The SkyTrain lobby – “Pixie Dust planning”



One finds it interesting how the SkyTrain lobby warps the truth to suit it’s own ends. What the SkyTrain lobby is really saying is that; “We completely discount over one hundred and fifty years of rail/light rail/metro development, to support a unconventional, proprietary railway.” That only seven such systems have been built (actually there are two types of SkyTrain systems, the old UTDC ICTS/ALRT system and Bombardier’s updated ART system), with two of the systems, Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Toronto’s Scarborough Line, being forced upon the operating authority by senior governments, is testament of the non-popularity of the light metro. The SkyTrain version that has managed a few sales is Bombardier’s ART light-metro system, which has been sold as a “prestigious” airport people movers or fun-fair transit system and only Kuala Lumpur operates a ART system as a regional metro system, along side both conventional light-metro and monorail.

The UBC SkyTrain boys and girls take umbrage with RFV posting of a letter sent to various news papers, so let’s have a look what they say.

First of all, once again, there are many cities in the world with “SkyTrain” technology (or “SkyTrain-like” technology, fully grade separated systems like the Canada Line).  A full list of the cities can be found on our website.   It is known that SkyTrain is marginally more expensive compared to conventional rail and LRT, but there are many benefits with SkyTrain technology.  In fact, Bombardier’s SkyTrain is the front runner for Honolulu’s upcoming metro system. It is heavily based on the SkyTrain system in Vancouver, due to the lower capital costs.

As mentioned previously, there are only seven cities that have built with the SkyTrain ICTS/ALRT/ART system, over a 30 year span.

SkyTrain can cost up to ten times more to install (TTC ARTS Study) than light rail. When compared to other North American Light Rail systems, SkyTrain cost 2 to 5 times more to install and operating costs for ALRT/ART are higher than comparable LRT systems.

This is Honolulu’s second attempt to build with SkyTrain as the first attempt collapsed due to massive cost of the light-metro. One doubts that SkyTrain will be built in Honolulu, especially when politicians have just found that the costs quoted in Vancouver for SkyTrain were direct costs only, not total costs which is the norm in the USA. The same issue sunk the Seattle Monorail project. It also must be remembered that Honolulu’s planners want an elevated system, yet their projected ridership numbers do not warrant such an expense.

The projected ridership for the Canada Line is 100 000 passengers per day.  There is a need for a reliable, high capacity, and high frequency rapid transit connection between downtown Vancouver and Richmond City Centre and the ridership on the suburban bus routes along. The ridership on the 98 B-Line, serving the same corridor as the Canada Line (and in which the Canada Line was built to parallel), clearly shows this. There is a reason why the 98 B-Line is one of the busiest bus routes in the region with the second highest ridership levels, second only to the 99 B-Line. Both are express services that rival the speed of other transportation modes along their corridors.

The projected ridership for the Canada line is pure ‘pixie dust’, as it assumes that almost three times more people from Richmond, South Delta & Surrey will use transit to Vancouver than presently do and is not based on scientific assessment, rather it is a political guesstimate.

Yet when the 98-B Line bus was instituted in Richmond, ridership dropped from what the old 403, 402, and 401 bus routes with direct services to Vancouver, carried. Again the SkyTrain lobby ignores the singular fact that forced transfers deters ridership.

The Canada Line is expensive, but will be worth it in the long run as it puts Vancouver in a competitive economical advantage over most North American cities that don’t have a metro connection to the airport.

This comment is absolutely silly, if the author took time to investigate; in North America, rapid transit systems that connect to the airport, including Chicago and San Fransisco, see little ridership.

The Ministry of Transportation has made it clear that road tolls would not be implemented on existing road infrastructure.  While TransLink has suggested its implementation, there are no concrete plans.  It will also be difficult for TransLink to implement these as most of the region’s roads and bridges are under Ministry of Transportation jurisdiction and not TransLink.

Oh yes and the premier who runs the Ministry of Transport, promised not to sell BC Rail, nor implement the HST. Again, this statement shows the naiveté of the author.

The Canada Line may be costly to extend and expand, but that is with all transit infrastructure.  Taking a car will not be faster than taking a bus plus the additional transfer at Bridgeport.  Currently, busing from Richmond to Downtown takes about 45 minutes during most hours of the day. With the bus integration effective on September 7th, the new transfer will take about 5 minutes for an average person to walk from the bus loop up to the platform.  Assuming one just misses a train at Bridgeport, the next train will arrive in 3 minutes during peak hours.  It takes 19 minutes to SkyTrain from Bridgeport to Waterfront Stn.  Total time on transit with the transfer from Richmond takes 27 minutes, 18 minutes faster than bus, not counting the the 10 minute wait for Oak Street Bridge.  And with a shortened route for south of Fraser express buses, it enabled TransLink to run a higher frequency for these routes with more buses running on a shorter route, and without having to deal with the congestion on the bridges and roads into Vancouver nor the congestion in Downtown.

Again, the author discounts the great cost differences for LRT and SkyTrain. Sorry, taking the car will be faster and more convenient as studies have shown that for residents in South Delta and South Surrey, being forced to take RAV will increase average journey time, especially off-peak, which is hardly a good selling point. Again, I must remind the SkyTrain lobby it is not the speed of the ‘rapid transit’ that attracts customers but the speed and ease of the entire journey; RAV. with forced transfers which will not be an attractive alternative.

Unless buses feeding RAV run on the same frequencies as RAV, they will not be competitive with the car. Your numbers are misleading as your 5 minute transfer time is not realistic. Most car drivers would spend another 15 minutes in their car rather than take a bus, transfer to RAV and transfer again to another bus. RAV is just not a competitive alternative to the car.

It is is absolutely false that subways require 400,000 to 500,000 boardings per day to justify its existence. Capacity of subway systems, or rather ALL rail systems, is dependent on the frequency of trains, the size of trains, and most importantly the ultimate platform size of trains. It has NOTHING to do with train infrastructure being built underground. Many underground systems have been built to deal with ridership less than 500,000 boardings per day.

Actually it’s not false but very accurate that a subway needs 400,000 to 500,000 passengers a day to justify the investment. The figure comes from UBC Professor Condon but it is also illustrated by the fact that subways are avoided at all costs due to high costs. You can build a subway with less ridership potential, but be expected to pay higher subsidies to support it. Finally your comment is illogical, for if a subway was viable for ridership flows of 100,000 a day, more cities would be burrowing underground.

Just to remind you, Capacity is a function of headway and the following illustrates the capacity of RAV, SkyTrain and LRT at 90 second headways.

Cap. of 3 Calgary LRV’s (capacity 175 /car) – 90 second headways: 23,625

Cap. of 6 Mk.1 ALRT cars (Capacity 75/car) – 90 sec. headways: 20,250

Cap. of 4 ART cars (Capacity 110/car) – 90 sec. headways: 19,800

Cap. of 2 ROTEM cars (Capacity of 163 per car) – 90 sec. headways: 14,670

Cap. of a 3 ROTEM cars (Capacity 163 per car) – 90 sec. headways: 22,005

And finally, to suggest that these subways, or our own SkyTrain and Canada Line, are heavily subsidized would be equivalent to saying it did not cost a penny to build them in the first place.

But you refuse to admit that they are subsidized and try to pretend that they are not.

While it was unfortunate that the Canada Line was built using cut-and-cover construction, the actual cost of cut-and-cover and bored tunnel isn’t as significant as it really is: in fact, a bored tunnel is only marginally more expensive.  Cut-and-cover was used to guarantee the completion of the Canada Line system before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  In the end, we have a rapid transit link that arrived three months ahead of schedule.  However, TransLink did not switch construction methods.  It was assumed that the Canada Line would have been built using tunnel boring machines while the construction methodology had always been up to the bidding consortium’s.

And if we had built with LRT instead, we could have had it in operation two years ago, your argument is without foundation.

The lawsuit by Cambie St. merchant, Susan Heyes, was not just against TransLink, but also the private company which will be operating the Canada Line.   The cost of the lawsuit is split between the two, meaning less burden on taxpayers.  The case is being appealed. It is unfortunate that many merchants suffered from construction, but at the same time merchants should remember they will benefit from the Canada Line down the road.

Passengers in subways do not see surface stores and restaurants and do not get off trains to patronize them. The opposite is true for light rail, where merchants adjacent to the LRT line see about a 10% increase in business once the line opens. Your comments are disingenuous.

The cost of the project soared due to inflated materials prices and the cost of labour. The $1.3-billion figure was first pushed around when the project was first proposed in 2002, and surely you would’t ignore the fact that there was a wide gap between the date of when the project was proposed and the date of when construction actually started: higher construction costs are to be expected.  

The costs soared because the costs for subway construction were deliberately misleading from the start! The switch from SkyTrain to a generic metro was done to save the cost of over 40 km. of the expensive reaction rail needed for the Linear Induction Motors.

The Canada Line is not half the capacity of the proposed light rail system on Arbutus.  The ultimate capacity of the Canada Line is 15 000 passengers per hour per direction, which is the capacity of the current Expo Line during peak hours.   Yes, the trains on the Canada Line are short, but they are also wide and can carry 400 passengers at crush-load capacity and can handle an addition hundred passengers with a third “C-car”.

Actually the capacity of a Canada Line car is 163 passengers, using the industry standard of all seat occupied and standees @ 4 persons per m/2; the figure of 200 per car is derived at crush loading, all seats occupied and standees @ 6 persons m/2. Do the math, even with the third car, the RAV Line barely match LRT’s capacity of over 20,000 persons per hour per direction.

 In addition, more trains can be added to the Canada Line; the control system can handle a train every 90 seconds, just like our current SkyTrain.  LRT cannot do that because it’s not automated.  Furthermore, LRT cannot be faster than current Canada Line unless it was built with metro standards, being fully segregated from traffic.  As stated in the City of Vancouver technical study completed  in 1999, SkyTrain, or in our case, the Canada Line, will have an average speed of 35 km/hr, 10 km/hr higher than LRT.  Just looking at the shorter trains is simply shallow-thinking.

You are dead wrong here. Light rail can operate at 30 second headways, and do it day in and day out on scores of LRT operations around the world. Actually LRT can operate at a faster commercial speed than metro if it is designed to. RAV faster commercial speeds come from sacrificing stations along the line. By your logic, having no intermediate stations and an extremely fast metro line would attract hundreds of thousands of riders – NOT! Obviously you haven’t done any research on transit and your lack of knowledge on the subject is telling.

The Arbutus corridor is also a longer route that would have increased travel times to upwards of 30-minutes. The route also lacks employment centres needed to attain ridership (On Cambie you have: Central Broadway business district, City Hall, VGH and medical campus, future hospital and developments at 33rd Avenue, Children’s Hospital, Oakridge Centre which will be redeveloped, and Langara Colleg. Cambie is also near the centre of the city, unlike Arbutus. Arbutus only the has western tip of Central Broadway and Kerrisdale for employment centres).

You overstate the employment centres as hospitals, with nurses and staff working odd shifts and 12 hour days are not good transit revenue generators. The real question about employment centre is how many people working at those employment centre, live near RAV to use it?

The Arbutus route had the higher density and the many shops spread along it’s route would have also been good revenue generators, a fact ignored by RAVCo. & Co. Again you confuse commercial speed with journey speed; a slightly longer trip, serving more destinations, may have attracted more customers.

Not so sure how the carbon tax or HST has anything to do with the Canada Line, but now that it is brought up, the carbon tax simply encourages people to consume less, which leads to more public transit users.  How is that a bad thing?  The HST has nothing to do with the ridership, cost, or success of the Canada Line.

Actually the HST has a lot to do with the RAV and Evergreen Lines as the provincial government needs the extra revenue to pay for their hugely expensive transportation projects, your ignorance of this is nothing short than appalling.

We believe the Canada Line is a crucial transportation link to Metro Vancouver and puts us in an advantage to many cities.  World-class cities all have metro links to the airport, namely London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and San Francisco, not light rail.  Vancouver would be the first city in Canada to have rail infrastructure to the airport, let alone a metro line instead of LRT, and the second city in the North American west coast with a metro to the airport, behind San Francisco and the successful BART system.

What foolish nonsense which smacks of ‘penis envy’. Vancouver doesn’t have the population as Tokyo, hong Kong and San Fransisco to support a metro, let alone a metro connection to the airport. did you know that BART line to San Francisco’s airport carries a mere 10,000 a day?

Just for the record, the Canada Line is designed with the Millennium Line extension in mind, built as SkyTrain, as there are provisions for a future underground Cambie Station for the Millennium Line with connections to the Canada Line station.

Again, more nonsense as RAV and SkyTrain are non-compatible and will not be able to provide direct service, which is proven to attract ridership! Anyone one can build underground stations next to each other if they are willing to spend the money on it.

I will remind the SkyTrain lobby once again Gerald Fox’s (noted U.S. transit expert) comments on the Evergreen SkyTrain Line;

“I’ve no desire to get drawn into the Vancouver transit wars, and, anyway, most of the rest of the world has moved on. To be fair, there are clear advantages in keeping with one kind of rail technology, and in through-routing service at Lougheed. But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.

 It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.”


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2 Responses to “The SkyTrain lobby – “Pixie Dust planning””

  1. Jim Says:

    It’s too bad they have to keep using SkyTrain, how would it look to their potential customers if they started using a different rail system while trying to sell someone else the expensive SkyTrain. Gordon Campbell doesn’t care about the people of BC, he cares only for his pocketbook.

    Zweisystem replies: An off the record comment by a ‘Bombardier’ type to Zweisystem sums up Bombardier Inc.’s dilemma with ART/SkyTrain. According to the gentleman; “It has been felt that the SkyTrain system has caused a dramatic loss of sales for light rail and light rail vehicles in North America, which other LRT companies have capitalized on, including Siemens, Alstom, Stadler, Inekon, Breda, CAF, and Kinkisbaryo International/Mitsui Co.”

    “While Bombardier executives defend ART vis a vis LRT, it gives the impression that our LRT products are inferior.”

    “SkyTrain production maybe good for the ‘bean counters’, it has greatly hurt Bombardier’s sales of LRT in North America!”

  2. Bryan Vogler Says:

    good comments here. I’ll add one when i get motavated again to persue passenger rail in some form or other. Just did a tour of Vancouver Island stations that Via stops at.
    Its a car running out of time. Everbody has pros and cons about Skytrain and the Canada Line. How about a refurbished 1952 Budd car (railiner) for all tuorists and locals alike. It runs backward and forward the engineer just cuts thru the car. Kinda like an exagerated Commuter rail train. ha ha.
    The conductor opens the doors. Slam bam and good bye mam. Love the old style. Whiskey bottles under the seats. no cafe here. washrooms are a little tight fitting. maybe we should order some of these. The ride is great. the track well needs some work. All in all its tough, older than most of us, and millions more miles too. If Skytrain cars last this long then history can repeat itself. The Budd car is predicted to have another half century at least of service left. It will have run the track into the ground by then. lol

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