In the late 1970’s, after much study and with regional consensus, Greater Vancouver’s Regional Authority, the GVRD, was on the verge of approving three light rail lines; Vancouver to Whalley (via New Westminster); New Westminster to Lougheed Mall and Vancouver to Richmond. Costing $350 million to $460 million. It wasn’t to be. The then Social Credit provincial government forced the construction of the newly renamed Advanced Light Rail Transit (ALRT) System onto the GVRD and built a $850 million light-metro just to new Westminster.
A history lesson:
In the late 1970’s, the UTDC or Urban Transit Development Corporation, a Ontario crown corporation designed a new elevated light-metro called ICTS or Intermediate Capacity Transit System, for a public transit niche between the maximum ridership Toronto’s streetcars could carry and the ridership needed to justify a subway. The cost of ICTS was roughly half of a that of a subway to build, though, according to the Toronto Transit Commission, “up to ten times more to install than light rail.”. Only two such systems were sold, Detroit (known locally as the mugger mover) and the Toronto, soon to be torn down, Scarborough Line.
Unfortunately for ICTS, it came after the Renaissance of modern LRT, which filled this niche and according to the TTC’s own studies, ICTS, despite the much higher costs, had about the same potential capacity of light rail!
To try to reinvent their proprietary light metro system and compete with light rail, the UTDC renamed ICTS’s to ALRT or Advanced Light Rail Transit in the late 1970’s. Then in a crass political deal with the then BC Social Credit Party, they agreed to purchase ALRT in exchange to obtain the then famous, Ontario Premier William Davis’s ‘Blue Machine’, which pioneered computer tracking of voters during elections, to desperately try to win the next BC provincial election.
The die was cast and the GVRD got SkyTrain “whether you like it or not.” Instead of originally planned LRT from Vancouver to Lougheed Mall, Whalley and Richmond, the region got SkyTrain only to New Westminster and as a bonus, the famed UTDC/BC Transit ‘SkyTrain speak’, which would even put George Orwell to shame.
The rest of the world came and saw SkyTrain at Expo 86, but the rest of the world built with LRT instead. No one else built with ALRT. The UTDC was sold to Lavalin which went bankrupt trying to sell the, again renamed ALM or Automated Light Metro, to Bangkok. Bombardier Inc. bought the shattered remains of Lavalin and ALM, redesigned the light-metro and renamed it ART or Advanced Light Metro.
In the mid 1990’s in other crass political deal, this time with Bombardier Inc., to get a (now abandoned) SkyTrain fabrication plant in Burnaby, the Glen Clark NDP government forced ART to be built on the Millennium Line. To date Bombardier as only sold four ART systems, the Port Authority in New York, connecting the JFK airport to the subway system, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, and Korea. It should be noted that ART was not allowed to compete against LRT for all installations, strange as LRT has outsold ART by well over 70 to 1!
With SkyTrain came the ALRT/ART technocrats and bureaucrats who so perverted transit planning in the region, that we only plan for light-metro. After Vancouver had a well publicized temper tantrum, not wanting elevated SkyTrain, they got a much more expensive subway instead for the RAV/Canada Line. What Vancouver wants, Vancouver gets. As subway construction is about twice as much as elevated construction, RAVCo. and Intransit BC cut construction costs by building the somewhat cheaper cut-and-cover method, with the cost savings coming from not paying compensation to affected businesses.
The SkyTrain or light-metro trap
Regional planners have fallen into the SkyTrain trap, where all transit planning in the region is based on light-metro including the predicted ‘flip-flop’ on the Evergreen Line, where proposed LRT was planned as light-metro and then dutifully replaced with SkyTrain. The SkyTrain trap is when one builds a light-metro and then hires none but shills, who only plan for SkyTrain, which is a light-metro. Building much cheaper LRT would only show how inept previous transit planning has been and career bureaucrats and politicians, ever mindful of their reputations until the pension cheques roll in, will do everything in their power to prevent honest transit planning in the region.
Build small but very expensive proprietary light-metro line >> densify metro route by rezoning industrial & commercial lands to residential along the metro line to increase ridership >> increasing land values >> exodus of families and businesses, searching for cheaper homes and industrial land >> new highways and bridges to cater to increasing suburban population >> increased traffic congestion as it too expensive to build with light metro in lightly populated areas >> build another light-metro line, though not catering to suburban populations >> increased densification along the route to increase ridership >> further increasing land values >> a greater and further exodus of families and businesses to the suburbs, searching for cheaper homes and industrial land >> more new highways and bridges to cater to increasing suburban population >> increased traffic congestion >> more light-metro is planned, but not enough to cater to suburban populations >> increased densification >> and so on.
Most cities understand the SkyTrain trap is, with the first light-metro line built and subsequently future transit construction is with light rail; but no, not in Vancouver, where planners and politicians continue to plan for pie in the sky light metro lines.
SkyTrain, wins the battle but looses the war: Highways forever!
Tags: C-train, commuter rail, cost per km, Evergreen Line, Fraser Valley, gateway, infrastructure, interurban, Karlsruhe, light metro, light rail, LRT, LRTA, NDP, passenger rail, Rail for the Valley, skytrain, streetcars, study, Surrey, track-sharing, tram, Tram-train, trams, transit, Translink, UBC, UBC SkyTrain, VALTAC, Vancouver