The demise of the Evergreen Line – How does this affect the valley interurban?

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Evergreen Line Public Input

It seems that TransLink, which is in deep financial trouble, is on the verge of dumping the Evergreen SkyTrain Line. No surprise here as the proposed Evergreen line follows a route with little ridership potential.

Despite claims and opinions to the contrary, there is little demand for a SkyTrain metro extension to the Tri-Cities as peak hour bus ridership is still less that would sustain a bare bones tram system. Why then TransLink’s penchant for SkyTrain and light-metro?

It’s all about land development and not providing an attractive transit alternative, nor building a customer friendly transit system. Land values near SkyTrain, especially at stations rises considerably as municipal politicians relax zoning and allow much higher densities. This in turn creates large windfall profits for the landowners. The lands adjacent to the Evergreen line have already been rezoned for higher residential and commercial densities and there was little scope for large profits. The $450 million shortfall in funding, poor ridership, and little scope for property rezoning and redevelopment, means the Evergreen Line will remain a vague political promise, with little chance of fruition.

What does this mean for the valley interurban?

Railbus

The deferral of the Evergreen Line could be good news and I stress ‘could be’ good news for the valley interurban. Why so? TransLink is ‘tapped out’ and taking on another short metro line will only add to their current financial woes. There is an ever increasing demand from Fraser Valley politicians and residents that they too want to see ‘rail’ transit.

Including RAV, total spending on SkyTrain light-metro network is past $8 billion dollars (those huge annual debt servicing charges do add up), yet there is little to show for it south of the Fraser. If RAV/Canada Line doesn’t meet projected ridership numbers by August 2010, there possibly could be a demand by politicians (mindful of 2011 municipal elections) in the Fraser Valley for a more affordable and quicker ‘rail’ transit solution than a $3 billion or more ‘pixie dust’ SkyTrain line to Langley by 2040!

A hourly Vancouver to Chilliwack diesel LRT service could be put in place for about the same cost of two or three km. of SkyTrain and completed in under two years!

The collapse of the Evergreen SkyTrain metro will not herald a new era of light rail in the lower mainland, but may compel transit planners to build a cheap ‘rail‘ showcase light railway project fueled by political demands of the taxpayers south of the Fraser River, tired of funding ‘other people’s’ rapid transit lines!

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3 Responses to “The demise of the Evergreen Line – How does this affect the valley interurban?”

  1. Justin Bernard Says:

    Somehow, I have a good feeling this line will be built, and the ridership will not meet projections, and Translinm will fall further into debt.

    Zweisystem replies: In the real world, one doesn’t build a metro or an extension to a metro, unless there is sufficient ridership to justify construction. The threshold for a metro is just an approximate only, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 to 500,000 passengers a day. This is why light rail is built, it bridges the gap between what buses can carry and the ridership that demands a metro. This basic transit lesson is one BC Transit, TransLink and their collective planners and engineers have never learned. The result of course is extremely high subsidies (taxes) to keep the metro in operation.

    You will note that the RAV/Canada Line is only projected to carry 100,000 passengers a day or about 200,000 less than the bare minimum that justifies a metro – expect massive tax increases (or should I dare say the carbon/gas tax) to sustain it!

  2. N Says:

    Though I do support Rail For the Valley I need to point out one thing- Translink has always advocated for Light Rail for the north east sector first and then similar technology for what used to be called the RAV line (now Canada Line). Both were changed to Skytrain (well, light metro in the case of RAV) by the Provincial Government and the Canada Line was brought forward against translink’s wishes. If you look into translink’s history, they’ve always been steamrolled by the Provincial Government into Skytrain like technology.

    From a planning perspective, building a light rail line to Coquitlam wouldn’t be that much cheaper than SkyTrain anyway- considering the tunnels and viaducts required to avoid the steep grades of Clarke Drive and impeding traffic flows on St Johns/Barnet Highway (one of the most poorly designed arterial roads on the planet) and the increase of travel time would not offer much improvement over the current bus system, so SkyTrain is more appropriate here especially as speed is key to getting car addicted coquitlamites on to transit over the long term.

    By the way- that photograph above of an old British “Pacer” DMU on the Fraser Rail Bridge- is that superimposed or was the idea trialled?

    Zweisystem replies: Last question first. A Pacer DMU operated three daily return trips from Abbotsford to New Westminster during Expo 86. It was very well patronized!

    Even though TransLink claimed it was in favour using LRT on the Evergreen line, they designed it as a light-metro to accommodate the provinces wishes for SkyTrain; BC Transit (later TransLink) did the same thing with LRT planning for the Broadway light-rail project, by driving up the cost of light-rail until it was almost the same cost as metro!

    You are wrong about speed of a transit system attracting new ridership and you have fallen into TransLink’s well placed trap. It is the time of the overall commute that attracts new ridership and a transit system that depends on 80% of its ridership to take a bus before using it, translates into a not very attractive alternative to the car driver. Ease of use and the over all ambiance of a transit system trumps speed in attracting new ridership.

    The fact of the matter on the Evergreen line, there isn’t the ridership on the route that would demand a metro, let alone a LRT line and until TransLink includes transit customers into its planning equations, expect more hugely expensive metro planning that does little in attracting the motorist from the car.

  3. David Says:

    Putting any form of rail up and over the Coquitlam hill is going to cost way too much, but the route study that was done concluded that going around the hill would “miraculously” cost almost as much. It was merely one in a long list of perverted studies that I believe reached the conclusions their authors were instructed to reach by any means necessary.

    What’s truly ironic is that study needn’t have lied about the costs. The SE corridor, by the simple fact that it goes around the outside edge of the demand area, could never have attracted much ridership. It should never have even been studied.

    The simple fact of the matter, the ugly truth as some might say, is that the current and future demand for transportation between Coquitlam Centre / Port Moody and the Lougheed Mall area will never be enough to justify rail transit.

    To N:
    It is absolutely imperative that future rail transit projects impede traffic flows. Making cars kings of the road was one of the biggest mistakes of the 20th Century.

    New York City recently closed Times Square to all traffic. Completely closed it. Here in Vancouver we scream, whine and cry when someone suggests closing a single vehicle lane less than 1km in length. We need to grow up.

    Zweisystem replies: Some years ago, at a meeting with a TransLink planner, I was asked for my thoughts on ‘rail’ transit in the North-East Corridor. I always thought that a DMU service from Maple Ridge to Vancouver, via Coquitlam and New Westminster and the Grandview Cut, would be a far less costly and just as efficient transit service than any metro or LRT line. “Oh no, we can’t do that” came the reply from the planner, “We just spent $1.2 billion on the Millennium Line and we have to put as many transit passengers on to it as we can.”

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