Metro Vancouver’s old interurban line could be revived as hydrogen-powered commuter rail system

Delta Optimist

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It’s going to save billions, it’s better for the environment and will get more people out of their cars.

That’s what former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm proclaimed recently regarding a proposal to re-activate an old interurban rail line, an idea put forward by the South Fraser Community Rail Committee and the recently formed Hydrogen iLink Line Founding and Action Group.

The Coradia iLint is the world’s first passenger train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Photo via Alstom

Operated by the B.C. Electric Railway (BCER) these heavy passenger streetcars called Interurbans could also move freight, as they were bigger and more industrious than the streetcars that operated within the city of Vancouver.

The interurbans connected Vancouver to Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, and went as far into the Fraser Valley as Chilliwack. The last interurban went out of service on February 28, 1958, however on the Fraser Valley line, which is the proposed line to revive, the last interurban ran on September 20, 1950.

Fraser Valley Heritage Railway

The newly proposed 99-kilometre “Interurban Corridor” would run from the Pattullo Bridge to Chilliwack.

“We’re going to be actively working on this. Perhaps there will be a benefit to North Delta with its proximity to the old urban line. It would be a great benefit to Fraser Valley communities,” he told the Optimist.

Hydrogen Rail uses a propulsion system that has a fuel cell device, converting the chemical energy contained within the hydrogen in order to generate electricity.

Also part of the groups is former Delta city councillor, as well as former Langley mayor, Rick Green, who is urging TransLink and the Mayors’ Council to put the break on what he says would be a costly mistake of scrapping the plan to build light rapid rail into Surrey in favour of SkyTrain, as well as the UBC subway line. He said those costly projects will end up having a profound impact on the rest of the region. The interurban project has many benefits, connecting 16 communities, 14 Post Secondary Institutions and 1.2 million people, Green explained.

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He added, “In 1988, the Bill Vander Zalm provincial government had the vision and foresight, when selling the B.C. Hydro Freight Division, to put in place the protection of passenger rights on the Interurban Corridor at no cost for its use. They did not sell the corridor but sold the freight rights only. The corridor is still owned by the people of B.C.”

A letter was sent to members of the TransLink Mayor’s Council, Metro board members and TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond asking to make a presentation.

-With files from Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome