Delta Coun. Bruce McDonald is trying to drum up support for an alternate public transit idea south of the Fraser.
He and Township of Langley Mayor Rick Green recently gave a presentation to Delta council on the merits of using the old BC Electric interurban line as an alternative for residents to the current service provided by TransLink, which has been criticized of late by both Surrey and Delta councils as inadequate for the region.
McDonald, a member of the South Fraser Community Rail Task Force, and Green, who heads the group, argue reactivating the existing provincially-owned corridor as a community passenger rail network would be an economical and efficient way of transporting commuters throughout the Fraser Valley.
Service would run from the Scott Road SkyTrain Station to Abbotsford or beyond.
McDonald said the track, which once carried commuters until the early 1950s, could be readied with to go from the Scott Road Station to Chilliwack for about half a billion dollars, compared to $2.5 billion to extend SkyTrain service from the current King George terminus station in Surrey to Langley.
The task force’s goal is to get a demonstration line up and running by 2015, comparing the idea to Bombardier’s demonstration of light rail streetcars which ran during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The group envisions electric, hybrid or fuel efficient diesel cars.
“Hopefully, we can get the enthusiasm to get the demonstration project going,” McDonald said. “And we’re quite convinced the demonstration line would indicate to people this is the way to go.”
But to do that they need the backing of the provincial government and TransLink.
TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie would not comment as he said the transportation authority has not had discussions with the task force about its proposal.
During a recent visit to South Delta, former B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon told McDonald he needs to see a solid business case.
“Though it’s a beautiful trip through wonderful agricultural fields, it tends to avoid where a lot of the population is living,” he said. “And we do have to make sure the decisions we’re making for future transit investment are going to be consistent with where the communities are planning a lot of their population growth.”
McDonald contends the ridership is there, noting there are already 35,000 students at University of the Fraser Valley, Kwantlen and Trinity Western campuses who would be situated near the line.
“We just had TransLink put out a study saying there’s no demand—but there’s no service either. If there’s no service you can’t very well say we’re not using transit, because there’s no transit to use.”
He said one challenge in generating enthusiasm for the project is many people don’t know the interurban line exists.
“The biggest single thing is people don’t know about the potential for the old interurban line. And to get past some of the staid thinking, would be a nice way to put it, is to get more and more people to understand just how efficient and how economical this could be,” he said.