Archive for May, 2009

Extracts from The Regional Transport Strategy role of Tramways & Light Rail (UK)

May 10, 2009

The following give some insight how real transit planning is done and shows that health benefits should be calculated into new light rail cost analysis. Alas, for the SkyTrain lobby, with 80% of its ridership first taking buses to the metro, creates more pollution that new LRT replacing buses!

1 1. Health Impact of Airborne Pollutants

Evidence has now emerged which confirms that the long-term effects of particle air pollution are considerably more significant in damaging Public Health than heart disease.
The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants Report published May 2001, considers that the total effect of long-term exposure on life expectancy for the whole population is about 10 times greater than that estimated for the short-term effects of Air Pollution. The Committee emphasized that although long-term health effects were larger than the short-term effects, there were more uncertainties in these calculations. More people die from respiratory disease in the UK than from coronary heart disease or cancer. In fact the UK has one of the highest death rates from respiratory disease in Europe. Death rates are nearly twice the EU average and well above the European average. “A significant number of deaths can now without doubt be attributed to transport; mainly tail-pipe emissions, road, brake & tyre wear related air born pollutants.” British Thoracic Society Report 2001 The relative burden of respiratory illness & death in the UK is increasing as the burden of heart disease decreases. Respiratory diseases are now killing one in four. The health impacts of pollutants are not just only restricted to individuals afflicted by respiratory disease but contribute to a whole range of other illnesses such as heart problems, liver disorder etc.

The benefits of the tram in this arena alone, to the wider community and the nation are tremendous and should be included by Government when calculating the Cost Benefit Ratio(CBR). Currently they are excluded as is clearly demonstrated in the latest Light Rail Guidance Dec 2006 from DfT. A year-on-year reduction of demands on the National Health Service, by reducing the major respiratory demands on beds will reduce in simple terms the cost to the community. A case could be argued for allocating funds from NHS budgets towards tram schemes. This pump priming would free up NHS resources at a local and national level over the cumulative generational lifecycle of the tramway for the overall benefit of the community.

12. Health Consequences of Pollution and Congestion

The health evidence now available when the present Air Quality Strategy Objective for particles was set focused primarily on acute health effects. Medical evidence is now emerging which suggests that the long-term effects of particle air pollution (PM 2.5 to PM 1 0s) are considerably more significant. In simple terms PMs are products of combustion soot etc.
In its report published in May 2001, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants considers that the total effect of long-term exposure on life expectancy for the whole population is about 10 times greater than that estimated for the short-term effects.

The Committee emphasised that although long-term effects were larger than those in the short-term, there were more uncertainties in these calculations. A significant number of deaths (between 25% – 40% (depending on which government figures are used) can now, without the slightest doubt, be attributed to transport related pollution. The relative burden of respiratory in the UK is increasing as the burden of heart disease decreases.

1 3. Health Impacts – Costs to the Community

It is not just individuals afflicted by respiratory disease who are impacted by this kind of pollution. There is a whole range of other related illnesses such as heart problems, liver disorder that are also caused by this kind of pollution. The rising level of stress (that can be seen every day in road-rage incidents) is contributing to the lowering of the quality of life for everyone. Direct annual health costs to the UK are enormous. UK health consultations in respiratory disease by General Practice (Local doctors) were over 38 million. Three quarters (76%) are consultations with a GP at the practice-base, around one fifth (22%) are with a GP at the patient’s home, the remaining 2% are with a nurse (either at home or at a practice). Overall Inpatient hospital treatment exceeded 740, 000 inpatient cases treated for respiratory disease in National Health Service hospitals in 1999/2000. These represent 9% of all inpatient cases in men and 5% in women. In children aged 0– 14 years there were over 210,000 inpatient cases for respiratory disease. Indeed, 12% of all NHS hospital admissions are in this age group in 1 999/2000 Around two thirds (67%) of respiratory inpatients are emergency admissions and one-tenth (9%) day cases. In 1999, drug treatment in England alone comprised around 49 million prescriptions dispensed for the prevention and treatment of respiratory disease. Just under half of these prescriptions were for bronchodilators used in the treatment of asthma. The volume of respiratory prescription has increased in recent years. Between 1994 and 1998 the prescription rate from GP’s rose by 13%. Is it a coincidence that this was a similar figure to the rise in car usage? In 1999/2000, there were over 10,500 operations for respiratory disease which cost the UK National Health Service £2,576 million made up as follows Health impacts of traffic and reduction due to light rail. This paper attempts to calculate the improvements in health which result from traffic reductions caused by a modal switch to light rail.

Basic data:

I have used the input data on health effects from “Liveable Cities: The role of tramways and light rail” (Harkins, 2007). Source: British Thoracic society Report 1998
Transport data are from Department for Transport sources. All figures are annual – not all from the same year but year-on-year variations are not expected to be large.

Health data
Total deaths from respiratory disease: 153,000
Costs to the nation:
NHS Costs £2576 m
Mortality costs £1644 m
Lost production £3194 m
Lost working days £2239 m
TOTAL £9653 m
Harkins (op. cit.) says that between 25 and 40 per cent of deaths (depending on which government figures are used) can be attributed to transport-related pollution. For the purposes of this paper we take 30 per cent as being a mid-range figure. Therefore the number of fatalities and costs associated with transport-related pollution are therefore 45900 deaths and £2896 m per annum.
Traffic data
Total road vehicle-km in 2006 was as follows (Source: Transport Statistics GB 2007):
Cars and taxis 402.4 B veh-km
Motor cycles 5.2 B veh-km
Buses and coaches 5.4 B veh-km
Light Vans 64.3 B veh-km
HGV 29.1 B veh-km
Death rates and health costs per vehicle-km
Death rate per vehicle-km = 45900 deaths/402.4 B veh-km = 0.114 deaths per Mveh-km.
Health cost per vehicle-km = £2896 m /402.4 B veh-km = £ 7197 per Mveh-km.
(This assumes it’s all due to cars, but since cars are 80% of traffic this isn’t too drastic)
Light rail data

 Total light rail traffic in 2007-08: (Source: Public Transport Statistics
Bulletin GB 2008, Table D. Includes 9 systems):
Passenger boardings 201 M pass-jnys
Passenger-kilometres 1184.5 M pass-km
Modal switch: Estimates of the modal switch from cars due to light rail vary in the region of 20 to 25 per cent -that is, 20 to 25 per cent of the passengers on the light rail system formerly travelled by car. We shall take 25 per cent for these calculations, so the number of passenger-km diverted from car is 25% x 1184.5 = 296 M pass-km diverted from car.

Hence: Reduction in deaths due to modal switch = 0.114 x 296 = 33.74 deaths per year.
Reduction in health costs due to modal switch = £7197 x 296 = £2.1 m per year.
Impact on Road Traffic Accidents, Accident and Casualty data Number of casualties 2006: (Source: Transport Statistics GB 2007):
Killed 3172
Seriously injured 29000
Slightly injured 227000
Total 259000
Total traffic (all types, see above) 511 B veh-km Casualty rates
Hence casualty rates:
Fatality rate
0.62 per 100M veh-km
KSI rate
6.3 per 100M veh-km
All casualties 51
per 100M veh-km
Hence the following reductions in casualties due to Modal Switch: (reduction in passenger-km = 296 million per annum as above)
Fatalities = 0.62 x 296/100 = 1.8 per year
Seriously injured = 5.68 x 296/100 = 16.8 per year
Slightly injured = 131.5 per year
All severities 150 per year
Costs of Accidents,  We apply to these casualty reductions the following costs per casualty obtained from COBA section 3.1 (2002 £) to obtain:
Fatalities: £1,249,890 x 1.8 = £2.25 million/a
Serious injuries: £140,450 x 16.8 = £2.36 million/a
Slight injuries: £10,830 x 131.5 = £1.42 million/a
Total cost of casualties saved = £6.03 million/a

Total cost savings

 Adding the savings in health costs (£2.1 m/a) and accidents (£6.0 m/a) gives a total saving of £8.1 million per annum. Amortising £8.1 m/a over 25 years (taken as the life of a light rail system) at 5 per cent gives: Net Present Value of health and accident savings = £ 114 million. THUS THE NPV OF SAVINGS IN HEALTH AND ACCIDENT COSTS ON THE NINE CURRENT LIGHT RAIL SYSTEMS AMOUNTS TO £144 MILLION.

The NPV of savings in health and accident costs on a proposed new system carrying 20 million passengers a year would be one-tenth of this, say £14 million, and this should be counted in the benefits of the new system. LRTA Development Group, 07 March 2009.


Trams in tight places

May 8, 2009

Under the department, a picture is worth a thousand words, trams, streetcars and their kin can operate in very tight places, this funicular in Portugal should dispel any notion that ‘rail’ transit can’t operate in tight locations!

trams in tight places


From the Tyee – Passenger rail rights at risk: Langley Mayor

May 7, 2009

An agreement that protects passenger rail rights in the Fraser Valley is set to expire this summer and Langley Township Mayor, Rick Green is calling for its urgent renewal.

The Master Agreement is between BC Hydro, who owns the right of way, and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), whom bought the tracks and the right to run trains along them.

Green says the agreement’s renewal is critical because it guarantees the province, operating through BC Hydro, the right to run passenger service through the Pratt-Livingston Corridor, a stretch of the former interurban line between Surrey and Langley.

Green’s unearthing of 1988 Master Agreement comes at a time when the South Fraser region is looking to the province to provide more public transit options, with many calling for the establishment of a light-rail system along the old interurban tracks.

“Green is very wise to make that agreement public,” said Malcolm Johnston, a member of the Rail for the Valley advocacy group, which is lobbying the province to take advantage of existing rail infrastructure to upgrade the public transit system.

“This is a good thing for citizens because it establishes the ownership of rights of way and protects the statutory right of running light-rail,” Johnston said.

Though Green would not say how he obtained the confidential 1988 document, which reserves 33 per cent of traffic on the line for crown use, he released a memorandum yesterday encouraging local MLA candidates to support its renewal and commit to light-rail through the region.

Langley NDP candidate, Kathleen Stephany, said Wednesday that she supports the agreement’s renewal and affirmed her commitment to light-rail.

“Because we stand for a comprehensive light-rail transit system for the South Fraser region, we will be very interested in any options that become available to us, including crown use of the interurban corridor and the Canadian Pacific Railway rails through Langley.”

In a joint statement released Wednesday, both local incumbent B.C. Liberal candidates, Rich Coleman and Mary Polak, announced that they also support Green’s request to renew the agreement, though the Liberals’ commitment to light-rail remains uncertain.

The party is currently undertaking a $400,000 study, which looks at transit options for the Fraser Valley, though nowhere in the Liberals’ platform is the light-rail option mentioned.

“It is important that we keep all of our transit infrastructure options open as we pursue our Fraser Valley transit study,” said Coleman, Minister of Housing and Social Development and the Liberal candidate for Fort Langley-Aldergrove.

Johnston says that while political support for the Master Agreement’s renewal represents a positive step for passenger rail rights, he remains sceptical of the parties’ commitment to light-rail.

“The agreement is obviously important, but I’m not confident that this will change anything, not with the Liberals in power or the NDP in power,” said Johnston.

“They have to pay lip service to the agreement because it would be foolish not to, but when it comes to political parties, there’s a big difference between what they say and what they do.”

Green hopes that BC Hydro will renew the Master Agreement for a further 21-years and said Wednesday that he “would be very hard pressed to believe that they would not renew it.”


May 7, 2009


The following is a discussion document (#72 January 2009) from the Light Rail Transit Association which may be interesting for those who are interested in building a ‘start-up’ heritage interurban/streetcar service.

The Federation of Small Businesses (Yorkshire and Humber) have shown concern about the need to reduce traffic congestion in Leeds. Their suggestion was that local politicians and transport professionals should adopt some lateral thinking to plan a way ahead (1). Some new lateral thinking is obviously needed despite the present lack of support from Westminster.

Britain’s five new tram systems, built from 1992, have all demonstrated a sufficient public response to quality transit. When Leeds “torched” its well developed tramway system in 1959, many soon realised that the lower cost system was actually low quality also and consequently this replacement had many faults. They soon began to vote with their feet which resulted in a road spending spree costing many times what transport modernisation would have needed. Many passengers learned for the first time the value of that standing load. Trams can swallow up a large load quickly but with buses on a busy route, a slow entry followed by that dreaded word FULL which meant a wait for the next bus. An experienced passenger would know that seats would quickly have become available even on a bus route and drivers have never been known to go back to collect those unlucky ones still waiting at the previous stop.

A close look at developments on the other side of the “pond” could well be a winner here if our politicians realised that what was scrapped about 50 years ago had the potential to give as good a performance as light rail today. “As of last year, almost 1,500 miles of tramway were either planned or opened in the American cities” (2). Many were actually heritage systems, replica first generation bodies equipped with modern electrical under gear. They have been put back to work on short lengths of track for segregation where possible. Using figures supplied by an American source, a heritage tramway is about two thirds (mile for mile) of the cost of light rail.

Returning to Leeds, many miles of tramway reservations still exist as does one of the modern looking railcars of the 1950’s If the skills are still available at the Crossgates factory in Leeds it can be seen that a heritage tram is feasible at a lower cost. The design could be modified with a low floor articulated middle section added and if all wheels were powered, hills as steep as 10% could be negotiated.

As cost becomes the final arbiter, it should be pointed out that a high passenger appeal will attract funding in its own right. For this reason, care must be exercised when choosing the first part of city to get the initial construction. It is suggested that City Square to St James hospital via Corn Exchange and the bus station could have strong passenger appeal. Although most of this route would be double track, the section along NEW YORK STREET would require special attention. This is about the same length as a narrow street in Mainz (Germany) where a closely spaced interlaced track is used by two busy routes without difficulty. As no point work is involved the operation is silent and works very successfully. A role model for Leeds could be the new tram system in Saarbrucken (Germany), especially so if the first likely extension in Leeds was to Horsforth Station, a recent suggestion by consultants.


1) Regional leaders must rethink policies on transport – YORKSHIRE EVENING POST 21st October 2008.


2) John Tagliabus – INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE 10th November 2008.



Prepared by F A Andrews LRTA Assistant Publicity Officer


May 4, 2009

Rail For The Valley asked South of Fraser candidates where they stand on light rail.

Click here for their responses

Of particular interest is the BC Liberal party’s support in principle for a demonstration project to be launched by 2010. (See last page of Questionnaire, BC Liberal party response to Q3: Will you support a South of Fraser light rail demonstration project for 2010, the Centennial anniversary of the original Interurban passenger rail service?)

The project would encompass the communities of Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley and Surrey, and offer a twice-a-day excursion service for residents by the summer of 2010.

The German disease – What is it? Do we suffer from it?

May 4, 2009

In the early 1960’s, when the German economy was beginning to recover from the war, Germany invested heavily in new subways (U-Bahn) and fast commuter style metropolitan railways (S-Bahn). The tram or strassebahn, which bore the brunt of providing public transit from the late 40’s, to the 60’s, was largely regarded by many as a dated or even obsolete. At the time, German planners were going to abandon most trams systems or upgrade to S-Bahn by the Millennium, but unplanned events reversed this trend. Three surprising things happened to cities that replaced trams with subways S-Bahn and buses, which made public transit policy and transportation projections go awry:

  1. Cities which abandoned trams, in favour of U-Bahn and S-Bahn saw an overall drop in transit ridership.
  2. The cost of new S-Bahn and U-Bahn construction, all but bankrupted local transit authorities, which then bled money from the rest of the transit system.
  3. Public transit systems were seen to be mainly used by the poor, the elderly, and students.

Collectively these events, but especially number 3, became to be known as the German Disease.

Not widely reported, except in specialist journals, the German disease was a serious threat to public transit, as many transit customers who could use the car, did; leaving the public transit system for mainly the socially disadvantaged. Public transit was seen as an appendage of the social welfare system and operated as such, further continuing the downward spiral of ridership. Flashy new subways and S-Bahns, just did not attract the ridership as projected, which caused great concern for transit planners and politicians alike, for many, they did not have a “plan B”.

With the erosion of public transit, authorities in many cities issued a diktat to transit managers, especially tram managers (trams were still thought to be obsolete); “either you increase ridership or you will lose it“. Tramway (streetcar) managers recognized that the lowly tram was the backbone of their transit system; no trams, no customers; leading to the wholesale abandonment of urban transportation. Local managers did something quite unspectacular, yet very effective; opened honest consultation with the transit user or customer. This honest and open dialog found that the average transit customer wanted, not flashy new U-Bahns or S-Bahns, but trams giving a doorstep to doorstep service: “transit customers wanted transit on the pavement, ready to use.” With subways and S-Bahns, the vast majority of transit customers had to take a bus to the rapid or express transit and again take a bus to their destination. What did ring loud and clear was the transit customer did not want to take a bus!

With this wealth of information and public input, transit managers designed and operated transit systems to best suit their customers needs. Public pressure was brought against building politically inspired, gold-plated subway schemes and S-Bahns were only planned when there was actually the ridership to warrant them. In the mid 80’s began a reversal of planning and instead of abandoning tramways, a program of tramway renewal and expansion began. The introduction of low-floor tramcars brought an almost universal mobility for all to all tram systems, which saw increased use of public transport. Cities with tramways were thought to be progressive and by the 1990’s, a marked modal shift from car to tram was clearly evident.

The German disease, saw a remarkable German cure and with much ingenuity such as ‘Bistro’ cars, party trams, and TramTrains, German transit planning is seen as one of the most progressive in the world.

The question we should ask ourselves is : “do we suffer from the German disease?” And if we do, “do our politicians have the political fortitude to rectify the situation?” Promises of more U-Passes, especially on an over stressed bus system; planning for more hugely expensive gold-plated subways, that in the end cater to very few new transit customers; and the staggering fact that 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership, first take a bus to the light-metro, indicate that the metro region has a bad case of the German Disease. Sadly, no one yet is willing to admit to this, or that there is even a problem.

What is taken for mediocrity in Europe, is considered success in Vancouver!