Sunbury Neighbourhood Association

the PROVINCE - April 27, 2008

Southern Railway has big shipping ideas

BULK COMMODITIES: Company president says his plan will significantly reduce trucks at Deltaport


There’s a similarity between Southern Railway of British Columbia, which hauls freight throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, and the wellknown children’s book The Little Engine That Could.

Like the little engine, our little railway also thinks it can when it comes to doing big things.

And if it’s successful, all communities south of the Fraser River will breathe cleaner air and will enjoy reduced traffic congestion.

Southern Railway’s new president, 41-year-old Frank Butzelaar, outlined his vision last week at a transportation forum sponsored by the Surrey Board of Trade.

Like some at the forum, you may not be familiar with Southern Railway or its distinctive dark blue engines. It’s known as a “short line” operator and has about 200 kilometres of track locally, including about 100 kilometres of mainline rail running from Annacis Island to Chilliwack. It also connects with the major “long haul” rail carriers, including Canadian Pacific and CN.

Because of his railway’s access to the rail corridor at Roberts Bank, Butzelaar sees an opportunity to change the way many bulk commodities such as lumber, sulphur or potash are exported through Deltaport. Many of these containerized commodities are now transported to Deltaport on diesel trucks.

Butzelaar envisions a shuttle rail service through which bulk commodities from other parts of B.C. and the rest of Canada are collected at a container-stuffing transfer terminal located somewhere up the Fraser Valley, then carried by Southern Railway to Deltaport for export.

“In these days of $117 per barrel oil, a railway is 34 times more fuel efficient as a truck and generates significantly less greenhouse gases,” he says.

No, he says, his plan won’t eliminate trucks at Deltaport but it will reduce their trips significantly.

The numbers tell the tale — there’s already enough shipping business to justify Southern carrying 100 containers per day in one unit train five days a week.

And since a truck carries just one container, the Southern shuttle would effectively eliminate 26,000 truck trips annually at Deltaport.

“The local benefits are clear,” he told the forum. “There will be less traffic congestion, less wear on the roads, fewer traffic accidents and decreased emissions.”

And while rail crossings are a significant problem in the region, grade separation projects are already under way.

Southern Railway is actively looking for investment partners to make the shuttle service happen and the company is also talking to municipalities throughout the region about acquiring industrial land for a transfer terminal.

Ironically, while Southern seeks to enhance the freight-hauling business it’s been doing locally for more than 50 years, it’s now touching other company roots that stretch back more than 100 years.

The company was originally incorporated on April 3, 1897, as the B.C. Electric Railway, and it was also the operator of the old InterUrban passenger route from Vancouver to Chilliwack from 1910 to the 1950s before being taken over by B.C. Hydro and then privatized.

Asked for his thoughts on reestablishing passenger rail services on the line, Butzelaar said he’s keeping an open mind.

“It would have to be able to work within our freight service on the line, but we’d love to see a business plan on passenger service,” he said.

Hmmm, perhaps another “I think I can” opportunity is just around the corner for our little local railway.

If you have a story idea about anything going on in the Fraser Valley, e-mail Brian Lewis at

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