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Passenger rail rights at risk: Langley Mayor

An agreement that protects passenger rail rights in the Fraser Valley is set to expire this summer and Langley Township Mayor, Rick Green is calling for its urgent renewal.

The Master Agreement is between BC Hydro, who owns the right of way, and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), whom bought the tracks and the right to run trains along them.

Green says the agreement’s renewal is critical because it guarantees the province, operating through BC Hydro, the right to run passenger service through the Pratt-Livingston Corridor, a stretch of the former interurban line between Surrey and Langley.

Green’s unearthing of 1988 Master Agreement comes at a time when the South Fraser region is looking to the province to provide more public transit options, with many calling for the establishment of a light-rail system along the old interurban tracks.

"Green is very wise to make that agreement public," said Malcolm Johnston, a member of the Rail for the Valley advocacy group, which is lobbying the province to take advantage of existing rail infrastructure to upgrade the public transit system.

"This is a good thing for citizens because it establishes the ownership of rights of way and protects the statutory right of running light-rail," Johnston said.

Though Green would not say how he obtained the confidential 1988 document, which reserves 33 per cent of traffic on the line for crown use, he released a memorandum yesterday encouraging local MLA candidates to support its renewal and commit to light-rail through the region.

Langley NDP candidate, Kathleen Stephany, said Wednesday that she supports the agreement’s renewal and affirmed her commitment to light-rail.

"Because we stand for a comprehensive light-rail transit system for the South Fraser region, we will be very interested in any options that become available to us, including crown use of the interurban corridor and the Canadian Pacific Railway rails through Langley."

In a joint statement released Wednesday, both local incumbent B.C. Liberal candidates, Rich Coleman and Mary Polak, announced that they also support Green’s request to renew the agreement, though the Liberals’ commitment to light-rail remains uncertain.

The party is currently undertaking a $400,000 study, which looks at transit options for the Fraser Valley, though nowhere in the Liberals’ platform is the light-rail option mentioned.

“It is important that we keep all of our transit infrastructure options open as we pursue our Fraser Valley transit study,” said Coleman, Minister of Housing and Social Development and the Liberal candidate for Fort Langley-Aldergrove.

Johnston says that while political support for the Master Agreement’s renewal represents a positive step for passenger rail rights, he remains sceptical of the parties’ commitment to light-rail.

"The agreement is obviously important, but I’m not confident that this will change anything, not with the Liberals in power or the NDP in power," said Johnston.

"They have to pay lip service to the agreement because it would be foolish not to, but when it comes to political parties, there’s a big difference between what they say and what they do."

Green hopes that BC Hydro will renew the Master Agreement for a further 21-years and said Wednesday that he "would be very hard pressed to believe that they would not renew it."

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