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The Surrey Central Skytrain station in Surrey, B.C., on March 4, 2015. Jimmy Jeong / The Globe and Mail.Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Surrey residents would have to wait about two years longer for new transit and would get a different and shorter route if the city insists on ditching its current plan to build tram-like lines in favour of an elevated rail service.

But the details of what could be involved in making the switch are starting to become clear, say politicians, officials, and transit advocates from the Lower Mainland region.

After Doug McCallum’s election to the mayor’s chair last weekend on a platform that included switching from light rail to SkyTrain, regional mayors suggested the change would tear apart a carefully negotiated regional transit plan and could potentially cost them more money.

But, after a couple days of initial dismay, the tone is changing.

“It does feel like a step back to scrap the line after all the work that was put in over the last decade, but there has to be a recognition that if Surrey does not support it, there’s no way to make it a success,” said Jonathan Coté, the mayor of New Westminster and one of the previous leaders on transit issues at the TransLink mayors' council.

He emphasized that approving a change will ultimately be up to the 16 new mayors and five veteran ones on the TransLink mayors’ council, many of whom have their own urgent transit demands.

Mr. Coté said it is possible to move the current $1.65-billion in Phase 2 funding from the federal, provincial and regional governments from the current Surrey-Newton-Guildford tram-like light-rail line to a SkyTrain line running from Surrey to Langley, but not immediately. The light-rail line was about to start construction.

Mr. Coté noted that the $1.65-billion would likely only be enough to get the line to one of Surrey’s town centres in the east.

“The funding will not get you to the city of Langley. It could get you to Fleetwood and then you could make bus connections from there. That will definitely be an option,” he said.

Fleetwood-Port Kells MP Ken Hardie, part of the Trudeau government, also confirmed the federal portion of transit money for the region, $2.2-billion for all of the projects planned in Phase 2 of the TransLink 10-year plan, can be used for whatever regional mayors decide is the priority.

“If the region comes up with a new plan, our current funding is still there. The federal government doesn’t get very granular but we do want to see more rapid transit in Vancouver,” said Mr. Hardie, who worked at TransLink at one point in his career.

Peter Ladner, chair of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, a group of 135 organizations supporting transit improvements, also said it appears that people will try to find a way to adapt to the change in Surrey.

“I think there will be an attempt to accommodate the call for SkyTrain. If Mr. McCallum feels voters are best served by SkyTrain, it’s not up to the rest of the region to say No,” he said.

What has to happen for Mr. McCallum to get everything he wants is a complex multistage process, according to transit officials and regional politicians who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly in interviews over the past several days.

He will have to formally cancel Surrey’s request for money to the light-rail line, according to former mayors' council chair Richard Walton. It’s not clear yet whether Surrey would be asked to pay back the $50-million already spent on preparations for that line, Mr. Ladner said.

Then he would have to get everyone on the mayors’ council and TransLink board to agree that the money could be shifted to the SkyTrain Langley line, several mayors say.

TransLink would then have to put in a new formal application to the federal bureaucracy that vets infrastructure spending for a full review of the business case, a source at TransLink said.

TransLink would need to do two years of engineering work and planning work, including extensive public consultation, to determine the exact costs and to make sure that, this time, the public supports the transit project, the source said.

Then the already committed $1.65-billion could be used to build part of the line.

After that, Mr. McCallum would need to ensure that other mayors agreed that the $1.9-billion that was tentatively budgeted for the second light-rail line to Langley is then approved to build the remainder of the line, Mr. Coté said.

Phase 3 is not funded yet, so the federal, provincial and regional government will, yet again, have to agree on how much each level will pay and, for TransLink, what the funding sources will be, he said.

One newly elected Surrey councillor said the new council is ready for the extra work over the long haul to get what voters said they wanted.

“My complete understanding is our platform was crystal clear to the people and it was clear that if we’re elected, we’re doing this,” Allison Patton said.

She said Surrey is long overdue for a SkyTrain expansion, and noted that Vancouver and Langley are in support of Mr. McCallum’s transit ambitions.

Mr. McCallum has not responded to any requests for media interviews for the past several days.

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