TramTrain to White Rock!- And on to Chilliwack!


Not White Rock, but Tacoma Washington

It seems the good Burgher’s in White Rock want the AMTRAK Vancouver to Seattle – Portland train to stop at their city, to give a direct rail service to Seattle. It’s not going to happen. The Soviet style American security types will demand so much expensive infrastructure for boarder security as to make the service unfeasible, so enough of committee meetings etc. and time to plan for a real solution: A White Rock to Vancouver TramTrain service, using the existing BN & SF tracks.

Fairly easy to implement, a TramTrain service would provide a quick and reliable and affordable service, throughout the day. What is needed is a few km. of extra double track, new stations at Crescent Beach; 72nd Ave. in Delta; New Westminster; Kensington in Burnaby and Renfrew St. in Vancouver. This would give end to end travel times from White Rock to Vancouver, in the 50 minute to 60 minutes region, which is competitive with travel times with car and better than the current transit service. For added comfort, as done in Europe,  ‘Bistro’ car, offering light refreshment could also operate on the route, offer a service unavailable to current transit users.

In Europe, TramTrain costs start at about $5 million/km. to build, depending on the quality of service that is provided. A quality hourly TramTrain service to White Rock, would cost less than 1 km. of the proposed UBC Subway!

The only impediment is the complete lack of political will to plan for anything other than expensive metros and ecologically destructive highways. Passing legislation to compel the railways to allocate ‘pathways’ for regional passenger rail services is an anathema to politico’s and the railways highly paid lobbyists. One wonders if the spectre of ‘Peak Oil’ will changer the mindset.

In a region where there is a cemented ‘metro’ ind set among planners and politicians, a White Rock to Vancouver would show case 21st century transportation, with the bonus of being in operation by 2012, if we start planning for it today! As well, a successful White rock to Vancouver TramTrain service would make it much easier to implement the Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain interurban!

By Brian Lewis, The Province

January 5, 2010

Time to lobby for the train to stop in White Rock

It’s always a challenge for the City of White Rock to raise enough tax dollars to run its micro-metropolis because there’s only about 18,800 residents and a limited business tax base within its 5.16 square kilometres to pay the bills.

Thus, as Mayor Catherine Ferguson acknowledged recently in the Peace Arch News, the city has tough choices to make in setting the 2010 budget.

But there are also opportunities for the little town to increase its economic development cash flow, and that’s why one White Rock councilor is working on the railroad (or the railway, as they’re known in Canada.)

Doug McLean, a business economist who has served on White Rock’s council since 1993, has launched an initiative to return his city to the days when its historic waterfront train station was a regular north-and southbound stop for passenger rail service between Vancouver, Seattle and U.S. points beyond.

The picturesque station was last used for regular passenger service in 1975 but that longtime practice ended due to dwindling ridership.

Currently the station houses the White Rock Museum and Archives.

However, as McLean notes, times have changed and he makes an excellent case for why passenger rail service should return to his city.

First of all, Amtrak now runs a second daily train between Vancouver and Seattle on a pilot project basis so having a stop in White Rock means that anyone south of the Fraser could catch a train for Seattle without having to start the journey in Vancouver.

“It also means you could do day trips to Seattle and be home that evening or, if it’s a weekend, you could catch a Mariners baseball game and be home in the evening.”

More importantly, it would also allow tourists from Canada or the U.S. to get off the train in White Rock and spend time — for the day, dinner or overnight at B&Bs — in the seaside resort.

Ironically, the deal to return White Rock to its glory days of passenger rail was almost done in 2001.

The city and most of the key stakeholders had even signed a memorandum of understanding to make it happen.

Those stakeholders included Amtrak, Burlington Northern and Sana Fe Railroad (it owns the rail line), Transport Canada, as well as Canadian and U.S. customs.

But the initiative fell off the rails, thanks to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

“U. S. security requirements changed immediately and that killed the initiative almost overnight,” McLean says. “But now I think it’s time to reapproach it.”

To that end, McLean recently sponsored a city council motion, which passed unanimously, to create an Amtrak passenger pail select committee to pursue the initiative once more.

This new group will likely include many from the original task force from 2001.

And so far, the reaction from both the public and rail stakeholder has been good, McLean says.

“We know getting this done won’t be easy and the major hurdle will be getting approval from U.S. security,” he adds.

“But we think it’ll benefit our whole region and over the longer-term it has potential to provide commuter rail service into Vancouver.”

Avanto TramTrain - The shape of things to come.


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14 Responses to “TramTrain to White Rock!- And on to Chilliwack!”

  1. mezzanine Says:

    The proposal sounds more like commuter rail rather than tram train.

    “But we think it’ll benefit our whole region and over the longer-term it has potential to provide commuter rail service into Vancouver”

    Zweisystem replies: I hate the term of commuter rail, for a TramTrain does cater to regular commuters, it also provides an attractive alternative to the car. Many tram systems in Europe offer 30 minute to 60 minute off-peak services on rural routes. the advantage of TramTrain is that it can network on-street if need be, with the proven advantage of attracting more ridership.

  2. Brian Bundridge Says:

    I think it would be best to do the TramTrain instead of the new station, if TransportCanada and the freight railroads will allow something of this technology run on shared tracks. It would be cheaper than hiring all of the needed guards and it will be a better option for commuters as well.

    The biggest thing will be dealing with catenary and if the vehicles will be allowed to run with mixed trains.

    Good post.

    Zweisytem replies: For this service I would recommend diesel LRT – nor catenary or OHLE = cheaper cost.

    How about Diesel LRT on Seattle’s East Side Line?

  3. Drew Adamick Says:

    This makes perfect sense. I was just down in California, and the SPRINTER Diesel light rail line from Oceanside to Escondido in north San Diego County is a great example of a similar type of service.

  4. Rod Smelser Says:

    For this service I would recommend diesel LRT – nor catenary or OHLE = cheaper cost.


    Diesel? That proposal will be vehemently rejected by the the celebrity ENGO leaders and telenvironmenalists who supported the carbon tax last May and the Green Shift in October 2008.

  5. David Says:

    A diesel-electric train is more efficient than the much touted diesel hybrid bus and would be very quick and easy to deploy.

    When demand warrants, and if the freight operators don’t get in the way, the line can be converted to electric and the diesel LRT vehicles can move to the next route.

    As for legal requirements that require freight and passenger trains to operate far from each other, that really isn’t a problem on most of the routes envisioned for tram train style services.

    – SRY only runs a single train daily between New West and Abbotsford and another single train from Abbotsford to Chilliwack,
    – BNSF and Amtrack together only run a handful of trains on the route to White Rock – CPR from New West to Marpole rarely sees any action these days and the extension of that route up Arbutus to the Burrard Bridge saw its last train many years ago.

    Richmond may soon get many more miles of abandoned right of way because CN is looking for a shorter route between New West and Fraser Wharves. A short extension past the Riverway entertainment complex is all they need. Then the long route along the north arm of the Fraser and down Shell Road could be abandoned because there aren’t any rail customers left on the route.

    Unfortunately Richmond has allowed development to cover or encroach upon their older abandoned rights of way so it probably won’t be long before using those routes for passenger services will be impossible.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    That carbon tax is sure being put to good use isn’t it…

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Life would be made so much easier if the people of chilliwack could ride the train into the big city.

  8. David Says:

    The air in Chilliwack would be much better if people could take a train to neighbouring communities.

    The new 8 lane wide Highway 1 and 10 lane wide Port Mann Bridge are going to do “wonders” for breathability in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

  9. Rod Smelser Says:

    ===>>> David

    An expanded highway cannot, in the absence of increased traffic, be associated with any additional pollution. What is the relevant comparison base here? A simple “no build” on the PMH1 project, or that plus some supposed transit alternative. What then is the transit alternative, how is it defined for analytic purposes?

    Zweisystem replies: An expanded highway would increase auto use and more auto use increases pollution.

  10. David Says:

    “build it and they will come”

    Never have truer words been spoken about any expanded highway.
    Make it easier to drive and more people will drive more places.

    The world is full of examples of new roads filling with traffic shortly after construction, but there’s no need to go beyond our own little corner of the globe.

    The Alex Fraser Bridge was supposed to operate as a 4 lane bridge for a few years and then be expanded to 6. Just six months after opening it gained the 5th and 6th lanes and was at capacity during peak periods before the Ministry of Transportation thought it would even need the additional lanes.

    The Golden Ears bridge moves more vehicles every day than the ferries did in an entire week, without any apparent drop in trips over the Port Mann or Mission bridges.

    Zweisystem replies: If ‘Zwei’s’ memory is correct, the Alex Fraser Bridge was to have 4 traffic lanes and 2 bus lanes for the many busses from North Delta feeding the 22nd St. SkyTrain Station. Buses & ridership never materialized and increased traffic forced the abandonment of the HOV/bus lanes in short order.

  11. David Says:

    If there were supposed to be bus lanes on the Alex Fraser they sure hid them well. When it opened the bridge had huge concrete barriers in the “bus lane” and just 4 lanes were painted on the deck. Talk of bus lanes was probably nothing but talk meant to help sell the project in the court of public opinion.

    The original plan called for light rail to be incorporated into the design, but the idea was quickly scrapped when Alex Fraser got angry and announced that nobody was going to play trains on his bridge.

    Zweisystem replies: I have in my dusty files a memo from 1985 that there was going to be a 5 minute bus service all day from Delta & Annicis Island to 22nd St. SkyTrain station – never happened!

  12. Rod Smelser Says:

    A line from an old movie “build it and they will come” is the kind of intellectual observation I was once treated to on the subject of the PMH1 project, and others, by an official of the Vancouver City traffic and engineering staff. Usually when people are offered slogans they know they are being had.

    Burnaby City Hall did a graphic a few years ago that purported to show how much of the traffic on the Annacis Island Bridge was induced. It simply used the regional population growth as constituting some kind of “right number” and stated that any increase beyond that was induced by the project, including traffic increases coming twenty years later. This kind of thing isn’t even an honest attempt to measure induced demand.

  13. David Says:

    Oh come on Rod, between 1985 and 1990 was there a 40% increase in the population of Surrey/North Delta/Queensborough? No. Was there a 40% increase in the number of vehicles crossing the Fraser River there? Yes.

    I see a lot of induced trips.

  14. Rod Smelser Says:

    David, I think the point is that you choose to see what fits the theory not the other way around.

    The Burnaby piece, which I don’t have handy, covered a much longer period that 1985 to 1990 and took for its comparison base the growth in population for all of GVRD, or Metro Vancouver. It didn’t even specifically focus on population growth in the Surrey, White Rock, Delta area, nor did it consider employment growth.

    Induced demand results when an expanded transportation capacity reduces the time cost of travel, resulting in more trips being made. It’s difficult to apply in cases such as Annacis Island or now Golden Ears where the previous capacity at that or any other close location was essentially zero.

    I think it might be interesting if the Burnaby planning department were to do a similar analysis of traffic on Hwy 1 through Burnaby, and to make an attempt to estimate how much of the demand on Hwy 1 came from Burnaby. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll prepare that one, but accusing a rival municipality of generating unnecessary traffic is part of the political log-rolling game in Metro. It’s unfortunate that some naieve idealist types get used in the process.

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