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Hydrogen train to Chilliwack? Group pitches new interurban rail line in Fraser Valley

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WATCH: A hydrogen-powered train between Surrey and Chilliwack using the old interurban rail line is being floated as an alternative to an expensive new SkyTrain line. Aaron McArthur reports – Apr 5, 2019

While the Surrey to Langley SkyTrain extension is still very much in the early planning process, another group is pitching a passenger train linking Surrey with stations across the Fraser Valley.

The South Fraser Community Rail Group believes rapid transit could be built south of the Fraser River utilizing the existing interurban rail line that runs from Chilliwack to the Pattullo Bridge at a fraction of the cost of SkyTrain, or even the light-rail project that was scrapped last year.

The group believes using hydrogen power would save on the expense of electrifying the entire 90-plus-kilometre network of track.

WATCH: Public input sought on Surrey-Langley SkyTrain’s future

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Public input sought on Surrey-Langley SkyTrain’s future – Apr 4, 2019

Rick Green, a former mayor of Township of Langley and spokesman for the South Fraser Community Rail Group, says the cars will be more expensive to buy but cheaper to run, producing nothing but water as emissions.

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He believes all the pieces are in place — it’s just a matter of political will to get it done.

“We can build this thing for somewhere between $12.5 million and $14 million per kilometre. We can build the whole thing including rolling stock, construction, and road closures for around $1.3 billion,” he said.

“The line will be accessible to 1.2 million people, and it goes right by 14 post-secondary institutions and connects 16 communities.”

The old interurban line was operated until the 1950s by the B.C. Electric Railway. The government-owned tracks were sold off, but a provision in the sales contract still allows for the re-introduction of passenger traffic.

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TransLink vision for SkyTrain through Surrey – Dec 10, 2018

Patrick Condon, a UBC urban planner who has been studying the problem of transportation south of the Fraser, says his research suggests Surrey is not only set to become the province’s largest city, but the entire population south of the Fraser could swell to three million people by 2060.

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“There are only two options: build reasonably dense housing around existing infrastructure, or continue to sprawl out and eat up all the farmland. We can’t continue to build more roads to ease congestion,” Condon said.

According to the experts, those who live south of the Fraser can’t continue to rely on getting around by car, but spending billions on SkyTrain technology isn’t the right solution either.

Green agrees, calling the SkyTrain down the Fraser Highway “insanity” and adding the $1.6 billion to get the train to Fleetwood seems excessive.

“It just makes so much sense,” he said when comparing his proposal.

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