New deal for West Coast Express

But agreement reached last fall between TransLink and CP Rail is confidential.

Don’t expect increased frequency for West Coast Express.

The Mayors’ Council 10-year regional transportation plan calls for rapid buses from Maple Ridge to the Evergreen SkyTrain line in Coquitlam and for a new car each to be added to the five rush-hour trains that travel between Mission and Vancouver.

But it does not include additional track time for the West Coast Express.

“If we can get a train back in the morning, if we can get more trains, that would be great. That’s not part of the mayors’ plan,” said Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker.

Last fall, CP Rail and TransLink signed a new multi-year contract allowing West Coast Express to keep using CP’s tracks, said Chris Bryan of TransLink.

TransLink didn’t announce the deal at the time.

It is a long-term agreement containing confidentiality clauses prohibiting disclosure to third parties,” Bryan said.

“As such, the term of agreement is confidential.”

It’s not known if it allows for any increased frequency.

“It was just kind of done. It was not announced or anything. I found out after the fact,” Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said of the agreement.

She didn’t know if that new contract allowed for more trains to run at any point.

“I haven’t heard anything about the new agreement. I’m not aware of the details right now.”

But, she points out, growing the service isn’t part of the mayor’s plan.

“There’s no plan for it anyways, even if there was something negotiated into the agreement.”

The commuter rail service began in 1995 with five rush-hour trains between Mission and Vancouver and remains at that level, although the trains themselves have been extended.

That’s unfortunate because it’s a popular service, Read said.

She continues to press to include plans for another West Coast Express station in the Albion area near 240th Street to serve the growing population there. That was left out of the mayor’s plan.

“Why we wouldn’t maintain a plan for a park-and-ride or any station in Albion, is beyond me.”

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker agrees increased frequency of the train service isn’t in the mayor’s plan for regional transportation, which sets out priorities, such as more bus service and rapid transit to Surrey and UBC, for the next decade.

“It’s a question of where the regional priorities sit with respect to the West Coast Express.”

But Becker agrees with traffic volume building on the Lougheed Highway into Mission, up 28 per cent in nine years, that more train service would help.

“You cannot build, through highway construction, out of congestion issues. There has to be rapid public transit component to that.”

His council keeps trying to make that case when the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure improves Lougheed Highway.

Becker expects a resolution of the stalemate over TransLink’s share of funding for the regional plan. The federal government announced this spring $370 million for transit while the province said it will contribute $246 million over three years. The regional method of funding hasn’t been determined.

“A deal is going to be done that will then change the public transit landscape,” Becker said.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond recently visited Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge and Becker pointed out that the area transit plan for Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge was more than a decade old and refers to the Albion ferry and doesn’t mention the Golden Ears Bridge.

“I mentioned that [the Albion ferry] had been decommissioned for some years now. The area transit plan made no mention of the Golden Ears Bridge.

“It was embarrassing to me, as mayor, and should be embarrassing to TransLink that we had no attention for that length of time and the plan was out of date.”

In addition, TransLink’s website doesn’t even list Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows in its area transit plan section.

Becker said one possible way of jump-starting public transit is for cities to pay money directly to TransLink, then recoup that money from those benefiting via local service improvement charges.