Regional District of North Okanagan directors heard an ambitious plan Wednesday that would connect Kamloops to the U.S. border by hydrogen-electric tram service.
UBC Okanagan associate professor Gord Lovegrove pitched his idea for Okanagan Valley Electric Regional Passenger Rail (OVER PR).
Lovegrove, a Kelowna city councillor, gave a PowerPoint presentation touting the commuter rail project's ability to enhance quality of life in the Okanagan, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and foster economic development.
He said the region doesn't have the population density for a Lower Mainland-style SkyTrain network, but that tram trains as used in Europe and elsewhere are within reach.
Relying on a traditional road solution to increasing population would cost an estimated $10 million to $20 million, plus another $500 million for an eventual second crossing of Okanagan Lake, Lovegrove estimates.
A rail solution would cost $5 million per kilometre, for a total of $3 billion from the U.S. to Vernon. Rail to Kamloops already exists.
He estimates senior governments would pay three-quarters of that, and that the local share would be offset by fares and tourism benefits.
Over time, he estimates this could save taxpayers $1 billion.
He foresees a regional transit authority that would control the system and set fares.
"You plan for cars, you get cars. You plan for people, you get more people than cars and livability," said Lovegrove. "We don't want more cars than people, do we?"
The hydrogen fuel cell / battery hybrid powered trams would be zero-emission, would require no overhead wires and would be at road grade, meaning they could easily run beside and cross streets and intersections.
The trams would operate at city speeds in town and highway speeds between cities.
He envisions working with B.C. industry, including Ballard Power Systems, Loop, and Hydrogen-in-Motion.
The province's CleanBC Plan states: "Hydrogen can play a major role in B.C.'s low-carbon energy systems. It's versatile, safe and clean when produced from B.C. electricity or renewable natural gas. It produces zero-emissions when it's used and can be stored and transported as a liquid or a gas."
The trams would carry an estimated 200 passengers.
Lovegrove says trackside stations would encourage new housing and services in the vicinity, enhancing livability and reducing the need for vehicles.
The development team aims to engage communities along the route and hopes to stage a prototype demonstration as early as this fall.