TLink study to look at WCE expansion

Should take a year to complete

TransLink’s contract with CP Rail for use of its track expires in 2015.

TransLink’s contract with CP Rail for use of its track expires in 2015.

Mayors along the West Coast Express line will finally get their wish, a serious consideration about the expansion of the commuter line beyond the five rush-hour trains that currently run into Vancouver.

Expansion will be part of an overall strategic study of the entire service that’s now underway as TransLink prepares to renegotiate its contract with CP Rail for use of its track. The current contract expires in 2015.

TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said it should take a year to complete the study, “so when we go to the table with CP, we have an idea what our needs are.”

However, if an expansion of the commuter rail service doesn’t cover immediately the costs, that doesn’t mean automatic rejection because TransLink has to look at the long-term as well, Snider said. Depending on the timing, offering midday or weekend service could be a catalyst for growth of other services, he said.

“It’s obvious it’s well received by the people out there.”

The strategic study will also include the yet-to-be-built Evergreen SkyTrain line from Port Coquitlam to Burnaby and how that could complement the West Coast Express.

Following the February 2010 Winter Olympics, during which daytime trains ran packed from Mission to Vancouver, mayors along the line asked TransLink to study expansion of the service. However, their plea was rejected by TransLink.

That could have been because TransLink wasn’t ready to begin its study, Snider added.

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said TransLink general manager Fred Cummings told him about the study after reading Daykin’s comments following an August visit to Maple Ridge by the government’s rural MLA tour. The mayor told MLAs that TransLink was doing a $250,000 feasibility study about a gondola to SFU, while there was nothing for studying commuter rail expansion.

“I think it’s going to feed the Evergreen Line. It’s such a successful service.”

When you ask for more trains, Daykin said you have that data in place. “If you have the facts, you can make a more compelling argument.”

Daykin pointed out that discussions about commuter rail service began in 1986 and the first train didn’t run until 1995.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean hadn’t heard of the study, but said that expansion beyond the five morning and evening rush-hour trains into Vancouver has been a long-time goal.

“We keep hearing there’s no track time.”

However, if it’s just a matter of adding a midday train or weekend service, the existing trains could be used, he added.

“I would be interested to see if there’s demand for it. I think there would be.”

On the other hand, the current West Coast Express mostly pays for itself. “They want to make sure they don’t create a deficit.”

MacLean also wondered how the yet-to-be-built Evergreen SkyTrain line from Port Coquitlam to Burnaby would work with West Coast Express expansion.

He’d also like to know about the potential effect of commuters in Abbotsford and Langley using the service.

Last year, seven new Bombardier Transportation cars were added to the West Coast trains, at a cost of $28 million, increasing ridership by 2,000 daily.

Since beginning service in 1995, daily ridership on the West Coast Express has doubled to a daily average of 10,500 commuters.

Daykin told the MLAs (including Randy Hawes and Marc Dalton) during their August visit that 40 per cent of those boarding the West Coast Express in Mission are from Abbotsford, which pays nothing to support the service, and suggested a gas tax of one or two cents a litre be charged in that city.