Local activists want hydrogen powered trains like this one to take passengers on a revived Interurban line. (Photo: Alstom)

Painful Truth: Interurban won’t run through Langley again

A less-than-optimal route and competition with freight trains makes it a long, long shot to revive

It gives me no pleasure to say that I don’t believe the old Interurban line through the Fraser Valley will ever run again.

With a new series of rallies coming up and hydrogen trains being proposed by South Fraser Community Rail, interest is again high.

It seems like a natural to revive the Interurban. The rail line once ran from Vancouver through New West, across the Fraser into Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack.

Back in the 1950s, when the line was shut down, the South of the Fraser communities were largely rural. Now they’re sizable municipalities, and collectively have more people than Vancouver itself.

But there are two problems.

First, there’s the route itself.

The Interurban wasn’t just built to move people – back around 1910 when it was first being extended, there weren’t that many people here. Its other big cargo was milk, picked up from the many family dairies that dotted the Fraser Valley, delivered to Vancouver.

In the interim, some of the areas the Interuban served have become truly urban. It passes through parts of Surrey that are now densely suburban, it skirts Cloverdale, and it plunges right through Langley City!

But it also meanders through wide swathes of rural North Langley and Abbotsford. There are still almost as many cattle, sheep, and horses in some of those areas as people.

On the plus side, it does pass by Gloucester Industrial Estates, and providing that complex and the thousands of workers who commute there transit would be a huge benefit.

But then it’s back to rural areas. The line plunges through Abbotsford’s core from the north and then meanders through some more farm country before arriving in Chilliwack.

It would be better than nothing, that’s for sure. But it isn’t exactly optimal. The line wasn’t built with modern populations in mind, and it misses out on opportunities to serve areas like Clayton Heights in Surrey, or Murrayville or Aldergrove – areas that could be served if a Fraser Highway-aligned SkyTrain or light rail is pushed through.

The second problem is much, much worse.

Those tracks are already in use. Remember how we’ve seen three major overpasses built in Langley in recent years just to get traffic over the rail lines? CP Rail runs multiple mile-long trains every day over those tracks heading to and from Deltaport, carrying consumer goods, coal, and grain.

Is there another rail route through the Lower Mainland that could accommodate those freight trains?’

Maybe.

But if it was a cheaper or easier route, they’d already be using it.

There may still be a passenger right of way for the Interurban line. But it’s no use if the route is monopolized by freight trains that also have a right to use those same tracks.

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