First, before any discussion about rail transit, including Light Rail Transit, we must define LRT and other transit modes. The following is a brief descriptions of various transit modes advocated as solutions for transit in the region.
Locomotive hauled rail coaches or diesel or electric multiple unit trains, catering specifically to peak hour transit demands.
Any regularly scheduled passenger rail service.
Light Rail Transit:
A rail mode, that economically bridges the gap between what passenger loads that can be economically carried by bus and that of a metro, between 2,000 and 20,000 persons per hour per direction. Comes from the English term light railway or a railway light in costs. LRT is able to operate in mixed traffic on city streets, its own reserved rights-of-way, or on mainline railways. LRT can be built as a simple streetcar or as a light metro, and can combine any and all of the previous examples on one route.
The metro family, including light metro:
A rail mode that operates on segregated rights-of-ways, due to longer rakes of passenger vehicles operating at close headways. Metros generally operate on elevated guideways or in subways and has more intensive signaling, sometimes including driverless operation. Metros are built to cater to large passenger volumes, in excess of 300,000 or more passengers per route (line) per direction per day.
Bus rapid transit (BRT):
Any limited stop bus service including guided bus and buses using busways.
The population of the Fraser Valley is growing at an unprecedented rate, roads and highways are congested and pollution in the upper regions of the valley is increasing rapidly. The provincial government in 1980, forced the proprietary SkyTrain light metro system upon the GVRD instead of previously planned for light rail. For the cost of LRT going from downtown Vancouver to Lougheed Mall, Whalley, and Richmond Centre, the region got SkyTrain from downtown Vancouver to New Westminster. Some $5 billion later we have SkyTrain to Whalley and the Millennium line, the only metro in the world that goes nowhere to nowhere. The annual subsidy for SkyTrain is now over $200 million annually and has given rise to the myth that “we do not have the density for rapid transit“. We have plenty of density for LRT, we never did have the density for metro.
The provincial government has again forced another, now $2.5+ billion, metro system onto TransLink, on a route without sufficient density to provide the ridership needed to justify its construction costs, which in turn will further increase the annual subsidy for metro in the GVRD.
TransLink, with absolutely no experience with modern LRT is planned for a hybrid light metro/rail line costing well over $100 million per km to build, later fiddled………..
……….. a business plan to support SkyTrain light-metro; again on a route that doesn’t have the sufficient ridership to justify the line and again will further increase the annual subsidy for the GVRD’s grand railway projects.
Because of the huge cost for TransLink’s rail transit, the provincial government claims that there isn’t the density for rapid transit in the Fraser Valley and has embarked on a $4.5 billion “Gateway” highways and bridge program. Problem is new highways and bridges only attract more traffic and soon highways become congested – again!
A Note on Density:
Many people, including TransLink confuse density with ridership. Density is the number of people living per square km. in a region and ridership is the number of people using transit. People only will use public transit if the public transit services their travel needs and if transit doesn’t serve where “I” want to go, “I” will not use it.
What TransLink and the GVRD are trying to do is increase density near a SkyTrain routes and hope that the sheer numbers brought by higher density will provide the ridership for their metro. Sadly what has happened is that yes, more people are using SkyTrain, but even more people are using the car! One can densify all one wants but if public transit doesn’t serve the needs of the population, people will not use it.
Many smaller European cities operate extensive light rail networks and carry large volumes of customers because the public transit services where people want to go. The key is build more rail transit, serving more destinations, but built it cheaply!
The Karlsruhe Solution:Karlsruhe, Germany, with a regional population on par with the Fraser Valley has become famous in the urban-transportation field for its pioneering dual-system Stadtbahn “tram-trains” that run both on city streetcar tracks and on railroad lines shared with normal passenger and freight trains, in what is now known as the Karlsruhe Model.
The first step in this development came with the extension of the previously-existing Albtalbahn, an electric suburban light-rail line that runs southward from Karlsruhe to Bad Herrenalb and Ittersbach. In 1979, it was extended through the center of Karlsruhe on city streetcar tracks, then northward to Neureut, where it shares tracks with freight trains on a lightly-used branch of Deutsche Bahn (DB). Further track-sharing allowed the line to be extended to Hochstetten in 1989. This DB branch uses diesel power, so the shared sections were electrified with 750V DC to accommodate the light-rail (Stadtbahn) trains.
The success of this project stimulated interest in converting some of the DB’s regional passenger services to Stadtbahn lines and running them into the city on streetcar tracks also. This would have significant advantages for passengers:
They would no longer have to transfer between trains and streetcars at the main railroad station (Hauptbahnhof) or other stations on the fringes of the city, such as at Durlach.
Because light-rail trains can accelerate more quickly than conventional trains, running time could be reduced. Alternatively, more stops could be made, so that fewer passengers would have to drive or take connecting buses to reach the outer stations.
The first dual-system Stadtbahn service began operation in 1992, between Karlsruhe and Bretten, on what is now part of route S4. It was a huge success, with ridership increasing a whopping 475% in a few weeks. New routes and extensions have followed . The total length of the AVG’s routes is now about 470 km (291 miles), making it one of the largest passenger rail operators in Germany after DB. The “tram-train” longest run is now a 210km (130 miles) service from Öhringen through central Karlsruhe! So successful is the Karlsruhe “tram-train” or interurban, the DB now operates with trams in the region!
Will Karlsruhe work here?
The answer is yes, but the federal and provincial governments must take the lead in passing legislation to compel regional railways to allow such operation, just as what happened in Germany. If we want to reduce congestion and pollution, we must build a viable transit alternative, the Karlsruhe model provides an extensive rail network at a far less cost, tens of billions of dollars, than the Vancouver RAV or SkyTrain metro models. To build 100 km of SkyTrain would cost about $9 billion dollars but with the Karlsruhe “tram-train” concept, 100 km. could cost as little as $800 million! Much less if diesel light rail is used!
In an era where European transit planners are continually trying to reduce the cost of new rail transit schemes, TransLink’s planners do the opposite, reveling in the idea that rail transit becomes better as one throws more money at it! Economy is not in TransLink’s lexicon.
Kevin Falcon’s TransLink Mk. 2 will continue to plan for hugely expensive subways in Vancouver and just leave transit crumbs for the rest. Vancouver now has nearing completion, a $2.5+ billion subway on two transit routes (98-B and Cambie St.) that could muster less than 40,000 customers a day. Now the City of Vancouver wants a multi-billion dollar subway under Broadway and what Vancouver wants, Vancouver gets! To fund Vancouver’s next subway, TransLink needs the tax base of the Fraser Valley to Hope and as far as Squamish.
There are affordable rail options for the Fraser Valley and it’s time for Valley politicians convey the message to Victoria and Ottawa that we do have the density for light rail; we can afford light rail; we want light rail; and no, no more hugely expensive metro’s and subways for Vancouver and its neighbours!