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Former B.C. premier calls Surrey SkyTrain extension 'crazy'

Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm says the Metro Vancouver mayors’ decision last week to move forward with a SkyTrain extension in Surrey is simply crazy, while a much more cost-effective solution is being ignored.

It’s simply crazy.

Delta resident and former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, a spokesperson for the South Fraser Community Rail Society, is saying that about the Metro Vancouver mayors’ decision last week to move forward with a SkyTrain extension in Surrey, while a much more cost-effective solution is being ignored.

 SkyTrain platform / ShutterstockSkyTrain platform / Shutterstock

The region’s mayors voted in favour of the extension, however, at $1.6 billion, the funding available means SkyTrain can only extend to Fleetwood.

TransLink has been saying a proposed SkyTrain extension from Surrey and Langley along the Fraser Highway would cost an estimated $3.12 billion, nearly twice the cost of using light rail.

Vander Zalm’s group is instead advocating re-activating an old inter-urban rail line for passenger traffic, a 99-kilometre corridor that would run all the way from the Pattullo Bridge to Chilliwack.

The proposed system would use hydrogen rail, a propulsion system that has a fuel cell device, converting the chemical energy contained within the hydrogen in order to generate electricity.

“To run SkyTrain from Surrey Centre to Fleetwood is absolutely ridiculous. It’s crazy and makes no sense. It must be politics,” said Vander Zalm.

“A good part of it will go through Green Timbers and people don’t realize there’s no customers, no traffic in Green Timbers, there’s trees, and they’re going to cut a swath through there to put a SkyTrain there to Fleetwood where there’s not too much development anyway. For that kind of money they can run on the old B.C. Electric track all the way from the Pattullo Bridge SkyTrain, through North Delta, through Kennedy to Newton, and off to Cloverdale and Langley, and still have enough left over to run a tram on the ground from Guildford to Newton if that’s what they want to do,” he added.

Vander Zalm said their proposal would have the new system built in phases with service out to Langley first, but eventually to Chilliwack.

“It would provide some relief to Highway 1, among other things, but going to Fleetwood does nothing. Also, there’s very little benefit to providing young people with lower cost housing by going from Surrey Centre to Fleetwood, whereas if you go out to Langley and beyond, we can provide pockets of relatively affordable housing. We can also provide in the second phase a good link to the Abbotsford Airport. There’s so many benefits to what we’re proposing, so I just don’t understand what the politicians are doing,” he said.

Vander Zalm noted that when the track rights were sold during his time in government, the freight rights were sold to CP Rail mostly, but the province ensured the right to have passenger service was reserved for that line.

His group notes, “TransLink suggests passenger traffic conflicts with freight traffic, it would not. The master agreement signed by CP Rail has agreed to pay the cost of double tracking if required. That is what we negotiated.”

They also say it’s clear there is a deep misunderstanding by TransLink staff regarding the interurban proposal.

Vander Zalm added that, at this rate, rapid transit won’t be coming to Langley for a few decades.

Former Delta councillor and Langley mayor Rick Green is also part of the interurban passenger rail campaign. He says the system can be activated much faster, cheaper and would serve far more residents.