December 2019 – The UBCLiner: Chilliwack to UBC – the 6 am through service.



The following is a short tome on a student’s Monday morning commute from Chilliwack to UBC, via the interurban and the Broadway streetcar line and illustrates what can be realistically achieved with light-rail, for a fraction of the cost of a SkyTrain subway to UBC. The longest tramtrain route on Karlsruhe’s famous Zweisystem is 210km. long where triple articulated cars, including ‘Bistro’ cars offer a 30 minute service from Karlsruhe, to the outskirts of Stuttgart, including on-street operation through towns including Heilbronn.

The time: 6am

The date: December 2, 2019

The 6 am diesel LRT service from Chilliwack to Vancouver, which  now terminates at the University of BC on the newly opened Broadway light rail line, is locally called the UBCLiner. The UBCliner consists of a two car diesel LRT and diesel/electric hybrid LRT train-set; the hybrid diesel – electric LRV is designed to operate both on electrified and non-electrified rail lines. 

Every morning the UBCliner departs the Chilliwack loop precisely at 6 am and very shortly traverses the ‘flat’ crossing with the Canadian National Railway on its mainline. As one passes, one can see the foundations for the new rail overpass that will shortly replace the level crossing, which will be needed with the recently opened Fraser River Rail Bridge which will soon allow an increase of the Interurban service to the Fraser Valley and Chilliwack.

There is light snow falling and local roads are very slippery, but all is unnoticed as the UBCliner speeds on to Vancouver. In the freak blizzard in 2017, the valley interurban was never stopped by ice and snow and provided a timely transit service throughout the emergency, with trains running 24 hours a day.

The UBCliner, an express service which stops only at Huntington, Abbotsford, Langley, King George Highway, Scott Road, Pacific Central Station, and UBC; not only carries passengers but express mails and courier parcels. The triple articulated diesel – electric light rail vehicle, also has a small parcels compartment and a self serve ‘Bistro’, serving coffee, tea and snacks and is complete having a chemical toilet.

The two car train-set quickly speeds up to 90 kph and sets off through Sardis and Yarrow, which station platforms already occupied by customers waiting for the the 6:10 local service to Vancouver. In just 25 minutes, the UBCLiner stops at Huntington, where a small contingent of passengers board and more mail is loaded. In two minutes the train leaves and shortly passes the uncompleted junction to the Abbotsford airport, which in a few month provide a direct Vancouver to YXX service and minutes later stops at the Abbotsford station, where more passengers embark.

At Clayburn, the train crosses the flat crossing with the Canadian pacific Railway and one can see the nearly completed two track flyover which will replace the old level crossing. In two years time, Abbotsford will see a 15 minute through service to Vancouver, which is needed with the ever increasing passenger loads on the present 30 minute interurban service.

Maintaining a speed of 80 kph to 90 kph, the express train travels through largely rural areas and in a short time joins the the double tracked section shared with the Delta Supper Port coal and container trains. At Glover Road and the Number 10 Hwy. by-pass, is the beginning of construction of a tram line which will run along the median of the Hwy. 10 to the Serpentine Bridge in Surrey, reconnecting with the old interurban route to Vancouver. Express trains will still continue to track-share along the existing rail route, but local trains will take the Hwy 10 route as it more directly serves businesses, Willow Brook Mall and the proposed 200th street LRT.

After a quick stop in Langley, the UBCliner continues through Surrey, making stops at King George Highway and Scott Road, before descending to the new Fraser River Rail Bridge, which is three track lift span, replacing the rickety swing span, which now will provide ample accommodation for freight trains, the  four return AMTRAK passenger trains services to Portland and the new diesel LRT service to North Delta and White Rock. Speeding up to 90 kph, the UBCliner heads to Pacific Central Station, passing several new overpasses being built to counter increased rail traffic along the Grandview Cut route.

At Pacific Central Station, the UBC Liner uncouples with the second diesel LRT unit, releasing the pantograph to connect with overhead wires and once the mails and courier parcels are unloaded by 8 am, proceeds to Main Street, acting as a streetcar, powered from electricity and continues along Main St.  to  the Broadway light rail line. Connecting to the new Broadway Line, which route operates mostly on lawned rights-of-way, complete with shrubbery, making a median of Broadway a long linear park. The journey is slower as the UBCliner is operating on tram or streetcar tracks and there are stops every 500 metres or so.

The aroma of coffee pervades the crowded interior of the car as passengers drink coffee and/or work on their laptops for the last leg of their journey. This is still an express service and no passengers are picked up at stops, except for the very busy stop for the Vancouver General Hospital. It is morning rush hour and the UBCliner now is following a local service to UBC. With full priority signaling the UBCliner continues to its destination  going up 10th Ave. from Alma, but as soon University Blvd. is reached the train accelerates to 80 kph to ends its journey at the mall loop at 8:35am.

The UBCliner returns to Pacific Central Station for regular operation valley operation, Vancouver to Chilliwack, but will return to UBC for the 6pm express to Chilliwack, for those who want to take advantage of a direct service to Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.



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10 Responses to “December 2019 – The UBCLiner: Chilliwack to UBC – the 6 am through service.”

  1. John Says:

    Excellent post, Zweisystem. A vision the whole Lower Mainland can get behind.

    The proposed 12km subway to UBC somehow seems less than inadequate in comparison.

  2. David Says:

    You’ve told an interesting story that works in just about every possibility.

    I do have to say that leaving Chilliwack at 6:00am and not returning until 8:35PM is the best advertisement I’ve seen for on-campus housing.

    Zweisystem replies: I would not recommend this sort of commute either, but let’s say home for the weekend at m & p’s and a direct train to UBC for the week.

  3. Jim Says:

    You are using Abbotsford for the name of a stop… Where in Abbotsford are you talking about?

    Also, where are you planning for the junction to YXX to be?

    Zweisystem replies: Details, details. Haven’t a clue about where the stop for Abbotsford would be, probably where the Pacer service in ’86 stopped. As for YXX, the junction would be around Huntington, then West. There are also penitentiaries near this route which would be revenue generators as well.

  4. Jim Says:

    Details yes, but I don’t think the stop named Abbotsford is likely placed very well, on the old route, I think it really bypasses the main population of Abbotsford. Also, wouldn’t a line to YXX make more sense running north-south up Clearbrook which could then run on South Fraser or Maclure and connect back to the main line, since that is where more of the population is (and would be coming from)?

    Zweisystem replies: One has to consider the cost of the the airport connection and Huntington is the closest and cheapest route. As per my memory, the Pacer unit stopped quite near the city centre.

  5. David Says:

    I like it as a “big picture” plan. The details of station location are certainly an interesting talking point however.

    I’ve been having a look at the SRY route and think a station on Gladys near the old downtown makes a lot of sense. One could also argue that Vedder Way near WalMart could be a good choice too, although it would no doubt become an unofficial park and ride.

    Getting up the hill to locations like UCFV, the penitentiaries and YXX is the next big problem. Even if the tram switches to the CPR tracks the slope up to UCFV is virtually impossible. There’s a cliff between the railways and the foot of the King Road hill and the road itself is quite steep and narrow.

    Turning up Vye Road would require either crossing the CPR or paying to use a portion of the line. While that’s a direct road to the airport and penitentiary lands, it misses UCFV completely.

  6. Jim Says:

    It also misses the majority of the denser population. The airport is a destination here for many reasons, including events frequently held at the Trade-X. With the line going down to Huntington, it would be quite pointless for most people in Abbotsford I think. There’s talk about building on routes that don’t support it, and I don’t think Huntington is the best route, but I am really only guessing on the topic. If there was a stop at Gladys near Essendene that would be a good spot for a new line to run up South Fraser and then down Clearbrook to YXX if it could work? And maybe down from South Fraser down McCallum to King for the Sports Center and UFV? I’m not disagreeing however I like it as a big picture plan, but I don’t know where the old routes actually lie, but it seems like they bypass most of Abbotsford, going well north of the population, if I am thinking of the right tracks… They go through Mt Lehman, Bradner, and Gloucester?

  7. David Says:

    Jim you’re thinking of the correct tracks. Zweisystem is suggesting the use of the SRY because the railroad already exists making construction costs extremely low and he chose Huntingdon for the YXX branch because it would require the least new track.

    I’ve found an old map of the railroads of the Fraser Valley from 1914.

    Using that map in combination with Google Maps it’s possible to pick out large sections of the old GN lines. The actual route through Clearbrook is a mystery thanks to decades of development, but I can make a pretty good guess at where it ran.

    The Google satellite photo shows the big U shaped curve at Bradner Road just north of King Road. The RoW east of there is well preserved until you reach Hwy 1 where freeway construction destroyed any evidence. I’d say the railway ran alongside a portion of McClure/Old Yale and then turned north to run where George Ferguson Way now sits. From there it joined South Fraser Way at Essendene and ran along the top of the hill all the way to Sumas. The route south of Marshall road is fairly obvious from the air.

    I’m not sure about the junction, but another line ran out Delair Road, continued to Kilgard Road, Eldrige Road and on up the edge of Sumas Mountain past the pumping station where Hwy 1 used to be and around the corner to join the CN.

    West of Bradner Road the RoW is visible on aerial photos through Aldergrove and up to what is now Robertson Crescent. West of there the big curves in Langley are still clearly visible from the air. Heading further west the RoW is eventually used by Grade Crescent and Colebrook Road. The next section is still used today by trains going to Robert’s Bank. The old line continued straight into Ladner where the old RoW still marks much of the division between residential and agricultural land.

    Most of the old Great Northern routes are impractical today. They were built in an era when logging drove railway construction, any hill over 2.5% grade was too steep to be economical and much of the land between Abbotsford and Chilliwack was covered by a lake.

  8. Jim Says:

    Thanks for the information David 🙂

    The Great Northern on that map seems to be a more ideal spot for a train, it is where the more developed areas are, of course, the track is gone, so that’s the problem there…

    A YXX line east on Huntington would probably be the least amount of track required, but it doesn’t seem ideal in my opinion. I understand the idea of getting the old Interurban back, using existing lines, but I would think the new ones should be planned for the areas that need them… What I mean is it is a few miles too far south to really be of use to most people in Abbotsford. Abbotsford is a growing city, and I think they are starting to think about rail-transit… McCallum interchange is being upgraded, and they are leaving it open for the possibility of future light-rail I believe ( ). Also the airport and Clearbrook interchange are being upgraded. The area near the auto-mall (Mt Lehman and McClure) is developing, with housing, and a huge shopping center / theater ( ). I don’t see a lot of development to the south. It is farm land and a truck route. I don’t think there is much population down there to use a train. It would be great for people in Chilliwack who want to go to YXX, but coming from the West, you would have to go quit far past and then come back. If you lived in Abbotsford, there would be no point to take the train to YXX (or the many businesses and events located there).

  9. John Says:

    Yeah Jim, what you say makes sense.

    I think there are a few possible alignments for a connection to YXX, and a connection running north or west of the airport would better serve the airport. The first step would be to get interurban service up and running, with a synchronized shuttle service to the airport.

    Once that’s up and running I’m sure YXX will push even harder for a light rail link, and they’ll get it. (They’ll help to fund it, and they’ll also have some input into the route.)

    The Interurban goes right through the dense old downtown core of Abbotsford on the eastern part of the city, then runs westward north of the city. Eventually on-street light rail east-west right through the city would be ideal. The situation like Zweisystem describes for Langley with the UBC-Liner would be suitable for Abbotsford, where the Interurban express remains but a local service runs through the city as well.

    The important thing right now is to get the valley started onto light rail. The failed concept of the “Rapid-Bus” is the threat right now, as it is still in the province’s current Transit Plan. To defeat it, we implement an interurban light rail system on existing track that, while not a perfect alignment, is FAR SUPERIOR to rapid bus, and in fact can be shown to be the cheaper option. Such a line would markedly improve the old downtown area, at relatively low cost.

    -By the way, I think there is some considerable development going on in the Huntington area.

  10. Jim Says:

    About the development in the “Huntington area”, I guess you are talking about the area down on Sumas Way that is following that route, and a little east, and a little west of it? When I said I didn’t *think* there is much development there, I didn’t mean specifically in that area, I meant west on Huntington Rd (Vye, 8th), once you’re over top the big hill there, all the way to the airport, heck all the way until the road ends at 264th St in Aldergrove or the Township of Langley. Isn’t the interubran Huntington station location in the ideal area for the development? I think that one is good but not much need to the west of it down that far south.

    I do agree that what you said about getting the interurban back up is important as an express, and then a local service through the city. That was the only part I was disagreeing with, the path of the local service. Granted I know this is just a brief summary of what could be, I just would like the local service to be more accessible then the mentioned YXX extension. 🙂

    As far as I know, there is a YXX shuttle currently, I am not sure where it goes, but I’m sure it could be linked up with the interurban.

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