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TransLink shoots down idea of interurban hydrogen train from Surrey to Chilliwack

A group wants to revive an old interurban line using hydrogen power. Global News

An idea to use an existing interurban rail line to connect Metro Vancouver to communities south of the Fraser River may be dead in the water.

The proposal for a hydrogen-powered passenger train to revitalize the 90-plus-kilometre rail line between Surrey and Chilliwack has been supported by former politicians and other advocates who argue the solution makes more sense than further SkyTrain extensions.

But TransLink said Friday it has studied the proposal three times over the past decade and found it doesn’t make business sense compared to rapid transit.

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“The rapid transit case is what the people asked for, and it’s a much more sound business case than interurban rail,” spokesperson Jill Drews said, referring to the SkyTrain extension from Surrey to Langley.

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Drews said there are “some good reasons” for saying no to interurban rail, including the higher cost per ride and the extended travel time, which TransLink found would be slower than existing highway bus service in the region.

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

But the transit authority also argues the route itself doesn’t connect to population centres the way rapid transit potentially could.

“It goes through a lot of agricultural land and misses the big hubs south of the Fraser such as Surrey Central,” Drews said. “It really doesn’t connect to destinations.”

Those advocating for the project argue the existing infrastructure along the route, including train stations, can be connected to those destinations at a cost still lower than SkyTrain.

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“We oppose what’s happening on Fraser Highway with SkyTrain; we think it’s an absolute waste of money,” former Langley mayor and South Fraser Community Rail Group spokesperson Rick Green said at an event promoting the project Thursday.

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“[Interurban transit] is environmentally responsible and it’s a better way to connect the 16 towns and municipalities in the region.

Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, who also attended the event, said revitalizing the line would promote growth and building in the region as Vancouver becomes more dense.

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“I think it’s a winning project,” he said. “It all comes in one package and about a third of what it costs for a relatively short [SkyTrain] line from Surrey to Langley.”
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Green said the group has made successful pitches to the Fraser Valley Regional District and Chilliwack city council, and are hoping to bring the proposal to the TransLink Mayors’ Council.

Drews said TransLink is willing to hear more about the hydrogen technology itself through public engagement as it looks to plan for future transit projects.

“We understand it’s new technology that’s emerging, and this is the kind of thing we want to hear about,” she said.

— With files from Aaron McArthur 

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