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BC Hydro wants to stay on tracks

BC Hydro is trying renew a two decade-old agreement that permits them to operate passenger rail service free of charge in part of the Fraser Valley.

The section of rail is known as the Pratt-Livingstone Corridor, and runs from Cloverdale to Langley. It is part of a longer interurban rail line that runs from the New Westminster bridge, through Surrey, Cloverdale, Walnut Grove and Langley, and then on to Abbotsford.

The corridor, which runs from 184th Street in Surrey, to 232nd Street in Langley, was previously owned and operated by BC Hydro until 1988, when BC Hydro sold the tracks and the equipment to CP Rail.

BC Hydro still owns the land that the tracks are on, and in the 1988 agreement, BC Hydro reserved the right to operate a railway, including passenger trains, on the tracks at no cost.

This is in contrast to the Westcoast express, for example, which pays to use CP’s infrastructure.

The agreement that allows BC Hydro the right for passenger service was set to expire at the end of next month, with the option of another 21 year renewal.

On June 30, BC Hydro sent a letter to CP Rail requesting the 21 year renewal, after receiving pressure from the mayor of Langley and several advocacy groups.

"We support the preservation of passenger rights and it doesn't cost us anything. It could have a future use or future value," said BC Hydro spokesperson Dag Sharman.

The renewal is not an automatic go, though.

CP Rail is currently in the process of reviewing the agreement, and has not come to a decision how they will proceed.

"Any time you enter into an agreement you need to renew the agreement; whether to renew or not to renew, modify..." said Mike LoVecchio, senior manager of media relations for CP Rail. "The agreement is still in place until August. We've got time to make decisions."

LoVecchio emphasized that BC Hydro hadn’t offered passenger service on the corridor since the 1950's, and that CP Rail has never been approached by any other group seeking to operate passenger trains on those tracks.

Sharman confirmed that BC Hydro has no plans to do so in the near future, either.

There is a possibility that the tracks could be put to use, however.

Last fall, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure launched a $400,000 Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley that would look transit options connecting the Fraser Valley to Metro Vancouver.

The feasibility of light passenger rail is being considered in the study, said the ministry's communications director, Dave Crebo; but only from a "regional perspective," connecting the valley to Vancouver, not connecting cities within the valley to each other.

When asked if the Pratt-Livingstone Corridor would be considered an option, Crebo said it is too early to speculate on the results of the study.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions. It's too early to say right now," he said.

As of yet, Sharman says BC Hydro has received no pressure from CP Rail to give up the right to passenger service.

CP Rail has not contacted the Ministry of Transportation regarding the corridor either, according to Crebo.

CP Rail expects to make a decision about how to proceed by August 29, when the original agreement expires.

If the agreement is renewed, BC Hydro would have the option to seek another renewal in 2030.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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