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BC Organizers Promote Light Rail in Fraser Valley

Organizers say 850,000 residents from Delta to Chilliwack will support modern light-rail service if they learn the facts.

By Kent Spencer

(Published in Canada.com on Thursday, February 14, 2008)

Fraser Valley, BC - Proponents of passenger rail in the Fraser Valley are gearing up their campaign with a public meeting in Chilliwack on Saturday.

Organizers say 850,000 residents from Delta to Chilliwack will support modern light-rail service if they learn the facts.

"There is no effective public transportation in the South Fraser area," said Nathan Pachal, a 24-year-old television broadcasting engineer with a passion for Valley rail.

"Public transit plans have been pretty much Vancouver-centric. There is a stronger case to get people moving between Langley and Abbotsford than Langley and Vancouver," said Pachal, a member of of the Valley Transportation Advisory Committee.

The old Interurban railway tracks, laid roughly 100 years ago, conveniently pass along most major population centres and colleges on their way from North Surrey to Chilliwack.

"All the main walkable regions are pretty close," said John Buker, founder of Rail for the Valley.

Buker said space on the tracks could be leased from the Southern Railway of B.C.

"We kind of wonder why it's not being done. It's a no-brainer," he said.

The province has promised to do a feasibility study, but Pachal said recent transportation initiatives for Valley residents have been negligible. The government's $14-billion 2020 transportation plan promises rapid bus service to Chilliwack in 12 years' time.

"That is completely ridiculous," said Pachal. "Something needs to be done today."

Buker hopes Saturday's meeting will generate momentum. About 1,000 people are already on his contact list.

Speakers include Bryan Vogler, a former railway employee who helped create the West Coast Express. He was a winner of a Queen's medal for transportation.

Unlike the West Coast Express, which is a North Fraser commuter service that runs between Mission and Vancouver westward in the morning and eastward in the evening, Buker wants the inter-urban line to run back and forth all day with multiple trains. Chilliwack residents could leave their vehicles at home and do errands in Langley.

There are challenges. A stretch south of Abbotsford touches the U.S. border and is not the fastest way to reach Chilliwack. Some railway curves are fine for slow freight trains but are not built to handle passenger travel.

But Buker said cost estimates are cheap compared to the SkyTrain system. A TransLink study in 2006 pegged costs at $27 million per km.

"Compared to $233 million per kilometre for the UBC SkyTrain line, that is very cheap," Buker said.

"We're paying taxes in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley. We deserve better."