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All aboard: UBCO prof proposes light rail for Okanagan

A UBC Okanagan professor has studied the feasibility of an electric passenger train in the valley
A conceptional illustration of the Okanagan Valley Electric Regional Passenger Rail shows the tram running alongside Okanagan Lake.

A University of BC Okanagan (UBCO) professor believes the time has come for light rail transit in the valley.

Gord Lovegrove teaches in UBCO’s School of Engineering and is also a Kelowna city councillor.

He studied the feasibility of an electric passenger train patterned after a similar concept in Karlsruhe, Germany 40 years ago.

The Okanagan Valley Electric Regional Passenger Rail (OVER PR) service was published recently in the journal Sustainability. It is the first of its kind in North America and one of the first published worldwide.

“Hydrail tram-trains, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell/battery, is a passenger rail that acts like a tram in cities and like a train between communities,” Lovegrove explained. “This is a new concept to North America.” 

He cited surveys of residents, First Nations communities and businesses, along with senior government reports, that revealed the Okanagan Valley needs options for road widening and bypasses.

“To address growing inter-city transportation, safety, congestion and climate resilience challenges in the Okanagan Valley, we found that even in our Canadian climate and hilly terrain, hydrail tram-trains are technically feasible.”

Lovegrove deliberately analyzed Highway 97 with its steep hills, as the toughest test of its feasibility.

If that route were chosen, OVER PR would connect cities and airports throughout the valley with a one-way trip from Osoyoos to Kamloops (342 kilometres) taking about four hours. The train could travel around 90 k/h between cities, and lower speeds within communities.

“Using embedded rails, sharing existing and HOV lanes as well as highway rights-of-way, or medians, between cities, would drastically reduce the need for land acquisition without taking away capacity,” Lovegrove added. 

The route would also be designed to integrate with bus services with ridership expected to be more than 13,000 passengers a day.

Lovegrove’s research suggests that over 30 years OVER PR benefits could total more than $45 billion, outweighing its capital and operating costs by nine to one.

“The Okanagan Valley is expected to continue with significant population growth, tourism and traffic congestion which leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, as well as more vehicles and highway fatalities,”  he said. 

Lovegrove added it would be up to Okanagan communities and First Nations to decide where a potential tram-train route would be located.


Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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