British Columbia

Transit advocates call for hydrogen trains on century-old Fraser Valley rail corridor

TransLink in early stages of examining whether interurban rails could be used for public transit.

Translink in early stages of examining whether interurban rails could be used for public transit.

The Coradia iLint trains are the world's first and only hydrogen fuel cell powered passenger trains. Advocates in the Lower Mainland are hoping to bring them to the Fraser Valley. (Rene Frampe/)

As a long freight train thunders past Rick Green along the Langley Bypass, he can't help but wonder why the century-old tracks aren't being used to transport commuters.

"How come this hasn't happened?" asks Green, who is the township's former mayor. "If you don't have proper transportation, you've got nothing."

While Vancouver and Surrey move ahead on major SkyTrain projects, Green says there's a notable absence of rapid public transit options between communities in the Fraser Valley.

Rick Green, former Langley mayor, says increased transit options will help commuters travel between suburbs in the Lower Mainland, and reduce congestion on Highway 1. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

But he says there's an affordable solution to the problem.

Green is part of a group called South Fraser Community Rail, and members are actively campaigning TransLink and municipalities across the region to get onboard a proposed hydrogen-powered train transit project that would connect Surrey all the way to Chilliwack — utilizing land that's already owned by B.C. taxpayers.

Interurban rails

A network of interurban rails connect Surrey all the way to Chilliwack. The Fraser Valley corridor is more than a century old, and was even used for passenger travel until the 1950s, when it reverted to freight-use only.

Freight rights are currently owned by both Southern Railway of B.C. and Canadian Pacific Railways.

But the province has rights to the land through its Crown corporation, B.C. Hydro, and can reintroduce passenger service to the corridor in the future, according to a sales agreement from 1988.

Interurban rail corridors connect municipalities across the Lower Mainland, including a 99-kilometre stretch from Surrey to Chilliwack. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

"The freight companies have to provide adequate time for use of passenger [service]," said Green, referring to a master agreement between C.P. Rail and B.C. Hydro.

In a statement to CBC News, TransLink said it's in the early stages of assessing how these interurban rail corridors could be used for public transit.

Hydrogen-powered train

While no plans are set in stone, the South Fraser Community Rail is strongly advocating for a hydrogen-powered train to eventually carry commuters along the 99-kilometre stretch between Surrey and Chilliwack.

Hydrogen trains are currently operating in Germany. They run on hydrogen fuel cells and are said to only emit a mix of water and steam.

The proposed transit route would have 12 ground-level stops between Surrey and Chilliwack. (South Fraser Community Rail)

Since the land is already available, the group says the project could be done for $12.5 million per kilometre. By comparison, the Broadway SkyTrain extension will cost up to $500 million per kilometre.

"This whole line, 99 kilometres, could be re-activated with a state-of-the-art hydrogen rail, for about $1.5 billion," said Green. The proposed line would have 12 major stops, including Newton, Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack.

The group says it has a meeting with TransLink's planning committee in April.

The transit authority did not confirm that meeting, but said it welcomes the group to make a presentation to the Mayor's Council during the public delegation portion of its next session.

TransLink says its first priority is to follow through on the Mayors' 10-Year Vision. It's currently in the process of updating a long-term transportation strategy that will incorporate potential uses of interurban rails.

Public consultations will begin this summer.

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