Surrey is getting serious:

Surrey business and community groups are  launching a new campaign to get light-rail transit on track for south of the  Fraser. The Surrey Board of Trade announced a new  coalition — Light Rail Links — which is joining the call for an LRT solution to  the region’s lack of rapid transit infrastructure.

Read more here.  Or go here to the Light Rail Links:


Light Ral


Here’s my forecast: Given post-election dynamics in which Surrey mayor Dianne Watts has considerable political capital and leverage, there will be a full-scale push to get a regional, provincial and federal commitment to move quickly on light-rail for Surrey – especially if there is a possible financing package that doesn’t require a new regional tax.

Vancouver will still be years away from getting the consensus needed to push an expensive subway through the west side.  (At best, it might argue that a link is needed to close the gap between the Millennium and Canada Lines – maybe all the way to Arbutus.)    But where’s the money?  And where’s the regional backing?

TransLink will be preoccupied with a new governance arrangement.  The Massey Tunnel will likely be downgraded as an immediate priority.  But there will need to be some offering to South of Fraser if tolls stay on the Port Mann and planning for a new Pattullo bridge anticipates more tolls as well.

So sitting right there, ready to go, is Surrey’s light-rail vision, backed by a coalition of business, community, unions and all parts of the political spectrum.



[Daryl Dela Cruz has a distinctly different view: Go for SkyTrain, he argues (and extensively illustrates) here.]


  1. As a standalone line, I could see Surrey light rail being built and operated as a P3, but with an NDP government, that isn’t likely – so there may be more of a delay in starting the project to look for funds from solely government sources.

  2. P3 is (in principle) a procurement strategy to allocate risk to the entity best suited to bearing it, not a funding mechanism. Lenders such as banks and pension funds will do their own risk assessment of the project before agreeing to enter into an agreement with the P3 consortium,and if they think the ultimate source of repayment (i.e. the government agency in charge) does not have their finances in order enough to be able to pay the money back to the P3 consortium and thus ultimately to them, then they’re probably not going to let the consortium put their money at risk in the first place. Hence, the government will have to have some means of paying for the project regardless, such as anticipated future taxation. So not that different than borrowing the money directly.
    That being said, P3 payments are considered “spending obligations”, not debt, so it can lead to some misleading accounting (see all the controversy WRT the run-of-the-river project future payments and how they’re enormous liabilities for the province, but not “debt” and don’t show up on the books as such). So politically there may be some advantages to doing it so you can say you’re not increasing the debt, which is a bit of a sneaky way to mislead the public. Not that a project is inherently “wrong” once you include these obligations as debt, but all of the costs and benefits should be made clear to the public and people making the decisions. In terms of actual overall effect provincial/TransLink finances, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between the various procurement methods, other than the anticipated lifecycle cost differences as a result of using a P3 instead of traditionally procurement (assuming a proper alternatives analysis of procurement methods has been undertaken and found it to be the best bet for that particular project).

  3. I don’t believe the return is there for a private party to be interested in LRT South of the Fraser. The operating costs would eat away the capital savings and leave a less then attractive return on investment. I do however believe that the B-way has the ridership needed to return a healthy return to the private sector. Perhaps a pension fund sitting on some cash looking for a steady monthly income would should consider moving into the public transit field.

  4. It is a bit sad that there are so many groups fighting for a particular technology on a particular route or routes. TransLink’s analysis shows bus rapid transit performing very well in Surrey / Langley, and LRT performing well on the Broadway corridor. Chosing more expensive technology often means choosing long delays.
    I support GetOnBoard BC precisely because it is calling for increased funding for transit for the whole region, and allowing the studies and public consultation do decide on rapid transit technology and routes. There are many good alternatives to choose from, all with strong and weak points. See

    1. GetOnBoard is basically arguing for increased/stable funding for transit, and staying away from supporting particular items so not to alienate potential supporters (“I support more transit but not THAT technology/route” etc.). Which makes sense for its mission. But its not RESOLVING any of those questions, its simply staying out of the fray.
      Also, at this point I’m not sure the funding for any option is CURRENTLY a delivery delay (although it is a risk of becoming one). Even if some benevolent billionaire agreed to pay for whatever was decided should be built everywhere we wanted to build stuff (Jimmy Pattison, are you reading this? 😛 ), and everyone agreed on a preferred option for each location, construction would still be years away. There will be conceptual designs (10% detail) for each option for both locations, which are required to determine many of the impacts (costs, property, run times and ridership, environmental impacts etc.). Basically, enough to compare between alternatives, but not nearly enough to build.To my knowledge they’ve not been released publicly however. Once the preferred option is selected, you’d probably want to develop it further to preliminary design (about 30% detail), which would include more in the way of refined road/track geometry, more detailed signal timing plans, geotechnical investigations, more detailed construction strategies, more detailed cost estimates, design development etc. This will have its own round of public consultations as well. Simultaneously, you’ll need to do the environmental assessment. Then, you need to write the RFQ and RFP documents, undertake property acquisitions where required, and maybe do some preliminary/enabling works that have long lead times (e.g. the pre-loading for the SFPR that was done under a separate contract).
      Now, in a world where we don’t have this philanthropic billionaire, you can probably take things up to and including the RFQ stage before overall funding becomes a firm schedule constraint, although with a few caveats:
      1) You’ll need some funding for all of the studies/enabling activities, but these will generally be in the range of 5-10% of overall project costs, so may still be affordable to do in the interim.
      2) Whatever you pick, you need to sure you’ll get the money eventually for that option, otherwise the work is a bit of a waste of time. So obviously there may be a resistance to picking an option and taking the plunge without at least some long-term assurance that the money will emerge (even if its not there yet). Given the ongoing gongshow over funding for the last few years, its not surprisings that assurances and agreements between TL/mayors and the province don’t really inspire that much confidence that money will be there in the end.
      3) Its more difficult to get money for a more expensive project, so it may take longer, and there’s more schedule risk for more expensive projects. So I agree with your statement in this context, but don’t think we’re here just yet (although its a known risk).

  5. Vancouver will still be years away from getting the consensus needed to push an expensive subway through the west side. (At best, it might argue that a link is needed to close the gap between the Millennium and Canada Lines – maybe all the way to Arbutus.)
    May be, but on matter of “closing the gap”, it seems to me that the consensus is well there. Even traditional vocal opponents, like Patrick Condon, agree on that matter.
    Expected and healthy controversy on subway extension West of Arbutus, doesn’t prevent phasing of a Subway project, something in fact Translink considers as providing a much better benefit/cost ratio, and costing a pretty reasonable $1.5B…
    what is inline with final cost of any new LRT line built in North America those days (in despite of all the rhetoric and “hoopla” one could read on LRT fan’s websites).
    But where’s the money?
    Why not asking this question for the $2.2 Billions LRT. LightRailLinks is calling for?
    Not only a Surrey LRT plan requires as much if no more capital than a Skytrain extension but the LRT is also granted to bleed the Translink financial sheet on operating side, for a generation, when the Broadway Subway could allow Translink to save tremendous money on operation from day 1.
    And where’s the regional backing?
    Are you blind?
    Read the forums and survey here and there, and unless people are opposed to Transit altogether, you will see a massive support for the Broadway subway across the region rather a Surrey focused LRT.
    One result among other:
    Notice that for people effectively voting (the 35s and older), the Surrey LRT is not even a second priority but a third one!…and if knowing the LRT price ,which has not been exposed to the public, it could have certainly been even worse!
    Why that?
    The Surrey LRT vision assumes Surrey is an Island:
    what is supported is a local Transit system, , not faster than bus, requiring people to transfer to another mode, as soon as they want to cross a Surrey border !
    Regional backing could be seen in some quarter, but so far we don’t see any more regional backing for a LRT in Surrey than a Gondola in Burnaby. On the ground, people outside Surrey, are rather indifferent to choice done on a local service they feel they will never use it (and it is also what say the Translink study!)
    It is then not surprising that well informed Surrey transit users, having a glimpse at Transit issues like Paul Hillsdon, once a supporter of LRT for Surrey, has recently changed in mind, and now even recognize the numerous fallacies in the LRT propaganda emanating from Surrey (This sharp mind has well been recognized by Brent Toderian). .As you know, Daryl Dela Cruze made this his specialty too.
    So sitting right there, ready to go, is Surrey’s light-rail vision
    They want 3 lines…If we don’t have $1.5B for a Broadway subway extension, we will not have $2.2B: which priority please?
    They call for a 6 lanes Pattulo bridge to New West, but could be ready to suppress 2 lanes of Traffic on KGH for a LRT at the same time? where is the logic? What kind of vision you are talking about? I don’t see any!
    Where is the land use plan backing and supporting the light rail vision?
    So far I have only heard “SFH neighborood will be preserved” ah?
    what is the LRT for then?
    …But you could be right in your forecast, that for a reason you didn’t mention:
    There is great chance that future Transportation minister will be Harry Bains from “Surrey First”, as he has shown to be at the SFU Transportation forum on April 18th.

    1. Well said Voony. People across the region would benefit from a rapid transit line along Broadway. Contrast that to mainly people in Surrey benefiting a rapid transit line in Surrey. Who NEEDS rapid transit first? Well you tell me: Surrey with its half-empty buses or Broadway with its over-capacity buses? It’s quite obvious if you ask me.
      Gordon Price, I almost always agree with your opinions, but not regarding the Broadway/Surrey rapid transit situation. You never address well-laid out arguments for rapid transit on Broadway.

      1. I would say that justifying rapid transit service based on how full or how empty the buses are is not a very wise way to look for that justification. I think it’s horrible, actually, that you’re trying to make that assumption even though you don’t know everything. In my experience, sometimes the 99 B-Line can in fact be full. But, there are numerous times I have ridden the 99 when there’s more than enough room on the bus for the bus to work. Same goes for Surrey. So, many bus routes are half empty off-peak. Some are also full during so. Take the 320 or 502 during the peak, then come back before you make and judgments.
        No, the justifications for rapid transit come from several other factors.There’s the financial business case (Rapid transit gives huge transit service at an efficient operating cost compared to buses). There’s the modal shift case (Rapid transit also has the opportunity of attracting more people on transit due to how fast it is.). And then, there is the land use case (rapid transit raises land value and can drive urban development if the developer risk remains acceptable; that land use can create benefits for citizens in terms of transit accessibility and, ultimately, affordability).
        I’m sick and tired of hearing from people who say that X is justified, X is not justified, etc. based solely on a perspective of how well transit is used in an area.
        Regards, Daryl

  6. One of the reasons for rapid transit is that it saves people time, but it can only save time for people whose trip starts or ends within walking distance of a station or within walking distance of a connecting bus route. It can also waste time by adding transfers, especially if the frequency is low.
    The Light Rail Links Community Coalition website does not claim that light rail will save people time or improve connections between communities. It hopes that light rail will create better neighbourhoods and new businesses, which is nice. Aside from accessibility and capacity, which are not really the problem in Surrey, it does not explain why light rail is better transit.
    There are relatively few people and destinations within walking distance of King George Highway, and there is not much potential for redevelopment.
    Light rail on King George will not integrate well with Surrey’s coverage network. The coverage network must consist of bus routes spaced apart about every half mile or twice what is considered walking distance. Surrey’s north-south arterials are mostly continuous and appropriately spaced for operating an efficient coverage network.
    The one-mile spacing of the continuous east-west arterials in Surrey is too great to support the reorientation of the coverage network towards connections with rapid transit on King George. Most trips that start or end within 3 miles of King George Highway south of Surrey City Centre will continue to be faster via a north-south bus route that connects with other routes at Newton or Surrey Central.
    On the other hand, a line on Fraser Highway will improve connections with Surrey’s coverage network on north-south arterials east of King George. It will enable shorter trips on local buses, and it will make possible a vastly simplified route network.

    1. @mike0123: you say: “There are relatively few people and destinations within walking distance of King George Highway, and there is not much potential for redevelopment.”
      Are you crazy? There is tremendous redevelopment potential along KGH, once rapid transit is available there.

      1. …and why “once rapid transit is available “?
        If this corridor is identified as a Transit backbone one- and there is certainly some merit to do that- it should be part of a city transportation plan, and a city land use plan should be built upon that.
        Relevant transit investment then will follow in due time!
        by the way, 96B is coming soon !
        It is like it it is done virtually in all over Europe: the day we build railtrack in the middle of nowhere should be long gone.

      2. The corridor is similar in its potential for development to the Millennium Line between Brentwood and Lougheed. Development will happen mostly around just one new station on King George,and in fact few stations are proposed.
        The land is mostly taken up by low-density single-family houses on cul-de-sacs. The street network is poorly connected. Not much can be added outside of Downtown Surrey and Newton, except maybe through the redevelopment of a couple trailer parks.

  7. Translink’s “Surrey Rapid Transit Alternatives Analysis – Findings to Date” may not have decided for Skytrain as it was reported, but it did show that the real choice is between Skytrain+BRT or BRT only. LRT is just a waste of money. There is next to no difference between the BRT system and the LRT system except the price.
    I’m with the other commentators here. How can this be “irresistible” when it is so foolish? (Note to self, see Columbia River Crossing project.) And Mayor Watts’ political power is no help here. If she throws away a billion dollars for nothing, she will wear the attack ads.
    I went to the Light Rail Links page to see if they offered anything more convincing, but they don’t.
    That said, I think it reasonable that rapid transit in Surrey come before the Broadway Line.
    (Daryl Dela Cruz: Is there any way that your presentation can be downloaded directly from Skytrain for Surrey instead of through Scribd?)

    1. Having looked at the nuts and bolts of it academically ( ) I’m inclined to agree that for North American city form, in particular, LRT is a bit of a red herring option. It doesn’t offer significant (if any!) capacity benefit over BRT, while costing tremendously more, and doesn’t even get close to matching ALRT (SkyTrain) performance while costing nearly as much.
      The worst of all is the weird hybrid of a partially grade-separated LRT (e.g. part of the route is in traffic, part of it not). In that case you’re PAYING the higher amounts for grade separation and dedicated right of way but not gaining the benefit of increased safety, driver automation, closer headways, etc. Portland’s MAX system suffers from this.

      1. I would add also that the lower cost of BRT vehicles naturally lends them to more frequent service (e.g. less than 5 min is easy and common) than LRT can offer (often 5-15 minutes). And frequency of service is of tremendous importance – arguably the most critical element.

      2. But the real archetype of the weird hybrid is Seattle’s Link Light Rail. Admittedly, Seattle has some topography issues, but this system is bizarrely expensive. Simply no reason to not have gone with a fully grade separated automatic system for that kind of money. The East Link plans have all the same failings. Pretty big money for a line of compromises and a compromised outcome. It would have been even more money to tunnel directly from downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue under Madison and Lake Washington, but they would have got something great at the end. Probably travel times of around 12 minutes between the two downtowns and better station locations. Something that would connect the pedestrian areas of downtown, Capitol Hill, Bellevue well and provide a useful connector for suburban bus passengers. The plan is now for something that doesn’t connect the pedestrian areas that well, isn’t that fast, and won’t be that competitive with the suburban express buses going over Lake Washington. (Another note to self: foolish things can in fact be irresistible.)

      3. @yvrlutyens: Not going full grade separation was kind of a silly thing in the case of Seattle, in my view, because full grade-separation would allow the use of third-rail power. That would significantly cut tunnel size (vs. overhead catenary) to start with; and, pursuing something with linear-induction motor technology would have cut it down even more due to a reduction in train height. That would have resulted in so much cost savings (given the vast majority of the system will be grade-separated anyway, and tunnels are the most expensive), possibly moreso than it would cost to elevate the at-grade portion it has heading into downtown.
        I feel the same way about Toronto and the Eglinton Crosstown; open-mindedness to what Vancouver, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou, Osaka and other cities have would have possibly had some great results around the world. I guess the more common it gets, the more confidence it has in worldwide solutions. Guangzhou is planning to build several lines using the technology, and I think that will serve as a catalyst for many more.

  8. @mike0123 I totally disagree that there is not tremendous development potential in that part of Surrey. You may not like the form of development that is there, but that does not mean that there is not potential.
    In my opinion, the poorer the urban form is, the more potential there is for redevelopment. It only takes developers with vision and deep pockets, good marketing capabilities, and progressive lenders. In such cases, the sky is the limit. Name any place that has been subject to large project developments and comprehensive land use planning, and we can point to a time in the recent past when the place looked very different – usually worse.
    That is the potential for Surrey with a decent rapid transit system. Look at the changes that have taken place in Surrey City Centre (Whalley) and Gateway. It did take a while, but it is going at a striking pace now. The economics of land decvelopment, and particularly redevelopment in problematic locales, is complex, but at the same time, it is almost incontrovertable.

    1. Development potential is limited along most of the length of King George south of Downtown Surrey by single-family zoning. The limit on development is legal and political. There are additional difficulties presented by a disconnected street network, superblocks, large adjacent parks, lack of undeveloped land, and dispersed land ownership. This corridor is not the nearly continuous strip mall hell two miles to its west. There is potential for a more developed node at Newton and not much else.
      A rapid bus line between Surrey Central and White Rock would be better transit than the combination of a light rail line between Surrey Central and 56th and a rapid bus line between 56th and White Rock. Travel times on transit will be lower and transit connections will be made more reliably if there is just one rapid transit line using just one technology covering the length of the corridor.
      An important detail is the exchange at Newton that connects many North Surrey bus routes. If a short light rail line is built and an unnecessary transfer is required for all transit trips between North and South Surrey, it should at least be located at Newton where many local bus routes terminate. If the technology split is located at 56th as proposed, two transfers will be required for trips between most of North Surrey and South Surrey.
      I don’t mean to say that there isn’t some development potential or that rapid transit shouldn’t be built on King George in some form at some point. For now, a B-Line is good enough. There are other corridors, including corridors within Surrey, where rapid transit will better stitch together the local coverage bus routes – making transit faster and more reliable for more people – and there are other corridors with more development potential.

    2. I think that you also have to consider that Surrey is just one part of a regional market. With the coming of rail rapid transit of any technology and alignment, land value rises around it. Those areas then become almost as competitive in terms of land pricing as another near-station area at one of the numerous SkyTrain stations that will exist all over Metro Vancouver – including on the Canada line, the upcoming Evergreen Line, and – if it proceeds – Broadway rapid transit. Plus the as-yet-to-be-developed areas along the Expo & Millennium, some of which are now proceeding – like at Royal Oak Station. That’s not a good thing. Those other areas NoF are still closer in a more worthwhile way to more jobs and activity centres, attractions, and post-sec institutions – and they will see transit-oriented development before Surrey.
      That’s exactly what has been happening with Surrey City Centre. In the past 19-23 years of SkyTrain to Whalley, development has really only been seen in the past 5-10. At the same time, development progress has exploded in Burnaby and more recently in Richmond.
      The fact that there IS SkyTrain access in Whalley has not necessarily meant anything. A lot of people buying into Surrey land and housing are doing so because it is cheap. Rapid transit makes land more expensive, and in its catchment area removes that key incentive that’s causing so many people to buy here. That loss will have to be made up for with other incentives. i.e. build that transit, but make it faster and more reliable (SkyTrain), invest more in community services, etc.
      There’s some potential, sure, but I do not think it is going to be in the way that Surrey seems to think it will go. The way Surrey is going with preferring light rail, it will stand at a disadvantage in this region. By the time development areas get filled up North of Fraser to make it so that the South of Fraser becomes a viable option again for transit-oriented development, it will be too late. Light Rail will not have attracted the ridership required to make revenue to further expand the regional transit network, drive more land use intensification, and get cars off of the roads. The community will be a big mess.
      People and developers looking at Metro Vancouver will once again have the choice of paying lots for an awesome area, or peanuts for a shitty area. Essentially, back to square one.

    3. Rapid transit makes land more expensive
      …And the cheapest houses in metro Vancouver, into Lower mainland,, and by far, are… right at Scott Road.
      To be sure, the interaction between land value/development and transit is not something well understood.
      It is not a Rapid Transit line, or a streetcar, by itself which is enabling development, and the lethargy of the Surrey stations for the last 20 years, compared to the Burnaby ones, show that much more is at stake…Clearly in Surrey, Dianne Watts has been a trigger…but Watts is not here forever, and who knows what come after her?
      Investing $2.2Billions in a municipality where 3 years later, a Doug McCallum meme can decide to freeze every redevelopment, is a risk no responsible government should take.

  9. I always wondered about Dianne Watts’ stance on LRT Translink’s assessment is that RRT (skytrain) would provide much more benefit wrt shaping urban development and capacity for future growth. Really, she is rejecting TL’s study and assessment of this.
    If LRT is built, there will be some inevitable negative impacts and protest and i wonder if she has the ability to weather it, based on her handling of the proposed south surrey casino.
    Along with that, there is no love lost between her and the Libs (Rich Coleman and the aforementioned casino). My prediction? i’m angling for RRT to langley city, championed by the Peter Fassbender.

  10. Since the Translink study basically shows the LRT option as the worst performing option studied and you are correct about the political aspects I agree RRT/BRT is the most likely. Lets just hope that the current funding issues are settled and something gets built.

    1. RRT/BRT only projects 11% more passengers than an all bus system that costs less than half as much to build. That fact alone should make people wonder about the numbers. Historically rail has done a far better job of attracting passengers than any form of bus based transit.
      Here are the estimated annual operating costs per passenger. Operating costs are extremely important given that senior governments provide nothing toward them and TransLink is struggling to fund the current network.
      BRT 1 $261
      LRT5A $239
      LRT1 $235
      RRT1A $225
      Here the lead for RRT is small while the all bus system shows itself to be expensive to operate. BRT also has the highest marginal cost for additional capacity because additional buses mean additional drivers while RRT and LRT can run longer trains during peak hours.
      The entire study and all its conclusions rest on passenger projections that may not be accurate. We need only look back at the existing SkyTrain projects for evidence.
      The Expo line estimates were pie in the sky optimistic. So much so that two decades of massive development and the construction of the Millennium Line had to occur before ridership finally reached the level predicted for 1991.
      The situation on the Canada Line was the reverse. Passenger counts quickly exceeded even the most optimistic estimates and left critics like myself scratching our heads wondering why the forced transfers at Bridgeport and Brighouse weren’t killing ridership.
      It was in speaking to relatives in South Delta that the truth was revealed. People don’t actually mind transfers in the pouring rain or giving up their comfortable coach seat to stand for the 19 minute trip downtown. What they really care about is getting there and back on time. The old express buses to South Delta could be very fast and beat the new combination of Canada Line and bus, but they could also get held up in traffic for 45 minutes. Ultimately people are looking for consistency in travel time so they can plan when to leave home in the morning and when to start dinner.
      Getting back to the Surrey numbers I feel the projections for all the rail options should be higher relative to an all bus solution. Not only do I believe rail’s superior ride characteristics and reputation attracts passengers who do not take the bus, I believe the politicians in Surrey would move much more quickly and decisively on re-zoning if they knew track was going to be laid rather than bus lanes.
      I would have preferred the focus be on connecting the town centres of Surrey and its neighbours to each other with a network of interconnected routes. What we got was three separate lines all leading to Surrey City Centre, a traditional hub and spoke approach to travel patterns that are becoming more decentralized every day. Anyone from Langley wanting to attend Kwantlen had better have a lot of patience or, preferably, a car.
      I understand that some feel the connection to Langley is an essential next step for SkyTrain. I disagree, but if it’s really that important then take it out of this discussion completely. Regional priorities should go ahead on their own merit and not be used to justify spending less in what will some day be BC’s biggest city. Going cheap now and having to re-build in the future when the area is much denser is foolish.
      I’m disappointed, but not surprised that the existing rail line from Scott Road Station to Chilliwack was left out of the discussion completely. While it’s true that the line serves as an alternative to more heavy trucks in our region, it only moves a few dozen freight cars per day and could be upgraded to handle passengers at lower cost than the LRT quoted in the study. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief it’s OK to build multiple lines connecting the same two cities and it’s OK to build lines with virtually no stations along the way. Just as roads vary from cul-de-sacs to freeways, there’s a place for different kinds of transit from community shuttles to trains that only stop once per city.

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