Transit lessons unlearned – Part 2

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In the 1980’s there was much debate between modern light-rail and many proprietary transit systems being offered for sale, which included the SkyTrain ICTS/ALRT automatic light-metro. Many claims were made by the owners of various proprietary transit systems being offered for sale, about the effectiveness of their transit systems. In 1991, Gerald Fox a noted American transit specialist, produced a study comparing  light-rail and automatic guided transit (AGT) systems including SkyTrain and the French VAL light-metro system. The study concluded that despite the hype and hoopla of the promoters of AGT systems, there was no benefit in building with more expensive AGT. These conclusions were not lost on American and European transit planners, who wanted ‘the best bang for the buck’ and the desire to build prestigious and expensive light-metro systems waned from the mid 90’s until the present day.

Conclusions from Gerald Fox’s A Comparison Between Light Rail And Automated Transit Systems. (1991)

  1. Requiring fully grade separated R-O-W and stations and higher car and equipment costs, total construction costs is higher for AGT than LRT. A city selecting AGT will tend to have a smaller rapid transit network than a city selecting LRT.
  2. There is no evidence that automatic operation saves operating and maintenance costs compared to modern LRT operating on a comparable quality of alignment.
  3. The rigidity imposed on operations by a centralized control system and lack of localized response options have resulted in poor levels of reliability on AGT compared to the more versatile LRT systems.
  4. LRT and AGT have similar capacities capabilities if used on the same quality of alignment. LRT also has the option to branch out on less costly R-O-W.
  5. Being a product of contemporary technology, AGT systems carry with them the seeds of obsolescence.
  6. Transit agencies that buy into proprietary systems should consider their future procurement options, particularly if the original equipment manufacturer were to cease operations.

Today TransLink and the provincial government still make unfounded claims of superior operation for SkyTrain (if it doesn’t snow) and denounces LRT as a poor-man’s rapid transit system. Nothing could be further than the truth and it still seems TransLink and the SkyTrain lobby have failed to read and understand transit lessons, taught almost two decades ago!

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