Over the past month and a half of operating days, since the start of October, the West Coast Express commuter rail service has clocked over 80 hours of delays, but none of these delays can be sourced to TransLink’s operations.
In an open letter distributed to West Coast Express passengers earlier this week, TransLink puts the spotlight on Canadian Pacific Rail (CP) and its policy of giving freight traffic prioritization on the railway. The vast majority of delays on the service over the past two years have been caused by a slow freight train or a freight train blocking the way.
“These services delays are not acceptable to you or to us,” reads the letter to passengers. “We have repeatedly reached out to senior CP officials to ensure they take all necessary steps to restore the reliable service that you expect and that CP is obligated by contract to provide. Unfortunately, despite assurances from CP, the situation has not yet improved.”
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A separate letter addressed to Transportation Minister Marc Garneau and CPR Chief Executive Officer E. Hunter Harrison also echoes the same message.
The letter, signed by TransLink’s Mayor’s Council, called on the federal government to assist TransLink with working with CP on finding a solution for ensuring the reliability of the region’s commuter rail service.
Railways are under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and in the past it has taken a leading role in successfully negotiating favourable lease contracts with the Canadian National Railway and CP for the Toronto region’s GO Train commuter rail service.
“Based on the numerous delays recently experienced, we do not believe sufficient access has been allocated to this important commuter rail service,” the letter reads. “We think we can do better as a region.”
“We hope you understand that these delays are having a serious and negative effect on workers, employers, students and many others who rely on this critical public transit service.”
TransLink does not own the railway tracks it operates on; since 1995, the commuter rail service has leased track time from CP, with five trains operating in the inbound direction during the morning peak period and five trains operating in the outbound direction during the evening peak period. The most recent lease figures are not available, but in 2003 TransLink paid $5 million in track usage fees.
The West Coast Express is still one of TransLink’s most reliable services, but its on-time reliability of 98% has steadily decreased over the last few years due to growing freight traffic. Approximately 11,000 passengers use the 69-km-long, eight-station service every weekday.
On December 30, the West Coast Express’ TrainBus service using a fleet of suburban coach bus will be canceled. Passengers who normally use the service will have to take SkyTrain’s Evergreen Extension and transfer to an extended route of the 701 bus to Mission.