Metro mayors are writing the federal government about incessant delays plaguing the West Coast Express.
On Monday, the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation wrote a letter to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Hunter Harrison, CEO of CP Railway, and left copies on the train seats for all riders to read.
From Oct. 1 to Dec. 8, 69 trains have been delayed, resulting in a total of 319 individual station delays of the West Coast Express, says the letter from the mayors.
“This totals more than 80 hours of delay and has serious impacts on riders … which together has a negative impact on the local economy,” says the letter.
“We hope and expect that CP will respect its long-standing agreement with TransLink to facilitate the movement of both goods and people in the region.”
TransLink and mayors have “repeatedly tried to rectify this issue through numerous calls …” the letter said.
Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker said he’s heard some of the reasons for the delays include new personnel, large shipments of Prairie grain now going to port, and that the section of track between Mission and Vancouver is one of the most difficult stretches in the country.
West Coast Express began service in 1995, running five morning rush-hour trains from Mission into Vancouver and repeating the process in the evening. The service level hasn’t changed since, although trains have been lengthened and another five cars are expected in the current 10-year transportation plan.
Becker himself was delayed last week, stuck in his car on Harris Road, by a freight train, causing him to miss the West Coast Express into Vancouver.
Instead, he had to take the new Evergreen SkyTrain line, which took him 20 minutes longer than the West Coast Express.
He understands the reasons for the delays, but said CP Rail made an agreement with TransLink to provide track time.
He added that CP seems to want the region to pay for upgrading the tracks in order to assure reliable service.
“It wrankles a bit to have the service issues that we’re having, as well as the oblique suggestion that the regional municipality should be paying something into capital infrastructure so that CP can meet their contractual obligations.”
Becker has told TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond not to consider the B-line to the Evergreen SkyTrain a replacement for the West Coast Express.
He added that it’s possible that CP Railway may not want to renew its agreement with TransLink for the West Coast Express.
“But if this problem is going to get worse, we need to figure out what our Plan B is, because right now, we do not have a Plan B.”
Mayor’s Council CEO Mike Buda said long-term plans include the West Coast Express.
“The Mayors Council is absolutely committed to West Coast Express.”
He said that cities and the province are spending billions on transportation, moving goods and people.
“And it’s simply not good enough to say, ‘We’d [CP] prefer these rail lines only to be used to move freight,’
— A McKay (@Runner4Life_3) December 2, 2016
“Well, you know what, I think some mayors don’t want to put money into goods movement, but they do, because they know this region is all inter-connected … I guess the mayors hope that CP is there to be a community member, just like the same way all the other stakeholders of the region are working together as one.”
Buda said both WCE and the Evergreen SkyTrain are needed. The Evergreen line is a complementary service to West Coast Express, not a replacement, he added.
“There’s no plan to let that service whither and die. In fact, quite the opposite. If CP feels that Evergreen is a replacement, they’re simply off base. West Coast Express is not going anywhere. It’s a critical piece of the transit network.”
Without a such a service, 5,000 people a day would have to find another way to commute.
Buda pointed out the letter is addressed to Garneau because CP is a federally regulated entity.
“Transport Canada has a mandate to help the movement of those goods.”
As such, frustrated commuters should call their MP, he added.
The letter to CP and the federal government notes that $7.5 billion is planned to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver.
“We ask that CP reciprocate by helping us keep the people in the region moving along the West Coast Express line.”
CP Railway’s VP Mark Redd though says in a Dec. 6 letter to the mayors says that freight and passenger traffic “have grown on the corridor.
“… it is time to think about the future needs of freight and passenger services coexisting on the existing two tracks.
“These issues will not be easily resolved.”
Apart from the five new passenger cars announced by TransLink in the 10-year vision, he notes that TransLink has no plans to spend any money improving track congestion.
Redd pointed out that last year the West Coast Express was on schedule 95.6 per cent of the time and during the first nine months of this year, it was on schedule 97 per cent of the time.
And 40 per cent of CP Rail traffic goes through the Metro Vancouver area.
“CP is obligated to move freight traffic efficiently, reliably and safely under the federal Canada Transportation Act.”
That requires making decisions for all rail traffic in the area, he added.
“We do our best to avoid delays, but the the possibility exists that they will happen.”
Redd said the freight and passenger traffic have grown in the area. Container and grain shipments have increased in the recent months, he added.