The BC Electric Interurban Line serviced commuters from Vancouver to Chilliwack from 1910 until the early 1950's.

Bringing Back the Interurban Line: Key to our Transportation Future Lies in the Past


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

The Interurban Line route - a new report by a leading transportation firm suggests it's time to put it back into use.


About John Vissers

John Vissers business in Abbotsford, helps make buildings more energy efficient. His real passion lies in the environment and he’s a member of a staggering 10 different environmental groups in his community. In recent years, John has been a key voice for resurrecting the old Interurban rail car line that connected the Fraser Valley to downtown Vancouver for over 50 years before its premature end in the 1960's. Bringing back the Interurban line is an idea whose time has come - and John's working hard with local politicians and citizens to make that a reality.

24 thoughts on “Bringing Back the Interurban Line: Key to our Transportation Future Lies in the Past

  1. idiots bring it all back get the people out of their cars use the old interurban routes dont destroy all the heritage most of all they go through all the industrial areas look around those areas

  2. The maximum speed of the TramTrain is put at 90 kph and the geometry of the track was designed for such speeds.

    The track is not 100 years old, but some sections are worn and will be replaces as per the RftV/Leewood report.

    The interurban line was designed for short wheelbase interurban vehicles (which TramTrain is) and not heavy freight cars of various lengths. The interurban route definitely wasn’t designed for West Coast Express type of passenger cars.

    It is wrong to say that one needs a travel time on par with the car, because the TramTrain will have stops, to pick-up or set-down passengers. The 90 minute Scott Road to Chilliwack travel time is very good, and going by car would be 30 minutes longer – if there is no road obstruction, accidents or congestion.

    The notion that the service needs to be non stop is like saying that SkyTrain should operate end to end with no intermediate stations!

    What the proposed TramTrain does, is provide an efficient service at affordable costs – 98 km. of TramTrain at the cost of 4 km. of SkyTrain – Think about it.

  3. Eric, you are wrong. Providing dedicated lanes for transit costs money, except if one converts an already existing street for transit.

    The bus boys make me laugh because if buses were so great in attracting ridership, there would be no demand for tram/LRT.

    The Ottawa busways are a good example, originally they were supposed to be cheaper than LRT but in the end they cost more to build, then to the embarrassment of the busway promoters, ridership dropped over 15% in a decade!

    Ottawa, then went with O-Train, a TramTrain variant and now is building with light rail.

    Another example is the Adelaide O-Bahn Kerby guided busways, where after a decade of operation, did not attract anymore new customers than non-guided bus routes. The O-Bahn experiment has now ceased and the city of Adelaide has now refurbished a dated tramway and building with LRT.

    A bus, is a bus, is a bus and is a product the transit customer just doesn’t want.

  4. Nice. It all sounds great. Except, in a time when every minute counts, I have to ask how fast a train could effectively move people along the line?

    To be successful, transit time would HAVE to be near comparable to driving – something unlikely on 100 year old tracks that don’t likely see freight trains travelling more than 50 km/hr. Numerous stops along the line to effectively serve those communities mentioned would further exacerbate this problem.

    Eric’s post on Oct. 19 at 15:10 looks like he and I have similar thoughts.

  5. zweisystem – now we are getting somewhere. You wrote: “To provide series comparable with trams, buses must be guided and/or have their own rights of ways”

    I firmly assert that and transit without transit-only lanes cannot be rapid transit. This is why the Interurban is of interest, it had its own right of way a century ago and still does. The guided bus stuff is just a red herring, it is dedicated lanes that make the big difference.

    But you are off base on a key point. You wrote that dedicated lanes “drives up the costs of a bus rapid transit system.” Wrong. By making transit faster and more attractive dedicated lanes generally reduce the cost of transit per passenger. This is true of trams and buses.

  6. I would recommend reading the series of studies by Public Transportation professor (University of Wuppertal) Carmen Haas-Klau’s four studies, starting with ‘Bus or Light Rail, Making the Right Choice.

    The studies are international in scope and gives an unbiased appraisal of bus and LRT/tram planning and implementation.

    Zweisystem was told by several European Transit experts that to be fluent in the transit debate, these four studies are very important references.

    We are afraid of light rail in the METRO region; a fear brought on by 30 years of anti light rail propaganda by BC Transit and now TransLink.


    If the truth be known, by building modern LRT in the region, would show that the Emperor (SkyTrain/light-metro) had no clothes.

    Also modern LRT would show that BRT isn’t really bus rapid transit at all, just a bus with limited stops, with very little appeal to potential transit customers!

  7. I’m sorry Eric, but you are so out of touch, GLT or guided light transit was an attempt to make buses attractive to customers. To provide series comparable with trams, buses must be guided and/or have their own rights of ways and by doing so, drives up the costs of a bus rapid transit system.

    What has been found is for a bus to provide the same level of service as a tram, the costs rise to those of a tram, thus tram (LRT) is built because it offers a better transit investment.

    France has gone through great studies comparing LRT with bus and light metro and the tram has come out on top, leading to an explosion of new tram lines in France.

    What about the bus or bus type transit systems? The potential transit customer still perceives a bus as a bus, transit for others and takes the car instead.

    With modern LRT, new tram lines see a 30% to 40% modal shift, from car to tram, in the first year of operation; a figure that bus promoters can only dram about.

    Yes, the bus has its place in providing transit, but never consider a bus a competitor for LRT/tram, as the benefits of light rail far outweigh that of a bus.

  8. Great point about ‘balanced’ spending on transit Damien!

    The Australian is Paul Mees, below is short quote from a radio interview:

    “The network effect is about saying you can!|t have thousands upon thousands of little bus and tram and train routes to connect up every conceivable trip origin with every conceivable trip destination. There are too many of them and the numbers of people wishing to travel along each of these possible routes is so small you couldn!|t economically provide the service. What the network effect says is that you can have a much smaller number of public transport routes, but by linking them together and making it easy for people to transfer between them, you can achieve the same effect that you would!|ve achieved by having thousands upon thousands of direct services. Probably the most common example people as tourists are used to is the Paris Metro. If you wish to travel between two parts of Paris almost invariably you get on one metro line, you transfer part way along the route, and you complete your journey on another line. ”

    The full interview is available as a podcast/audio stream or transcript from

  9. Eric and Zweisytem are at it again 🙂 I enjoyed your spirited exchange last time around – good to see the debate continues apace. Personally I see a place for both BRT – especially down King George – and light Rail, especially the Interurban and a street level economical Evergreen Line (not the fancy pants version now being pushed). We could have it all and then some if we were to reallocate the $6 Billion + being splashed on PM2/Hwy 1 and SFPR. We make a mistake when we get into either/or. What we need to be aiming for here is, as an Australian Transportation planner whose name eludes me calls it, “the network effect”, whereby a system of localized bus service taps into wider-ranging regional light rail and rapid transit. I thought Richard Campbell, the tireless cycling advocate, put it well when at a public hearing for Gateway a few years ago in response to a BC govt. official’s patronizing call for “balance” in both public transit and road building. Richard scoffed: “For the past 50 years we’ve been subsidizing car-based infrastructure to the tune of 10 x that of public transit – so ‘balance’ would mean spending 10 x as much on public transit for the next 50!” Amen.

  10. Zwisystem wrote “BRT has to be guided, thus we come to GLT or guided bus and this mode has not proven to attract the motorist from the car.”

    This is just silly. Guided bus is an attempt to make buses more like rail, and it is rare. Rail has advantages over bus rapid transit, and bus rapid transit has advantages over rail.

    Most bus rapid transit lines are not guided because one of the main advantages of buses is their ability to avoid crashes by steering around pedestrians or vehicles. In most situations it makes no sense to spend extra money eliminating this important advantage.

  11. In theory, if the “Full Build” option is used, the Arbutus Corridor could be part of the package.

    BC Electric leased the Arbutus Corridor from the CPR and BC Hydro did not renew the lease.

    BC Hydro was subsequently sold to the Southern Railway of BC, by Bill Van der Zalm to prevent a “cheap” electric rail service from Metro Town to Chilliwack to be built, which would make the newly built SkyTrain light metro look vastly more expensive by comparison.

    The taxpayer still suffers from the onerous taxes required to keep building with light metro.

  12. Just a note: BUDD cars never ran on the old interurban line, but for 6 months during Expo 86, saw a 3 returns a day service from Abbotsford to New Westminster using British Rail Pacer Units.

    The sad fact is, buses in ALL their guises just have not proven to attract the motorist from the car. This is why TransLink’s BRT or Bus Rapid Transit option is a farce. To be truly rapid, BRT needs a dedicated rights-of-way, which drives up the cost past light rail! Because of this, BRT has to be guided, thus we come to GLT or guided bus and this mode has not proven to attract the motorist from the car.

    To provide the inducement for modal shift, the full build Richmond/Vancouver to Rosedale TramTrain must be built and this is what everyone is afraid of – cost effective light rail that will attract more people out of their cars than the present 3 light metro lines have done.

  13. The portion of the old line they’re talking about reactivating starts at Scott Road Station in Surrey and runs to Chilliwack (see map above).

  14. the interurban line runs near the house i grew up in near bradner. the bud cars were seen now and then on this line and yes the infrastructure still exist. making it as feasible train corridor is possible and expanding it to make it a successful corridor is possible. it may not fill the need as it wanders around aimlessly through parts of the valley. coupled with light rail or skytrain type system it would definitely provide a good option.

    as part of a complete train /mass transit system it will be a start to removing the dependence on roads however currenlty there will be lots of infrastructure to be built.

  15. John is absolutely right! If we want to get people out their cars reactivating passenger service on the Interurban Corridor from Scott Road to Chilliwack would be the most cost effective, environmentally effective and outright sensible plan all levels of our government could ever entertain. Most people I have talked to won’t ride the local transit bus but would get out of their cars to ride the rails.

    1. Roy, getting people out of their cars will only happen when a transit system can get people to their destination in the shortest time possible, which means a diesel-type commuter train on a relatively straight track where speeds of 80 to 100 miles can be attained. At present, the only incentive is the West Coast Express but it costs Translink four times what each passenger pays so that only increases the deficit for Translink and the debt for Translink. The interurban line, ie, the Fraser Valley Line or the Chillwiack Line or District Trhee will never become a commuter rail line because the Port Metro Vancouver wants to increase Roberts Bank and the former Surrey Port, now part of the MPV, which will mean twice as many trains or more on the BC Hydro line from Livingston to Pratt and then beyond to Roberts Bank. This is not only the provincial government’s goal but that of the federal government as well. Doubling the line from Pratt to Livingstone will cost so much … if it is indeed possible as it would impact on the line from the CN trackage east of Fort Langley up the hill to Livingstone, from there to Glover Road, including a new bridge over Hwy. 1, and behind TWC and then all along Glover Road and through the City of Langley….work out the cost and then get back to me…
      Yes people prefer a train to a bus…but where is the most efficient corridor and how to you get to Scott Road….there are so many business that will have to be bought out, the parking lot reduced…much wiser to go across the Fraser River Bridge and stop behine the old BCER TErminal in New Westminster and have a tunnel under Hyack Square up to the Skytrain Station.

  16. This seem like a sound proposal. Using existing tracks makes a lot of sense, particularly when they had passenger service in the past that focused development around the stations as seen in Langley City.

    But in order to really work well an interurban train needs to be part of a transit network that covers the whole region. For that we need to look to surface rapid transit on existing roads such as King George Highway and Broadway.

    This cannot be about fans of steel wheel vs fans of rubber tires. It needs to be about effective and affordable transit. See

  17. This is an excellent idea. Continually pouring taxpayer money into infrastructure for cars will never address our air quality problems, climate change, or even traffic congestion. Sustainable transportation is a key component in a sustainable community. It’s high time for us all to get on board.

  18. Great idea and I hope it get somewhere. Unfortunately, car dealers donate lots of money to the Liberals to keep people trapped commuting in their cars when alternatives should have been explored long ago.

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