Letters: ‘Not getting it done with West Coast Express’

In other cities, train service has grown, but not in Maple Ridge

Editor, The News:

Re: New deal for West Coast Express (The News, Sept. 2).

I would like to point out details and facts that either the public has forgotten or is not aware.

As a retired veteran railway conductor, I share the frustrations with Mayor Nicole Read, that Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows seem to be getting the short end of the stick, if you will, with current and future plans for extended transit.

With respect to West Coast Express, as of Nov. 1, it will have been operating for 21 years, and has not been able to expand its service in any way over that time.

The GO Transit commuter rail service in Toronto, which has been operating since 1967, pioneered many other commuter operations in North America:  WCE; the “Sounder” in Seattle; the “Metrolink” in Los Angeles; the “Coaster” in San Diego.

Everything from the utilization of the identical Bombardier-built coaches in Thunder Bay to either locomotives built by General Motors in London, Ont. or a newer model of locomotive built in Boise, Idaho, all of these North American operations were modelled after the GO Transit.

All of the other commuter rail operations I mentioned, as well as many I didn’t, have all expanded their services in a big way since their inceptions, with the WCE being the only operation, to my knowledge, on our continent to go this long without an expansion of service.  I credit this lack of expansion due to the short sightedness of many of our politicians here in this province.

When the Sound Transit in Seattle was planning a commuter rail operation between Tacoma and Everett, Wash., it purchased rolling stock and locomotives well in advance of the start-up of service.

While some criticized this move, it was a good move as they were able to lease out a lot their locomotives and rolling stock to other commuter rail agencies until their service was up and running and generate some revenue.

In fact, WCE leased one of those locomotives for a number of years until Sounder recalled it for its own service.

In Los Angeles, when that city got its Metrolink commuter rail service up and running in 1992, besides utilizing many active mainlines in use, it also purchased soon-to-be-abandoned or lightly used industrial branch lines and spent a great deal of money to upgrade these lines to Class 1 high speed mainline standards and operate commuter trains along these newly revamped routes.

If we were as proactive here in British Columbia, the recently ripped up Arbutus Corridor in Vancouver would have been kept for commuter rail service.

It took this province 30 years, after countless studies, to determine something that was obvious, that we needed a commuter rail service along the Mission to Vancouver corridor. Please be reminded that when the contracts were signed with CP Rail, the service was up and running in 18 months and that it was the hard work of the NDP government under the auspices of former premiers Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark that made this dream of commuter rail in the Lower Mainland a reality.

When the NDP got defeated in the next provincial election after 1995, it was clear that the new Campbell government was not going to do anything to improve on the accomplishments made by the previous government.

It was most unfortunate that when the service started in 1995, that the WCE trains didn’t go all the way to Abbotsford.  It could have happened so easily with two stations in Abbotsford ( one downtown and one near the Highway 1 overpass (west of Whatcom Road)  and a layover yard for the trains in Huntingdon.  But although no one would admit this was the reason, it can be assumed that because

While CP Rail did initially cap the number of trains to five in each direction prior to the 1995 inception of service, after a couple of years of operation, CP re-examined its position and decided that it could accommodate a sixth train in each direction during the morning and afternoon commute and advised all concerned. Upon this reversal in CP’s decision, it was up to the powers to be within TransLink and the provincial government to act on this offer.

But that never transpired.

A number of years ago, CP did operate a WCE train out to Abbotsford to showcase the train to the city. It was hoped that Abbotsford would join the GVRD to make this expansion of service a reality, but it did not and, as a result, in 2016, we have no WCE service to Abbotsford.

It should also be noted that CP proposed an offer with a plan to WCE a number of years ago to operate on a trial basis a mid-day service with one round-trip from the Waterfront Station, departing around noon in Vancouver to Maple Meadows Way, returning around 1 p.m., and see what the ridership would be like. However, the offer was not accepted …

The platforms were built to accommodate eight coaches.  Currently, WCE runs two 10 car trains and as a result of this poor planning these two trains have the doors roped off on at least one or two cars making them inaccessible for boarding at each end of these trains as the trains are longer than the platforms.

I fully sympathize and agree with Mayor Read’s desire to want to see an additional stop added at the former Albion ferry parking lot site.  She may not be aware that TransLink had this penciled in a 10-year plan at least 10 years ago, as well as the plan to purchase an additional locomotive.  But under the direction of former TransLink board chair Doug McCallum, both of these plans were axed.

With the advent of the Evergreen SkyTrain route in the coming months, it is unlikely now that we will see any expansion of WCE service.

John Cowan

Maple Ridge


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