urban region has ever successfully built its way out of traffic congestion by expanding freeway capacity. This only invites “induced traffic” and encourages car dependent sprawl . EPIC FAIL
Today, our needs and our cities are changing. Density and sustainable, walkable community plans are the norm. Traffic patterns and lifestyles are changing. Fuel costs climb inexorably year after year. Many would happily keep the thousands of dollars they spend each year on car travel. But for almost a million people south of the Fraser, this is not an option. The only viable way of getting to school, to work, or to socialize is by car.
Incredibly, a solution to long term affordable and efficient public transportation has been in place and ready to use for many years, but completely ignored by a BC provincial plan dedicated to road building and mega-project mentalities better suited to the previous century.
Turns out we own a railroad. A really long railroad. One hundred kilometres of track, connecting all the major urban areas south of the Fraser. It starts conveniently, at the Scott Road Skytrain Station. From there it travels through the heart of Surrey, to Cloverdale, then Langley City, on to Abbotsford, and finally Chilliwack. Not only does it connect all the downtown centers, it passes within walking distance of five university/college campuses and through several industrial parks. One hundred years ago an electric tram train travelled daily on this corridor, moving people, freight and farm produce efficiently across the region. It was called the BC Electric Interurban. Fifty years ago the service was abandoned as road systems improved and our North American car culture took hold. With rare foresight, the Provincial government of the day, through BC Hydro, retained the right to re-establish passenger rail when they sold the use of the line to a private freight rail company.
Community groups interested in sustainable public transportation have been petitioning the BC government to consider re-activating the Interurban Train. We already own the line, it’s underused, and for the cost of about four kilometres of Skytrain, we could have a full service connecting all the urban cores, education and employment centres south of the Fraser. How do we know this? A study was recently completed by a professional transit consulting firm from England. They see the Interurban Rail as a diamond in the rough, and are astonished that we have not yet embraced this system as the core of a community rail-based public transportation plan. The 85 page report, commissioned by the rail advocacy group RAIL FOR THE VALLEY, is available on-line at http://rftv.wordpress.com/