Dozens gathered for the Rally For Rail meeting held Tuesday night at the Aldergrove Kinsmen Centre by former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, former Langley Township mayor Rick Green, and campaign organizer Brit Gardner.
The South Fraser Community Rail group propose a hydrogen-powered passenger train to revitalize the 90-plus-kilometre rail line between Surrey and Chilliwack.
TransLink announced Friday that such service would come at a higher cost than an eastbound extension of the proposed SkyTrain and that it would miss key destinations including Surrey Central and Langley City.
The public meeting was in direct opposition to that statement, as Green asserts TransLink’s recent actions are “appalling,” and their report used “outdated flawed studies” to announce their opposition to the project.
“A lot of people are asking the question – why hasn’t this already happened?” Green told the Aldergrove Star.
The former politician claims that within five years, if the Interurban corridor is not activated by the use hydrogen-powered passenger trains, that TransLink will be “financially bankrupt” in transportation resources.
“That $8.67 billion [allotted for transportation] will start to dry up,” Green claimed.
A series of images designed by 17 UBC urban design masters students, served as the night’s “blueprint for what the Valley could look like,” said Gardner.
Gardner, an Abbotsford resident, said “one of the reasons given for rejecting this proposal in the past was that we have too much farmland and not enough people in the towns to support it. I am pleased that Professor Condon and UBC chose to offer us a definitive blueprint for how the revival of the line – that built the communities along it – can revitalize our communities and sustain another 400,000 people and as many jobs.”
Jieshun Teoh, a UBC student, led local attendees through the metrics of the classes three-month research project (January to April) citing that current transportation measures are “Vancouver-centric,” when “70 per cent of trips end south of the Valley.”
“TransLink is still trying to confine themselves to 276th Street being the line [they] do not cross,” Green added.
Mixed reactions resulted from residents in attendance – one detractor stood up and made statements claiming the group’s posters depicting congestion on Highway One were doctored.
In three of the photos used, the resident alleges the same bus is seen in opposite directions.
“It’s just a joke to what’s actually going on in that freeway,” he said.
A number of political candidates and elected representatives were also in the audience, including Township Councillor Bob Long, a self-proclaimed “railway fanatic.”
Long attended the meeting and suggested the Township, as well as TransLink, “consider using every transportation system available to us.”
Langley resident Jonathon Penner was made a believer on Tuesday night.
“This idea would decrease emissions, increase access to thousands of jobs, create far greater opportunities for affordable housing, provide a unified transportation solution across the entire South Fraser region, and could be completed a fraction of the time and cost,” Penner said.
The greatest barrier Penner saw is the “status quo.”
“For this idea to fly, it will need strong public support and passion,” he elaborated.
Another Aldergrove resident, Shane Dyson – a former NDP candidate – asked the question about if locals might be able to incorporate the rail line into political discourse and make it a federal election issue.
An online petition in support of the Interurban Railway has recently been circulating, and has already amassed half of its 1,000-signature goal.
It calls for the province and Premier John Horgan to launch a task force to follow-through with the project.
The next and final Rally For Rail public engagement meeting will be held in Abbotsford, at the UFV campus at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25.