Dr. Gordon Lovegrove says it’s an issue of sustaining quality of life in the Okanagan.
The University of BC Okanagan engineering professor has told Vernon council about his vision for electric passenger rail service in the valley which he feels could be up and running within 20 years.
“Let this please be the start of a conversation — not the end,” said Lovegrove.
Lovegrove (pictured at Vernon council) is asking councils to consider station planning in their official community plans.
“It is not SkyTrain. Please, please hear me. It’s not 150 million dollars per kilometre, per mile SkyTrain like they’ve got in Vancouver, rising 50 feet in the air, rumbling along. This is actually a vision of less than 20 years that I see with enabling technology that is zero emission using Hyd-Rail technology and supports a smarter growth approach to our land use and transportation.”
Lovegrove says it will connect the Thompson Okanagan, will produce zero emissions, and will use embedded rails.
“It’s zero barriers. (It uses) embedded rails in pavement. We’re not talking a right of way that’s got rail ties raised and fenced off. People are walking around, and this is very typical European design of tram trains.”
He estimates the cost at under 5 million dollars per kilometre, which he says is less than it costs to build a kilometre of highway.
“Then you add on all these other benefits of sustainability, affordability, health, safety, and climate change, and you’ve got some real return on investment.”
Lovegrove requests cities like Vernon request the province to consider the passenger rail service in its planning.
“In terms of Vernon, (we need) station planning. The technology is such that it can go up up any hill and around any curve. Where do you want it to run? And that can be a discussion linked in with every other aspect of planning you’re doing.”
Lovegrove says the trains could go alongside, or in the middle of existing highways.
“That why I say the route should be one of the last discussions you have. The question I want to know is do you even like this idea?” said Lovegrove to applause from the gallery in council chambers.
“To answer your question, we like the idea,” said councillor Brian Quiring.
Councillor Scott Anderson also likes the concept.
“The rage right now is densification, and in a place like Vernon, people don’t come here to live in a well organized beehive. This actually allows us to expand a little bit,” said Anderson.
Councillor Akbal Mund thinks the service could work from Penticton to Vernon, but he wondered how many people would use it from Penticton to the US border, or from Vernon to Kamloops, giving the lack of population base in those areas.
“Is it viable working within the Okanagan region? Probably. Outside? No, because of the cost, which can add up real quick,” said Mund. “It’s a long way, 120 kilometres to Kamloops. Who’s going to pay for that?”
Lovegrove says a connection to the US railway network would be huge for valley tourism, and a connection to the Canadian rail network, which is in Kamloops, would also be a major benefit.