Rail group to bring plan to Abbotsford council

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The group calling for the introduction of rail service between Surrey and Chilliwack on the old Interurban line is set to ask council to endorse the idea Monday.

John Visser of the South Fraser Community Rail group will speak as a delegation at Monday’s meeting. His group advocates running hydrogen trains on the line, which snakes through the Fraser Valley and is currently chiefly used for freight by the Southern Railway of BC.

The idea has been around for more than a decade, but the past year has seen a resurgence of discussion about the proposal, with former Langley Township Mayor Rick Green and former Premier Bill Van Der Zalm recently throwing their names behind the project.

In April, Green told Chilliwack the plan would “solve the South of Fraser transportation and transit deficit.” The proposed line would be 99 kilometres long, have 12 stations and take commuters 90 minutes to get from Chilliwack to Surrey.

The group says infrastructure costs for the project would be a fraction of those to run SkyTrain to Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Green and other advocates say the plan is a more environmentally and sustainable solution to traffic woes than widening Highway 1.

But Metro Vancouver transit planners have been less enthusiastic about the plan, citing unclear operating expenses and ridership numbers. Questions have also been raised about a stretch of the proposed line that is used by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Fraser Valley Regional District staff have written that the plan should take a back seat to widening Highway 1 from Langley to Abbotsford, and then Chilliwack.

In a report earlier this month, staff wrote that “Passenger rail service south of the Fraser is desired by many, but it will require very considerable investment by provincial, federal and local governments in both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley to be achieved within the timeframe of current plans. The more immediate need to expand Highway 1 to include HOV/Bus lanes from 264th to Whatcom Road, and ultimately to Chilliwack, is a priority.”

Staff wrote that TransLink has indicated that it would consider using the Interurban corridor in its long-term plan, and that the proposal reveals the need for “a more comprehensive review of longer-term inter-regional connections.”

The FVRD has also planned to extend its Fraser Valley Express bus service, which currently runs from Abbotsford and Chilliwack to the Carvolth Exchange in Langley, to the Lougheed SkyTrain station.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun has spoken increasingly frequently over the past two years about highway congestion and the need to widen the roads. Braun, who once owned a railroad construction company, has also previously suggested running trains down the Highway 1 corridor, but has not given his support to the Interurban plan.