In response to this negative screed by Robert Blacklock, I sent my own Letter to the Editor of the Chilliwack Progress, which I post here:
Re: Passenger rail line a ‘fantasy’ (Nov. 6, Robert Blacklock)
Robert Blacklock’s Letter to the Editor was certainly a disappointing read. (He almost had me convinced!) 3 hours to get from Chilliwack to Surrey? I completely agree, no one would take that train.
Fortunately, the facts don’t at all square up with Mr. Blacklock’s assertions.
In fact, readers may remember a demonstration service was implemented for 6 months on the Interurban line between Abbotsford and New Westminster during Expo 86, using old Pacer Railbus trains (for $12/round trip). Total travel time was 2 hours, including delays at the Fraser River Rail Bridge, and was highly popular with the public.
Using modern light rail technology, some track upgrading, and construction of crossings where needed, I am confident that today one could travel to downtown Vancouver in even less time, and it would on average be comparable to travel time by car, because trains would not be affected by regular ‘rush hour’ traffic congestion. Such a service could reliably be used by the public for travel throughout the valley, regardless of traffic or weather conditions.
As for cost: what many people do not realize is that the cost of light rail is actually cheaper in the long run than the cost of running buses. This is primarily due to three factors:
1) A single Light Rail Vehicle (LRV) unit (passenger train car) can transport more people than a bus. As well, if there is overcrowding, more units may be added to a train as needed, without the added cost of additional drivers.
2) The lifetime of an LRV is about 3 times as long as the lifetime of a bus, with much lower maintenance costs. This is in large part due to their running smoothly on steel tracks, as opposed to jostling in the midst of traffic on roads.
3) Throughout the world, including Canada, it has been shown time and time again, that people will not get out of their cars to ride a bus but they will get out of their cars to use light rail. The cost of operating a near-empty bus route is far greater than the cost of operating a popular light rail route. In fact, light rail may eventually turn an operating profit. This is seen on many routes throughout the world with similar populations and densities to the Fraser Valley.
The ‘pie in the sky’ picture of light rail painted by Mr. Blacklock is a fiction.
Municipal leaders involved with the South of Fraser Rail Task Force are to be commended for looking beyond these myths, and beginning to take the first steps toward implementing a Valley-wide light rail service.
Rail for the Valley is neither a fantasy nor a luxury. It is a necessity, whose time has long since come.
Dr. John Buker
Founder, Rail For The Valley