The Growing Popularity of TramTrains Are Again In The News


The February Tramways & Urban Transit has an excellent article on TramTrains and their growing popularity with transit planners in Europe and North America. The article ” Tram-trains: are they worth it? “, is interesting and well worth reading as very important questions are posed. The article was written mainly for the UK market where TramTrain is seen by transit bureaucrats as a “cheap way to replace clapped out DMU’s” on local services and more thought must be put into UK TramTrain proposals.

The lessons for the UK are also lessons for us on the ‘other side of the pond’.

Most interesting and what North American TramTrain proponents have know all along, is that today’s TramTrain can trace its ancestry back to the North American interurban!

The lesson for Rail For The Valley is, for the proposed reinstatement of valley interurban operation to be successful, interurban or TramTrain must service urban areas like Vancouver and must must do away with inconvenient and time consuming transfers, like the transfer proposed by many ‘rail’ groups for the interurban service to terminated at Scott Road Station and passenger transfer to SkyTrain.

Eliminating the transfer to SkyTrain and providing a direct service to downtown Vancouver are key in making the Valley interurban or TramTrain a success.


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13 Responses to “The Growing Popularity of TramTrains Are Again In The News”

  1. David Says:

    The valley interurban definitely should go downtown but must offer convenient transfers to other destinations served by other transit.

    Scott Road SkyTrain station is not a great location for transfers because it would require a detour from the existing rail line and because it only serves the Expo line. Anyone wishing to reach the Millennium or proposed Evergreen lines would require 2 or 3 transfers. That means a second transfer point on the north side of the Fraser is needed, however, none of the existing SkyTrain stations are well suited for the role. They either lack a convenient connection to Evergreen or SFU or both.

    That leaves many passengers faced with the prospect of 2 or even 3 transfers and we all know what that means: they’ll drive their cars instead of taking the interurban.

    Of course the province’s proposed rapid bus is even worse because almost every passenger is faced with transfers. The failure is thinking of it as a feeder to SkyTrain rather than a new transit solution. Dumping SFU students one station short of their connecting bus is unforgivable.

  2. Drew Adamick Says:

    Perhaps the Valley Interurban could be connected up with the Downtown Streetcar/Olympic Line. Have the Interurban run through Downtown Vancouver along then down Arbutus and along the line south of Marine Drive (walking connection to the Canada Line) then through New Westminster, across the bridge (whether a new one or the current one) then onto the Interurban route.

    Zweisystem replies: I did a post that described such a service. From October 12, 2009 December 2019 – The UBCLiner: Chilliwack to UBC – the 6 am through service.</em

  3. voony Says:

    “to be successful, interurban or TramTrain must service urban areas like Vancouver and must must do away with inconvenient and time consuming transfers”

    We Agree, and that certainly apply also to the Millenium line stopping short of Vancouver central Broadway.

    So why advocate for a solution which involve a disruptive transfer at Commercial for the Broadway corridor

    Zweisystem replies: The reason is simple, a $175 million/km. difference in cost.

  4. David Says:

    @ voony:
    Other than the outrageous cost of more SkyTrain, a good reason to put LRT on Broadway is the simple fact that most passengers use the Expo line and already have to transfer to reach central Broadway and UBC. LRT would be a far superior and cost effective replacement for the B-line.

    You continue to perpetuate this myth that vast numbers of people from North Burnaby and Coquitlam are heading to central Broadway and UBC.

    Do you honestly believe that putting SkyTrain to UBC will magically move people’s jobs from business parks in Burnaby/Coquitlam/Surrey to central Broadway?

    Do you honestly believe that Kwantlen, Trinity Western and SFU students will suddenly switch schools because UBC has a direct SkyTrain?

  5. mezzanine Says:

    @ David, don’t forget that evergreen will be an extention of the M-line and is projected to have 70,000 riders per day by 2021.

    And the COV is prepared to take on 29000 more residents and 19000 more jobs. this is on top of an existing base of 97000 residents and 86000 jobs.

    And UBC traffic, of course.

    Zweisystem replies: The GVRD predicted that the Expo Line would be carrying in excess of 20,000 pphpd by the year 2000; in fact the Expo Line carried about 7,200 pphpd in the peak hour in 2000! Ridership means nothing on SkyTrain has TransLink cascades more and more riders onto the metro. The real question is; “How many people avoid taking transit because of needless forced transfers?”

  6. mezzanine Says:

    ‘The real question is; “How many people avoid taking transit because of needless forced transfers?”’

    Fair enough. But that is voony’s point too.

    “So why advocate for a solution which involve a disruptive transfer at Commercial for the Broadway corridor”

    Zweisysten replies: As David stated, there is already much transfer from the Expo Line to the B-Line buses, but you duck the real answer, the $175 million/km. cost difference between metro and light rail. I would love to see an independent cost/benefit study between light rail and SkyTrain.

  7. David Says:

    Evergreen isn’t going to hit its ridership targets because jobs are increasingly moving to business parks in Coquitlam, Surrey, Langley, etc. Nobody with a car/truck/SUV/minivan is going to take 3 different SkyTrains and a probably three different buses each way to and from work.

    Even if Evergreen were to magically hit its ridership target, what percentage of those people would be heading to Broadway? 10% maybe?

    Are you seriously suggesting that the money to build rail transit in a half dozen cities in this region should instead be devoted to getting 7000 people to work/school faster? Is your real name Kevin Falcon?

  8. mezzanine Says:

    I acknowledge skytrain is the most expensive option on the table – there’s no getting around that.

    Interestingly, the Evergreen LRT planning docs are kept here:


    Planned cost = $970 million (2007)
    Length = 11.2 km
    Elevated guideway = 0.8 km
    Tunnel = 2.8 km
    Max capacity 4800/hr/direction
    off-peak freq = every 15 min, 2 car trains 32 metres long

    and more evergreen planning docs here:

    Some highlights (Skytrain vs LRT for NW route):

    Travel time from Coquitlam centre to lougheed station: ST = 13 min, LRT = 23 min

    Maxiumum capacity (pax/hr, AM): ST = 5900, LRT = 2600

    Annualized capital cost+maintenance per pax: ST = $4.30, LRT = $6.95

    Remember, they approved evergreen

    Zweisysten replies: Mezz, the LRT costs for the Evergreen Line were as phony as a $3 dollar bill. It was designed by TransLink to be expensive as TransLink doesn’t believe in affordable public transit. I would love to see a systems tender, with real professionals planning for light rail.

    May I remind you of Gerald Fox’s letter shredding Translink’s business case for SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line.

    If TransLink’s studies claim that SkyTrain would carry more, faster, etc. than LRT, then TRANSLINK DESIGNED LRT TO BE INFERIOR TO SKYTRAIN ON PURPOSE! This is known as professional misconduct.

  9. David Says:

    Again with the end to end travel time. If nobody lives or works in between why bother having more than two stations? Oh yeah, because very few people travel end to end so their travel time hardly matters and the time difference for people in between is roughly equal to the added walking time needed to get to one of the very few ST stations. As usual it’s probably a draw. SkyTrain passengers require the same amount of time to get home as those riding a “slower” tram.

    The flaws don’t stop there as Mr. Fox said. LRT costs were inflated, ridership deflated while the opposite was done for ST. That makes an enormous difference in per passenger figures.

    I seem to recall a claim that LRT would require a new maintenance facility while ST would not. Of course LRT would, but it would be able to serve a growing system while the Edmonds yard is rapidly running out of space and won’t be able to handle Evergreen ST and UBC ST. Ooops, better add a new maintenance facility to the Evergreen ST figures.

    Of course that darn hill helps to level the playing field, so to speak. Once you start digging a tunnel the cost is going to be enormous regardless of what type of vehicle ultimately goes through it.

    LRT also managed to choose a very ST-like route, carefully avoiding the right of way chosen by Coquitlam city council and almost every other place where people live in the perverted belief that everyone is going to take a bus to the train anyway.

    Just because that’s how metros like ST work doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. Put transit where people live, shop and work and see just how many walk to the system.

    Like I’ve said repeatedly, the growth of travel to Vancouver is unlikely to keep up with metro population growth. Surrey is the new centre and Evergreen as currently conceived completely ignores that reality. It’s designed to feed people onto the existing SkyTrain, not take them where they will want to go in 20 years.

    Finally the cost of expansion has never been and probably never will be factored into a technology choice while we have the kinds of people in charge that have been for the last 30 years. SkyTrain to Fleetwood is estimated in the billions. A similar LRT extension might be $300 million. Similarly extensions of the Evergreen line would be a fraction of the cost down the road, but once you’ve built one segment with ST you’re stuck with over $100 million for a single km of track.

    A sensible way to plan is to dream a little. Look at the network you’d build if money was no object. Make sure to locate areas where capacity could play a factor years down the road and factor in the cost of expanding the stations and trains like Canada Line will have to or building a parallel service when demand warrants. Factor in disruption to existing services if you can. Then look at the total cost and estimated year for completion.

    In my dream world we do build Evergreen on its current general route (but a very different path through Port Moody and Coquitlam) because money is no object and the cities have put a lot of effort into concentrating development there. It will be a valuable part of the network some day. We also build LRT over the new Port Mann bridge to provide a no-transfer route to Surrey and more westward on the Lougheed/Hwy 1/United Boulevard corridor to complete the circle around the Coquitlam hill. The Lougheed/United Boulevard area is going to be a destination for years to come just as Fraser Mills was nearly a century ago when BC Electric built Coquitlam’s first rail transit system.

    Unlike those of the ST lobby my dream world is achievable because 400km of LRT would cost no more than SkyTrain connecting UBC and Langley. With LRT’s low construction times I might even live long enough to see it too.

  10. voony Says:

    If I understand properly,

    the 99B is flocked by people coming from the Expo line, while the rider of the M line transfer to the expo line. correct?

    But if it is, why the bus 84?

    could it be a conspiracy from Translink to “perpetuate this myth” that M line rider are ending their journey along Broadway?

  11. David Says:

    LRT can handle as many passengers as SkyTrain and provide more convenience to those living, shopping, working, etc. along the route. A subway would be somewhat faster for those going all the way from Commercial to UBC, but as voony has pointed out, those M-line passengers all fit aboard a standard city bus running only 5 or 6 times per hour.

    For the vast majority a transfer will be needed regardless of the technology chosen for Broadway, a subway will be less convenient for many who ride only part way along Broadway and going with any kind of grade separation would cost so much that no other transit improvements will be possible for another 20 years.

    The Provincial Transit Plan is funded with fairy dust. They’ve known all along that the money to build it wasn’t going to materialize by 2020, but wanted to pretend to be funding transit while pouring billions of real dollars into a new bridge and widened freeway.

    Think the new Campbell Heights Business Park should have bus service? That’s not going to happen if a certain other Campbell decides to build a subway. Getting sick and tired of watching full buses pass you by on 49th Avenue? Go buy a car because there won’t be any improvement to that service in your lifetime.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Go buy a car because there won’t be any improvement to that service in your lifetime.

    I think the acronym is QFT, quoted for truth.

  13. mike0234 Says:

    David says:

    “LRT can handle as many passengers as SkyTrain and provide more convenience to those living, shopping, working, etc. along the route.”

    This may be true for a grade-separated ROW like on Calgary’s C-Train. But it’s not true of an LRT in a dedicated lane on Broadway.

    Zweisystem replies: Streetcars or trams are particularly adept in carrying large passenger loads and many tram line in Europe carry 20,000 pphpd or more in peak times. LRT, operating with a dedicated R-O-W could carry more than 20,000 pphpd. This singular fact doomed light metro’s like VAL or SkyTrain. A Broadway LRT could carry over 20,000 pphpd in the peak hours if need be.

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