SkyTrain to Fleetwood: Cut-short and short-sighted

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With yesterday’s Mayors Council vote in favour of finalizing the business case for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project, it is now certain that SkyTrain will be extended along Fraser Highway, but only as far as Fleetwood within the foreseeable future. As expected, the 1.65 billion in funding currently secured for rapid transit in Surrey will only allow for a 7km / 4 station extension of the Expo Line from King George Station to 166 Street, not to be in service until the end of 2025. With no funding secured, and no timeline in place for a phase 2 extension to Langley, it’s unlikely that SkyTrain will reach Langley before the 2030’s.

Given the decision to go ahead with SkyTrain on Fraser Highway, Surrey’s most urban corridors of 104 Ave and King George Blvd serving the 2 largest Town Centres of Guildford and Newton will likely now see no rapid transit for the next decade, due to the limited 3.55 billion funding envelope (with 1.9 billion yet to be secured) for rapid transit South of the Fraser. This funding envelope would have provided Surrey 27km of LRT across the city, including both the Guildford-City Centre-Newton ‘L’ line, and Fraser Hwy line to Langley. With SkyTrain, Surrey will just receive a single 16.5km line down Fraser Highway instead, along a corridor much more suburban in form, and with much less opportunity for land assembly to higher densities to support a SkyTrain line.

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While rapid transit to Langley is definitely a good thing, the reality of the line not likely reaching Langley until the 2030’s, while rapid transit elsewhere in Surrey is stalled, is very unfortunate when Surrey could have had a full 19-Stop (27km) LRT system across the City inclusive of Langley within the same timeframe as an 8-Stop (16.5km) SkyTrain line. LRT additionally would have transformed, urbanized, and distinguished Surrey in ways that SkyTrain will not. LRT and trams are common fixtures and symbols of inner urban cores in major cities around the world, of which Metro Vancouver currently lacks. Cities such as Berlin, with robust multi-tiered rail transit networks, are embarking on major expansions of their LRT networks, on top of their existing metro rail networks. LRT would have urbanized and distinguished Surrey as a city on its own, as an inner core of the region. With SkyTrain, Surrey remains similar to Burnaby, a by-pass suburb along the line to Vancouver. This is not to mention, the negative effects of SkyTrain on the streetscape – obtrusive overhead guideways that cast shadows, are noisy, unsightly, and ultimately very suburban in nature, compared to urbanized street-integrated LRT which can transform a city and its streetscapes.

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Eventual 8-Stop (16.5km) SkyTrain to Langley by 2030’s
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Cancelled 19-Stop (27km) LRT network that would have been completed within same time frame as SkyTrain

It’s hard to imagine rationalizing a 4-station SkyTrain extension to suburban Fleetwood over an 11-station LRT line servicing Surrey’s most urban corridors and largest Town Centres, but here we are. Ultimately once the line does reach Langley in the 2030’s it will help to move people through the region, benefit Surrey’s City Centre (although with less new stations), and those living near the line, but at the expense of what could have been a much more extensive rapid transit system, more urbanizing, distinguishing, and transformative for Surrey.

Public Consultation to Begin for Surrey Langley SkyTrain and South Fraser Rapid Transit Refresh

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Public consultation is set to get underway this month for the proposed Surrey Langley SkyTrain (SLS) extension, as well as the future of rapid transit along 104 Avenue & King George Blvd.

In 2014, the regional Mayors Council identified Fraser Highway, King George Boulevard, and 104 Avenue as priority corridors for rapid transit South of the Fraser in the 10-Year Vision. Following a study looking at combinations of SkyTrain, LRT, and Bus Rapid Transit for the corridors, the Mayors Council decided on 27-km of urban-style LRT on dedicated track (separate from traffic) on each of the corridors to be built over 2 phases:

  • Phase 1: Surrey-Newton-Guildford Line on 104 Avenue & King George Boulevard
  • Phase 2: Surrey-Langley Line on Fraser Highway

With funding in place to cover the entire first phase, and construction set to begin this year – a last minute request was made in 2018 by Surrey’s new Council to the regional Mayors’ Council to suspend the Phase 1 Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line and re-direct funding to the Phase 2 Surrey-Langley line instead, while switching the technology of the Phase 2 line to SkyTrain. The Mayors’ Council voted to move forward with this request, and directed TransLink to begin planning work for SkyTrain on Fraser Highway while at the same time re-visit rapid transit plans for 104 Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors.

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Proposed Surrey Langley SkyTrain route and conceptual stations

The switch of priorities to the Phase 2 Fraser Highway line and changing its technology to SkyTrain has had implications both in budget and timeline. The funding that was allocated for the full Phase 1 Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line has been identified as inadequate to fund the entire Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension to Langley. Pending a future round of funding (timeline unclear), the line may have to be phased, with the current funding getting the line potentially only as far as Fleetwood. Start of construction and delivery of new rapid transit South of the Fraser is also now delayed by approximately 2 years as a result of the switch.

Despite the funding and timeline uncertainties, planning work is nonetheless well underway for the new SLS line, which will need to involve a significant re-evaluation of land-use plans along the Fraser Highway corridor to support SkyTrain, completion of a number of supportive studies, and extensive Public Consultation. In a project update report to Surrey Council this week – a preliminary timeline was given for this work by TransLink, with start of service targeted for 2025.

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To run concurrently with the SLS planning and consultation work will be a planning process to ‘refresh’ the South Fraser Rapid Transit Strategy for delivering the Mayors’ Council fully envisioned 27km of Rapid Transit along each of the Fraser Hwy, King George Blvd, and 104 Ave corridors. This refresh will look to re-examine and engage the public on what rapid transit along the remaining corridors could look like, now that SkyTrain has been chosen as the technology for Fraser Hwy. The 2013 Rapid Transit Alternatives Study identified Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for these corridors based on a scenario with SkyTrain on Fraser Hwy. With much LRT planning work having now been completed however, for the 104 Ave and King George Blvd corridors, it’s possible that LRT could still be an option for them rather than BRT, especially given Surrey’s long-term rapid transit vision for an extensive LRT network on major arterials across the City.

The first round of Public Consultation on the SLS line and South Fraser Rapid Transit refresh gets underway on April 11 in Langley, with open houses in Surrey on April 15, 16, and 17. TransLink has also recently launched an online survey where you can voice your feedback on the proposed SLS line. Open House times are set for the following dates and locations between 3-8pm:

  • Thursday, April 11 – Langley City Hall
  • Monday, April 15 – Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex (Fleetwood)
  • Tuesday, April 16 – Surrey City Hall
  • Wednesday, April 17 – Newton Seniors Centre

More info on the land-use planning review process for the Fraser Highway Corridor being undertaken by the City of Surrey can be found here: https://www.surrey.ca/bylawsandcouncillibrary/CR_2019-R059.pdf