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Kelowna News

Push is on to create electric rail system in Thompson-Okanagan

Light rail electric trains are common in Europe. Pictured in this May 2, 2012, Wikimedia Commons photo is a light rail train in Amsterdam.
Image Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/Flyingjoost

KELOWNA - A $30,000 video may be what it takes to launch an innovative $1.5 billion, electric rail system running from Kamloops to Osoyoos.

Gord Lovegrove, an associate professor of engineering at UBC Okanagan, has been floating the idea for at least a year and now that his bid for a seat on Kelowna city council fell short (he finished ninth for the eight-seat council) he’s pushing hard to see his dream fulfilled.

Lovegrove has already talked with local, regional and provincial politicians, planners and business groups. He’s meeting with Vernon city council and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran in early December. But he also believes he needs private sector support as he expects it can only be built through a Public-Private Partnership or P3.

“Friends who are helping me try to get this discussion started tell me, Gordon, venture capitalists always like to see moving pictures,” Lovegrove said. “You’ve got to create a picture – a vision in people’s minds. What’s this thing going to look and feel like?”

Since he’s an engineer, not a graphic designer, he doesn’t have the skills to make a video.

“So he (the friend) said, you’re going to have to pay 30,000 bucks to get somebody going on this,” Lovegrove said. "How do I get $30,000? An engineer doesn’t get $30,000 grants.”

Friends are suggesting he form the “Lovegrove Group” so he can take donations and form a team to properly promote the idea.

Just what is this thing he calls a “great big audacious goal?” He’s dubbed it OVER or OVER PR – the emphasis differs depending on which draft of his discussion paper is viewed – meaning Okanagan Valley Electric Regional Passenger Rail.

It’s proven hydrogen cell electric technology on a light rail line that, he argues, will save money compared to building more and bigger roads and it will be good for the environment at the same time. This technology is already widely used in Europe and other countries.

Okanagan Valley Electric Regional Passenger Rail

The concept is to build a rail line that will connect to the existing CN line running from Vernon to Kamloops and extend it down to Osoyoos to link in with the Amtrak system just across the U.S. border.

Lovegrove says it can use existing rail tracks, have tracks imbedded in roads or run along highway rights-of-way.

His preferred option is to run trains beside highways in rural areas. They would run at highway speeds, so for safety reasons, would best be kept separate from cars since the 40 tonne trains take longer to stop than a three tonne car. In populated areas, they could share space with cars and travel at city speeds.

Lines could even be built on the newly opened Rail Trail from Vernon to Kelowna, with plenty of room for cyclists and walkers, he said.

The fact that rails were recently removed from that former railway line is actually a benefit, Lovegrove said, since the old rails and ties were in such bad shape trains could only travel at about 15 km/h. But any route decisions would only be made with public consultation.

The trains can handle 10 per cent grades and sharp corners so could run the entire Highway 97 corridor, and he claims, cut vehicular traffic by 30 per cent.

The total cost of $1.5 billion may seem huge but Lovegrove pointed out a second crossing of Okanagan Lake in Kelowna, along with the road infrastructure required for it, could cost $1 billion just for that one project. Tracks could be imbedded in the deck of the existing Bennett Bridge in Kelowna or hung off the side, he said.

While his vision calls for a 20- to 30-year time frame, he’s being chastised by some who say he should be looking at five years.

For now, he’s going to continue meeting and lobbying with business and governments to push the idea forward, but welcomes support.

“I would invite people with skills in creating a three-minute movie, and (invite) gifts of money,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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