The UFV geography department kicked off its Discover Lecture Series last Thursday, September 24 with a presentation on inter-urban rail.
Trains are common in highly-populated areas like Europe and large cities like New York, Toronto, and Vancouver. However, in spread-out suburban areas like Abbotsford, Chilliwack, or Langley, reliance on the road and the convenience of cars deprioritizes the building of an inter-city railway.
The lecture was given by Jeff Kenworthy, a professor in sustainable cities at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, as well as a guest professor at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. Kenworthy focused his lecture on his research regarding the benefits and resurgence of inter-urban rail to an audience of about 25.
The bulk of the presentation highlighted similarities between Kenworthy’s intra-urban rail project in his hometown of Perth, Australia and a potential rail line that would run from Abbotsford into Vancouver. In Perth, Kenworthy helped to design a 70-kilometre intra-urban rail line that connected urban sprawl communities to the city’s central business district. At its completion in December 2007, the expected ridership on the line was around 500,000 per year but that number has already reached 850,000 in 2014.
“[This shows the potential] when you put in a really good high-speed and attractive rail service,” he said.
When relating this project to the Fraser Valley, Kenworthy believes the potential for success was even higher.
“The densities [within Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley] are far higher than [Perth], and [Perth] has made an inter-urban rail system work extremely well,” he said. “A well-planned rail line has the potential to be a great success [in the Fraser Valley].”
Kenworthy said he’s trying to debunk the North American attitude of simply building or widening roads or highways to help alleviate car congestion — for example, the recent widening of the Port Mann Bridge. He provided data to show that working to increase the speed of traffic didn’t have any real affect on traffic congestion.
“If we increase the average speed of cars, we also increase the usage of cars … so as the average speed of traffic goes up, we tend to use cars more … higher congestion correlates with less use of cars in cities,” he said.
This lead Kenworthy to theorize that road traffic behaves more like a gas than a liquid.
“If we expand road space to alleviate congestion, all that will happen is the traffic will expand to fill the space available,” he said.
Though no initial plans are in the works to put a rail system through the Fraser Valley, local groups like Rail for the Valley are working to bring the issue into the spotlight of local and regional government agendas. In the meantime, the West Coast Express runs from Mission to Vancouver on weekdays and the Fraser Valley Express bus shuttles commuters on Hwy. 1 through Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and Langley.