Potential routes for Chilliwack-Vancouver-Whistler high-speed rail: UBC study

Jan 6 2021, 10:23 am

Three high-speed rail route options for the segment between Vancouver and Whistler have been examined by University of British Columbia (UBC) students.

It is intended to build on the work completed by another group comprising academics and planners who announced their concept of Mountain Valley Express (MVX) — a high-speed rail line linking Chilliwack, Vancouver, and Whistler — in October 2020.

For their final group project in December 2020, published on the university’s blogs website, the UBC Geography students dived into the topographical and terrain feasibility, with one route option, as envisioned by MVX, following the Sea to Sky Highway. This option could take advantage of the existing railway right-of-way, even though it “may not be able to accommodate the highest speeds from West Vancouver to Squamish due to the winding nature of the rail.”

Following the highway corridor could potentially carry a lower construction cost and shorter construction timeline as “less modifications would have to be made to the landscape in order to make the route suitable for a higher speed commuter train.” The segment of the route between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish would carry slower speeds, while overall travel times could be reduced with higher speeds in the segments from Squamish to Whistler and Chilliwack to Vancouver.

high speed rail vancouver whistler routes

Potential route options for high speed rail between Metro Vancouver and Squamish. (Susan Watkinson/Clara Dunlop/Sean Roufousse)

A second route option followed the Capilano Watershed, before joining the Sea to Sky Highway corridor in the area of Furry Creek for the remaining journey to Squamish and Whistler. But this route was described as an “ill fit” due to the high degree slope and sensitive watershed habitat.

There is also a third option that would take the route from Indian Arm through to Iron Bay, then along the pre-existing logging routes to Squamish and the Sea to Sky Highway corridor. However, this route option carries a higher construction cost, as there is “little to no infrastructure past Indian Arm and the cost of creating and maintaining a rail in such a remote location would be higher than if done along existing highway,” and it would cross through several provincial and regional parks.

Each route option would, of course, bring varying ridership and economic benefits due to their differing travel times and potential to stimulate development along their corridors, such as transit-oriented development with more affordable housing options.

Some of these route options were also considered in the early 2000s by the provincial government for new highway corridor alternatives to improving the existing the Sea to Sky Highway.

“With increasing commuter and tourist traffic along Highway 99, traffic accidents and higher carbon emissions have increased, as such, a green commuting solution needs to be found for this region,” reads the paper.

“A high speed rail would help to decrease traffic accidents, reduce carbon emissions, would cause a housing boom in the areas further away from Vancouver and would increase the work life balance for many commuters by reducing travel time and creating cheaper and more accessible housing opportunities further away from places of work. Day tourist traffic would increase to Whistler as Whistler would become more accessible, which would increase the local tourist economy.”

mountain valley express high speed rail

Map of Mountain Valley Express’ and station locations along the Sea to Sky Corridor and within Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. (Mountain Valley Express)

Last year, MVX proponents outlined their high-speed rail concept of 11 stations at major destinations and transfer points to other modes of public transit, including stations for Squamish, Horseshoe Bay, North Vancouver, Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver, Commercial-Broadway Station, Lougheed Town Centre Station, Surrey City Centre, Langley, and Abbotsford.

They imagined end-to-end travel times of about one hour between Chilliwack and Whistler, by following the Trans-Canada Highway and Sea to Sky Highway corridors for large segments of the route using a dedicated, fully grade separated track.

Based on the preliminary cost estimates for the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high-speed rail project, the group’s very high-level estimate for MVX pegged the project at between $7 billion and $16 billion.