TRANSPORTATION: West Coast Express is a ‘beautiful’ alternative to Port Mann Bridge

All aboard! If only the West Coast Express, seen here heading east out of downtown Vancouver, had just a few more scheduled runs. Ian Lindsay/ PNG

MANPREET GREWAL
VANCOUVER DESI

With the Port Mann Bridge toll looming, even one more run of the West Coast Express will start presenting itself as a serious alternative to driving.

It is not only a stress-free way to make it into the big city but, in a strange way, is a means of connectivity even if it is with strangers who you neither owe anything to nor expect anything from.

As a resident of Abbotsford, I frequently travel to Vancouver for meetings. Because of the limited schedule of the West Coast Express, I am not able to take advantage of it for a two to three hour meeting so driving to Vancouver has just become a habit.

But this one time, I had already driven from Burnaby the night before and I was tired. It was an all-day meeting, so the train could work.

My son who studies at SFU, Burnaby and often uses the train to come home on weekends, told me that it was a relaxing, scenic drive and I wouldn’t be fighting traffic. I was sold.

The 12-minute drive to Mission felt like nothing, the ticket purchase was a matter of three minutes and soon I had hopped on to my brand-new experience. Although when you start in Mission, you have a lot of seating choices, the novice in me prompted me to slip into the first window seat close to the entrance. I saw other people get on the train and make their way confidently on and disappear into other corridors and carriages. I was curious to explore but stuck to my seat with all my paraphernalia, including briefcase and handbag beside me.

The train slowly startedt to fill up at each stop and soon I began to get a sense that the West Coast had, albeit for just a little over an hour per trip, built little communities on board. (My son had warned me that I would be exposed to the regular travellers’ cliques and I could feel a little left out. “Don’t take it personally,” he had laughed.

I saw people getting on and saving spots for others. Others would join at another spot looking for their regular fellow passengers and making their way to them. The group of four sitting close to where I was seemed very excited to see each other. They did a check in on how their recipes had worked the night before, an update on a sick pet and shared wedding plans for a daughter. It all seemed like a follow-up to discussions that had happened the day or days before.

There was a lot of chatter and laughter from another little pocket which also seemed to have built friendships just by being on the train. They were pouring over an iPad and checking out photos of someone’s family members.

There were some folks like me who hadn’t quite made a connection or were not a regular passenger. They were either reading a newspaper, on their Blackberries or laptops, or catching up on their sleep but everyone seemed relaxed. It was far removed from the stressed-out drivers I passed on my regular commute.

It is also a beautiful ride. The train has an attractive and comfortable interior and is on a track that runs alongside the Fraser River for many stretches of the route. There are not too many stops. I was in Vancouver in 70 minutes. Another four minutes walking got me to my destination. I was a lot fresher for my meeting than the times when I have fought traffic, navigating the one-way streets of Vancouver to get to my destination in a roundabout way, and frantically looked for parking.

On the way back, I was excited to repeat the experience and ready to engage a bit more. The train starting in Vancouver was packed. I met four different people: one who was riding all the way back to Abbotsford, one who got off in Coquitlam and another who boarded in Coquitlam. Another joined us for the last stretch from Maple Ridge to Mission. It was easy enough to talk about the weather, peoples’ reason for commuting and their thoughts on the West Coast Express, and where people worked.

The 70 minutes flew by.

I had such a beautiful experience, I promised myself that I would do it again soon. It has been two months now but I haven’t been back. The times don’t work for me most of the time. If the train had one or two more runs between its last departure from Mission and first return from Vancouver, it would be such an attractive means to get to Vancouver.

Especially after my first 20 free trips over the Port Mann are over.

Manpreet Grewal is a freelance writer based in Abbotsford. Email her at manpreetgrewal@shaw.ca

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