Is it time to replan the Evergreen Line? Could diesel LRT be the answer for the Tri-Cities?

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tricities-map

Both the provincial and federal government want TransLink to build SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line and it is clearly evident that the decision to build with SkyTrain is purely political to keep Ontario and Quebec jobs secure in Bombardier owned plants. With the ongoing propaganda campaign of the SkyTrain lobby, combined with the complete ignorance of Transportation Ministers, both provincial and federal on the subject of regional transit, TransLink persists in planning for unworkable and unfordable light-metro. Despite clear indications that after the huge investment in SkyTrain and RAV light-metro (SkyTrain was too expensive for the Canada Line) TransLink’s ridership share has only risen with population increase. There has not been a modal shift from car to transit. Yet, TransLink and provincial and federal governments still want to squander billions of dollars more on SkyTrain and light-metro, in the vain hope they will get different results on the next metro line they build.

They won’t. Then the question should be asked: “should there be complete rethink on both mode (light-rail & light-metro) and TransLink’s role in transit planning in the region that is free of political interference.”

Regional Mayors want light-rail to be built on the Evergreen Line at a supposedly $400 million cheaper cost, but the provincial Transportation Minister and her federal counterpart will hear none of it. It’s SkyTrain or nothing.

Why?

Simple, to keep jobs in Ontario and Quebec. Further proof that the regions rapid transit plans are geared for Eastern Canadian politicians using local taxpayers subsidize jobs in both Ontario and Quebec.

This further gives credence for the call for TransLink to get out of transit planning altogether and shed the ponderous bureaucracy that is fixated on SkyTrain and light-metro and rejects light-rail out of hand. By rejecting light-rail, TransLink’s planners rejects modern public transit philosophy based on almost forty years of proven and affordable light-rail, in revenue operation in over 600 cities around the world.

One must remember American transit expert, Gerald Fox’s comments on the TransLink’s Evergreen Line business case:

“I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too.”

Fox sums up with:

“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 analysed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.”

A different plan for the Evergreen Line

The Light Rail Committee proposed a different plan for light-rail in the Tri-City area which is based on modern light-rail philosophy that has proven so effective elsewhere in the world.

The plan also takes into account the advice of several transit consultants, would use use diesel and diesel-electric light-rail vehicles, combining track sharing with existing railways and the use of on-street operation where practical. The plan consisted of on-street operation from Port Moody to Coquitlam Centre, with a spur line using the Ioco freight branch to the Esso refinery line to 1st Ave. in Ioco. The line would then travel South along Lougheed highway till it connected to the  CPR rail line paralleling the Lougheed highway, connecting to the BNSF/CN mainline until it reached Pacific Central Station in Vancouver.

This would give very fast journeys for people living in the Tri-Cities to Vancouver and visa versa. The Light Rail Committee estimated that the cost of this line would have been in the neighbourhood of $400 million to $600 million and giving a superior and direct service to downtown Vancouver. For a fraction the cost of SkyTrain or TransLink’s grossly over engineered light-rail plans, we could get a much larger usable ‘rail’ network that would be available to far more transit customers than a truncated light-metro line.

TransLink officials quickly shot down the plan because: “We had just built a $1.2 billion metro line and we had get get as many passengers on the new rapid transit line as we can.”

Maybe the time has come for TransLink to get out of the business of transit planning and hire independent consultants to compete to provide plans for the best and most affordable transit solutions for our endemic regional transportation chaos. The taxpayer can no longer afford TransLink’s grandiose gold-plated rapid transit lines that, in the past, have not attracted the motorist from the car and at best, gives the bus rider a questionably faster, yet more inconvenient journey.

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10 Responses to “Is it time to replan the Evergreen Line? Could diesel LRT be the answer for the Tri-Cities?”

  1. David Says:

    Toronto is building a huge new rail transit network yet SkyTrain was never considered for any of those routes. If LRT is good enough for the “centre of the universe” why isn’t it good enough for the left coast?

    Bombardier, the maker of SkyTrain, is one of the world leaders in the design and manufacture of modern low-floor LRT. I don’t see why the federal government would be opposed to TransLink purchasing LRT when it supports the same eastern Canadian company.

  2. John Says:

    Well said!

    Any tax increase that is based on this reasoning:

    TransLink officials quickly shot down the plan because: “We had just built a $1.2 billion metro line and we had get get as many passengers on the new rapid transit line as we can.”

    must be called out for what it is.

    The debate simply can not be allowed to degenerate into “Transit = Higher taxes”

    A picture is worth a thousand words. Does Zweisystem have any map/sketch of the Light Rail Committee proposal?

    Zweisystem replies: The LRC is in almost retirement, but if one goes to goggle maps, one can easily see the routes in the Tri-Cities. More transit for less $$$$; that should be the clarion call for TransLink.

  3. BCPhil Says:

    @David, Toronto is spending at least $2 billion on extending their subway a mere 8.7km into York. They are also going to extend the RT (which is exactly like Skytrain) and the Eglinton Crosstown LRT is going to cost at least $4 billion for fewer riders than the Expo Line. And the Sheppard East LRT line will cost about $1 billion, about half the cost for half the number of riders compared to the Canada line.

    Zweisystem replies: The decision to extend the Scarborough RT (ICTS) light-metro has not been made and in fact it may well be converted to light rail. They have to do major and extremely expensive renovations to the guide-way to accommodate the Bombardier ART car as they do not produce the Mk.1 ICTS/ALRT any more. The costs for LRT are very high and I’m afraid that the TTC is designing LRT to be a light metro. One doubts in the current economic climate that any of these projects will come to fruition.

    For up to date information on the TTC’s plans go to http://lrt.daxack.ca/

  4. Donald Says:

    Tri-Cities commuters going downtown are already well served, it’s called the West Coast Express, also benefiting Ridge Meadows and Mission residents.

    Zweisystem replies: Actually no, the rail service you mention is a “5” trains in the morning and “5” trains out in the evening, hardly, what we call well served at all.

  5. David Says:

    The fact that the TTC operates a broad gauge subway increases their costs substantially, but all subways cost a fortune to build and operate.

    The Eglington LRT not only contains a long tunnel section but has specified an unusual and costly on-street configuration. I suspect the Sheppard East LRT is similarly over-engineered.

    On-street LRT should cost no more than $50 million/km and where some of the pre-requisites are already in place, like Broadway in Vancouver, the cost should be substantially lower. $500 million should be plenty to get from Lougheed Mall to Town Centre Stadium via Lougheed Highway and Pinetree Way.

    Having said that I believe the above diesel electric concept, combined with the current 97 bus is an even better solution for the tri-cities than any of the Evergreen proposals.

    I still believe the new Port Mann Bridge, since it mostly exists on someone’s computer screen at this point, needs to be equipped with rails so LRT can run from the north side of the Fraser to Guildford and beyond. Surrey, not Coquitlam, is going to be the second major city in BC so we should be doing everything we can to get more rail lines into it while the cost can be built into an existing project. I think we all know that retrofitting a highway bridge to carry LRT never happens.

    Zweisystem replies: On-street light rail should cost between $15m/km and $25m/km to build, the problem is that very few cities with LRT use Girder Rail and stick to the old tried and true ties on ballast which needs much expensive work. You are correct, the span wires for the overhead are in place, thus the cost should be no more than $20m/km.

    I doubt that Toronto’s Broad gauge subway cost anymore to build than standard gauge as the track gauge is an inch or so wider.

  6. Donald Says:

    It’s called commuter rail, ask the 10,000 passengers who use West Coast Express each day what the think of it. Downtown bound commuters would not be using Skytrain or LRT or whatever technology is used for that corridor except during non-peak hours as West Coast Express is twice as fast as Skytrain and LRT and at the end of the day for commuters, speed counts. Those going between Tri-Cites/Ridge Meadows and Surrey, New West, Burnaby would be well served by Skytrain or LRT not downtown bound passengers, therefore there is no need to duplicate service all the way to Pacific Central Station — just connect with Skytrain.

    Zweisystem replies: The WCE is utterly useless for people in Vancouver to use and what the WCE has really done is spread urban sprawl from Vancouver to Mission, creating more headaches than it solved.

    As for SkyTrain, unless, it hasn’t proven to attract the motorist from the car and as with other light-metros, much too expensive for the job it does.

  7. David Says:

    I don’t know if the TTC car bodies themselves are extra wide, in which case tunnels would have to be wider too, or if they simply sit on wider bogies. Either way the cost of purchasing unusual rolling stock must be higher than getting an “off the shelf” model.

    Zweisystem replies: Toronto’s subway (and streetcar) gauge is 4′ 10 7/8″ and standard gauge is is 4′ 8 1/2″ and the 2 1/4 inch difference would not affect bogie design, just axle design. Many companies that produce rail vehicles, so design the vehicles to be converted economically to accommodate various track gauges. If the TTC subway cars are wider than norm, then it was by design and not by track gauge. All metros are constrained by ‘loading gauge’ and a good example is in London where ‘Tube’ stock cars can operate on Tube lines (Example – Northern, Victoria), Underground lines (Example – Metropolitan, District, Circle Lines), and on main line railways with third rail pick-up, but the Underground Lines and regular railways can’t operate on Tube Lines.

  8. Jason Says:

    While I completely agree with the call to ditch plans for Skytrain and move to a conventional light rail system for the Evergreen line, I think the Light Rail Committee’s proposed route is out to lunch. The last thing the Tri-Cities needs is another direct route to Vancouver. As much as Zwisystem hates Skytrain and we, the taxpayers, have buyer’s remorse, ignoring our substantial investment in transit infrastructure is as wasteful as a $4 billion Skytrain line out to UBC.

    What the Tri-Cities needs is better links between the suburbs as we’re already well served with links to Vancouver. Zweisystem may diss the WCE, but has he ever observed the number of passengers disembarking in Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam to catch suburban buses? These are people heading to work in New West, Burnaby, Richmond, and Surrey – not Vancouver.

    A better route for a diesel LRT would be to use the existing CPR corridor from Port Coquitlam WCE station to Coquitlam WCE and then travel along the CPR corridor next to the Lougheed Hwy with either a station at Braid or Sapperton to tie into Skytrain. At this point, the route should continue along the CPR tracks through New West and into South Burnaby into south Vancouver were it could tie into the Canada Line before itself heading north along the Arbutus corridor into Vancouver. At this point the LRT could perhaps switch to an electric line.

    Any LRT in Port Moody should go straight to Lougheed Station. Why would Port Moody residents want to take a longer route to get to their destination than what the 97B-line currently offers? That sounds like a Translink strategy to build up ridership on the Canada Line!

  9. David Says:

    Doesn’t anyone in Port Moody want to travel to Coquitlam/PoCo/Maple Ridge/Surrey? If yes then the proposed diesel route, which incidentally re-inforces Coquitlam Centre as the main town centre of the area, makes sense as far as Braid. That route is also the only one that permits a direct link between Coquitlam and Surrey, a link I believe will soon be of equal importance to the Coquitlam-Vancouver link.

    We have a golden opportunity to put rail on the as-yet unbuilt Port Mann bridge. If we blow this chance there won’t be a direct Coquitlam-Surrey rail link before 2050.

    The current proposal is totally inadequate because it requires two transfers to reach Surrey City Centre and three transfers to get anywhere else in Surrey.

    I like Jason’s proposal to put some form of LRT on the old interurban route from New West to Marpole. While Arbutus makes long term sense, a lot of influential people would oppose any rail transit or densification on that route. The money would be better spent shaping development in the valley.

    Zweisystem replies: The Light Rail Committee had some time ago proposed a New Westminster to Richmond route via the CNR & a New West to Granville Island route. 30 minute service on both, Diesel LRT.

  10. Justin Bernard Says:

    The TTC is not designing LRT to be light Metro. Most of the LRT lines are going to be in surface ROW including the Eglington Crosstown. I know you talk about LRT being used in narrow streets, but you really have to live here to understand why a portion of ECLRT is going to tunneled. There simply is not enough room on the surface on the central portion of Eglinton. I live in this corridor, it is quite narrow. Do not look at a couple of lines, and assume the TTC is going to be building a light metro. Not to mention the street is extremely busy(Thanks to the great idea of ending an expressway at the street).
    BTW, the TTC, and Scarborough want LRT for the SRT, and want it to connect with the existing SELRT. The alignment will most likely be adjusted for LRT, and not SRT.

    Also, 4 lines are fully funded, and the SELRT has started construction.

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