Old interurban B.C. Electric Railway line touted as possible transit Plan B

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      Voters were told there was no Plan B if they killed a tax hike to fund a $7.5-billion transportation plan in Metro Vancouver.

      They did exactly that in a recent plebiscite, but there is an alternative, according to light-rail advocate Malcolm Johnston.

      “It would tie in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford…Chilliwack in a transportation line,” Johnston told the Straight in a phone interview.

      His suggestion is the revival of the Vancouver-to-Chilliwack interurban rail service, running on the same path as that of the B.C. Electric Railway (BCER) when the company operated the light-rail system until the 1950s.

      He believes that it could be a popular option when compared to the Metro Vancouver mayors’ plan that included a $1.98-billion extension of the SkyTrain’s Millennium Line from Vancouver’s VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street along the Broadway corridor and $2.14 billion for three light-rail lines in Surrey.

      It’s “unlike both projects, which are divisive because ‘Oh, Vancouver is getting this massively expensive subway. Oh, we’re going to throw all this money at Surrey,’ ” Johnston said.

      In 2010, Johnston’s group Rail for the Valley commissioned a study about bringing back the interurban between Chilliwack and Surrey. Prepared by Leewood Projects Ltd., a U.K. company, the report also looked into going all the way to Downtown Vancouver.

      According to Leewood, it would cost about $1 billion to restore the Vancouver-to-Chilliwack service. Although that price is dated, Johnston maintained that it’s still going to be cheaper to adopt this type of plan than plans that were drawn up for Vancouver and Surrey.



      JK Hannah

      Jul 15, 2015 at 12:45pm

      Reviving the InterUrban would be terrific, both economically and as a means to connect our communities into a more cohesive metro region. Let's do it.

      James Blatchford

      Jul 15, 2015 at 1:01pm

      One problem: I think they might have already sold the cars. What about pontoon boats on the Fraser?


      Jul 15, 2015 at 2:15pm

      Didn't they already use the right of way to build the existing Expo Line?

      A lot has changed since the Interurban stopped running - new road crossings and what have you. Has anyone talked about CN about crossing the river? I doubt they'd be too keen on giving up their bridge on 10 minute intervals. Think getting the track rights for the WCE is hard, wait until it's the only rail bridge crossing the Fraser and has a swing portion.

      Maybe they should limit their ambitions to reaching the eastern most Skytrain.

      I. K. Brunel

      Jul 15, 2015 at 2:20pm

      A revived Vancouver to Chilliwack rail service would be beneficial for residents, not only in Vancouver, but the entire Fraser Valley. Using former interurban routes for modern public transport makes very good sense as they travel through population centers, creating travel destinations, so important in attracting new ridership.

      The is some charm in boarding a modern tram and alighting in Abbotsford or Chilliwack and I wonder if this project would stimulate tourism in the region?

      I guess it is far too simple a project for TransLink to embrace.

      ursa minor

      Jul 15, 2015 at 2:23pm

      As a member of the "TransLink Listens" panel, I know that Light Rail was presented as an option for rapid transit to UBC but was curtailed once developer and political interests demanded a subway. Coincidentally, I haven't seen a "TransLink Listens" survey in my inbox for almost a year now.

      Why we always have to choose the most expensive and disruptive option is beyond me. Light Rail has proven to be more cost-effective and more flexible, and the Broadway corridor could be easily modified to accommodate it.

      Of course streetcars require drivers, which could be good-paying union jobs, and we have the most anti-union provincial government in B.C. history...

      D. M. Johnston

      Jul 15, 2015 at 2:23pm

      The line can travel on the BNSF/CN main into Vancouver, making it much faste than transfering on to the Expo Line at Scott Road and there is a statutory right for passenger service to cross the BNSF owned Fraser River Rail bridge.

      The Stadler Diesel light rail car is FRA approved in the USA, making it easy for approval in Canada.


      Jul 15, 2015 at 2:47pm

      Oh dear why do people pay attention at all to Malcolm Johnston. He literately copy-pastes form letters to every publication on a weekly basis. The Interurban no longer exists because it cost a bloody fortune to keep operating with no customers. It serves nobody. Go look at the map. At best you could make a business case to re-opening it as a commuter rail twice a day, but there is no way anyone would ever want to ride a "light rail" train for 2 hours just go end to end.

      D. M. Johnston

      Jul 15, 2015 at 3:29pm

      Aw Misa, you slander me, i don't copy paste form letters to every publication; I do in fact, write a lot of letters to various publications locally and internationally. Some get printed, some don't.

      Actually, the Valley interurban would not cost a fortune to operate, as the mode is quite cheap to run and because you are "track sharing" with freight operations, you share costs as well.

      Actually, the Valley interurban would be a regional railway, serving regional needs from Vancouver, up the Fraser Valley to Chilliwack and not just being expensively Vancouver centric.

      On needs shorter wheelbase vehicles, not commuter rail cars because the line was designed for shorter wheelbased interurbans.

      Maybe not many would ride the service end to end (you be surprised how many would) but the potential for Chilliwack to Langley and North Delta to Langley for post secondary institutions would be great. And of course, Vancouver, Surrey, Langley and Chillwack to Abbotsford International Airport, is another untapped customer market.

      The potential of the line is countermen and with cheap operating costs, could provide a viable alternative to the car for many.


      Jul 16, 2015 at 9:23am

      Yes, I agree completely, very good article - Malcolm is correct about the interurban rail transit being more affordable and beneficial to society than developer driven subways concentrated primarily in Vancouver. Elizabeth Murphy to me looks like the best choice for the next CEO of transit in Metro Vancouver:


      I have a plan. It’s a dream: MTV.

      It’s called Metro Transit Vancouver (MTV). Adiós TransLink and hello MTV.


      Now that the plebiscite to fund TransLink has been soundly defeated and spending on transit to UBC is on hold for years or decades, here is how to: improve transit service to UBC, slash carbon emissions from transit to UBC and cut the cost of transit service to UBC:

      • For most transit users, transit service to UBC can be sped up by replacing the express articulated 99 B-Line diesel bus service in operation every three minutes with articulated trolleybus service in operation every three minutes. It takes less time to reach trolleybus stops spaced approximately 255 metres apart than the 99 B-Line stops spaced about 1,083 metres apart for the median distance commuted in Vancouver and this more than offsets the minor amount of time saved by the express 99 B-Line service being held up by the many traffic lights on Broadway, in particular.

      • With the rationalization of the dozen transit routes currently going to UBC into two articulated trolleybus routes (one route on W4th Avenue and one route on W10th Avenue) as well as two articulated hybrid-electric or CNG bus routes (one route on W16th Avenue and one route on SW Marine Drive) going to UBC, peak transit capacity by these four routes can match the transit capacity of the subway (12,500 pphpd) at a saving of $5 billion in capital spending (subway) and at a saving of roughly $20 million annually in operational spending. Gulp.

      So, what's stopping the immediate start on the tram line to UBC? Nothing now, let's get moving on it.


      Jul 16, 2015 at 1:07pm

      If you are planning a transit line you want it to connect a large number of people to a large number of destinations in a reasonably straight line (each meander away from a straight line costs time). Everyone should look at the map or google earth of the BCER route, past Langley it is a poster child for a low density non direct service...that is why this route gets no traction. Anyone who seriously looks at it realizes it would have low ridership relative to its costs. Why spend 50% more time on the train than the bus (for Abbotsford to points North of Fraser or Surrey Center). Hey it will be a great service if you want to get from Abbotsford to Cloverdale....and for the portion West of Langley Fraser Highway LRT as proposed by Surrey is more direct. ..unless you are going to Newton? I really do want to like this idea but past Langley the existing route is a total loss and before Langley the Fraser Highway LRT is better.