Costly SkyTrain technology choices baffle – From the North Shore News


It seems that the efforts of Zwei and others have paid off’ as others in the region are taking note of LRT and TramTrain and the huge costs that go along with the SkyTrain light-metro system and subway construction. TramTrain and especially “Rail for the Valley” itself may find some welcome allies to their cause from the North Shore, especially from taxpayers fed up throwing money at Vancouver-centric transit projects.

Maybe TransLink should rethink the Evergreen Line along TramTrain lines and start looking at the bigger regional picture, with much cheaper TramTrain and LRT. Certainly TramTrain could be part of the transit solution for the North Shore, as well as North Delta, Crescent Beach and Whiterock.

Questions are being asked; affordable solutions are being offered for out current transit malaise and its time to make TransLink and the provincial government listen!

Costly SkyTrain technology choices baffle

Elizabeth James, Special To North Shore News

“Light rail service can occur at a small fraction of the cost of the proposed fully elevated multibillion dollar system, with similar or better results in ridership. So why was the rail alternative largely ignored from any serious analysis? “

Prof. Panos Prevedouros, civil engineer and member of the Honolulu Transit Advisory Task Force, March 8, 2010

Is there any truth to the persistent rumour that Victoria’s ongoing fascination with SkyTrain has frustrated attempts by management of Bombardier Inc. to break into the lucrative light-rail and tram markets in North America?

If there is, that might explain why the company volunteered to loan Olympics-bound Vancouver the European cars that proved to be such an immediate success; we were being given the old marketing soft-sell, so to speak.

But if that is the case, why were cash-strapped regional taxpayers not offered this conversation — about what amounts to a demonstration light-rail system — before they were forced to swallow their third SkyTrain-style transit line at a capital cost of more than $2.4 billion?

Why would any government risk the ire of the public by building a few gold-plated transit lines when, instead, it could have show-cased to the world a region-wide, light-rail system for the same money or less? It does not make sense, never did.

Common sense notwithstanding, it is imperative that the mystery behind the choice of technology decisions for the Millennium and Canada Line projects be unravelled, and fast.

This is because, under another of its infamous cones of silence, Victoria is planning yet another incarnation of TransLink, an incarnation we’ve learned to expect will remove the body even further beyond open and transparent.

Furthermore, B.C. Transportation Minister Shirley Bond already has two more rapid transit lines on the political drawing board — the many times announced Evergreen Line and the East-West line along, or adjacent to the Broadway corridor to UBC.

Nowhere is the unravelling more important to taxpayers than here on the North Shore where, for years, residents have complained that they are little more than a cash cow for an unaccountable, Vancouver-centric TransLink operation.

TransLink and its puppet-master need to know, once and for all, that we are TransLink-taxed to the max; we cannot afford any more of their “$1.35 billion not a penny more” blunders that end up costing us almost twice as much.

Since 1999, when the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority assumed responsibility for transit in the Lower Mainland, TransLink has been a consistent thorn in the side of regional taxpayers, and with good reason.

Underfunded from the start, the capital, operating and debt-servicing costs of the provincially dictated Bombardier Millennium Line and the SNC-Lavalin Canada Line have, more than once, threatened to bring the operation to its knees.

Squeezed between a succession of obdurate provincial governments and an increasing public resistance to being taxed by a body the people could not hold to account, the “old” TransLink board grew increasingly dysfunctional. It had virtually no way to raise funds enough to cover the annual budget shortfalls that arrived with monotonous regularity.

As a result, in 2006, then minister Kevin Falcon ordered a review of the organization, rearranged the deck chairs and changed the official name to South Coast Transportation Authority. (Watch out Abbotsford, the TransLink taxman cometh.)

Assuring the public that his newly appointed, privatized board of transportation experts would still be accountable to a council of elected mayors, Falcon installed Tom Prendergast, the transit-savvy former VP of the New York subway system, as president.

The ship had a new coat of paint but no-one had thought to patch up the hole in the bow. So it was not long before the new TransLink board began to founder for the same reasons as its predecessor — the need to build and operate underfunded capital projects, as and when dictated by the province, but with no ability to wring enough additional dollars out of taxpayers to make up the shortfall.

A mere 15 months later Prendergast resigned and returned home to head up the entire New York transit system. (This time, hopefully, he paid his own $60,000 moving costs.)

Perhaps the most intriguing local development, however, comes out of Langley, where a chomping-at-the-bit Rail for the Valley group, independent of TransLink, has decided to approach the issue the old-fashioned way. Tired of hearing that “people should get out of their cars to reduce air-pollution,” at the same time they were being told to hurry up and wait until increased ridership (development?) was available to justify transit infrastructure, they set about investigating all technology options and arrived at a conclusion: In a nutshell, RFTV wants to introduce a European tram-train — a streetcar that can operate on shared mainline railway tracks — which would run from Vancouver to Chilliwack.

Based on a consultant’s opinion, they say it can be done for a capital cost well under $10 million per kilometre — fraction of the predicted cost of a SkyTrain and/or subway project for the Evergreen or Broadway-UBC routes.

More to the point for North Shore residents is this: Some years ago, I approached District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton, with a suggestion that the three North Shore municipalities look at the feasibility of going it alone on a shared-track, light-rail transit service from the Ironworkers’ Memorial bridge to Horseshoe Bay. The rationale was that, if we were serious about switching from cars to transit, the North Shore needed a seamless, low-level, east-west service outside the congested Marine Drive corridor.

The mayor expressed interest at the time, but the idea fizzled when, not long after, the province folded the North Vancouver ports complex into what is now the Vancouver Ports Authority, thus appearing to tie up the trackage along that stretch.

In view of the RFTV initiative, and bearing in mind the need to replace North Shore jobs lost to the BC Rail not-a-sale, perhaps it’s worth revisiting the idea — but from a different angle.

Since a tram-train runs on regular railway tracks, why not look at the feasibility of using the existing rail-bridge at the Ironworkers’ Memorial location for a tram-train that would connect North Vancouver to the mainline in Vancouver? In fact, judging by the numbers being put forward by the RFTV group, it’s conceivable that a North Shore to Vancouver and all points east to Chilliwack could be built for a fraction of the cost of building the Canada Line.

The main point to consider is that whether or not Langley residents have discovered a workable answer to some of our growing transit woes, they are asking the right questions.

It behooves us all to join in the chorus and repeat our own version of the question asked by Hawaii’s professor: Why has discussion of a popular light-rail alternative consistently been shelved in favour of building SkyTrain at triple to as much as 10 times the cost?


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11 Responses to “Costly SkyTrain technology choices baffle – From the North Shore News”

  1. peet Says:

    thank goodness skytrain will be built!

    Zweisystem replies: The question is very simple: “How many schools and hospitals will be closed to fund SkyTrain construction.” There is only one taxpayer and he is increasingly being taxed out.

  2. TheDude Says:

    Funny choice of quote. Dr. Prevedouros was selected to that committee by an anti-transit faction. His only goal was to stop exclusive right of way transit in Honolulu. The other 4 committee members all supported use of exclusive right of way technology as being appropriate for the problem at hand. I do not know what is appropriate in your location, but any reference to Dr. Prevedouros removes any credibility from the discussion.

    Zweisystem replies: Sorry no. The question of a grade separated/exclusive rights-of-way is important; is the Honolulu transit project going to carry over 400,000 passengers a day? If not, then an segregated/exclusive R-O-W is not needed. His comments become even stronger.

  3. mezzanine Says:

    Funny that, about Dr. Prevedouros….

    “Portland, Ore., is a prime example of a city where rail is nothing but a substitute for buses and car pools, has done nothing to lessen congestion and has caused it to become the most pothole-ridden U.S. city, he said.”

    ” In fact, there is strong evidence that simple bus based systems
    on exclusive or semi-exclusive guideways have a much better actual performance in the US than light rail.”

    From “20 Reasons for Choosing Bus Technology
    on Flexible Guideway with Exclusive and Shared Lanes for Honolulu ”

  4. TheDude Says:

    Over 100,000 per day. Your understanding of the Honolulu system is obviously less than mine of the Vancouver system. Panos proposed constructing an elevated highway to serve the more than 100,000 demand trips in Honolulu. His proposal for LRT, was purely a smokescreen to try and kill the rail project. There is no available at-grade right of way in Honolulu unless it would displace traffic lanes. Even then, signal conflicts would reduce peak-period passenger capacity to a small fraction of the demand.

    Zweisystem replies: Removing traffic lanes is part of modern LRT philosophy, it is called passive traffic calming. In fact you increase capacity of a traffic lane from 2,000 pphpd to over 20,000 pphpd! But of course we are Neanderthals with transit planning and we all kow-tow to the car! Isn’t it interesting that after over $8 billion spent on SkyTrain, we can’t show a modal shift from car to transit – no wonder no one buys the bloody thing.

  5. voony Says:

    In the RailForTheValley’s Expert hall of Fame is nominated Dr. Prevedouros for his courageous and relentless work against vthe Skytrain.

    No doubt that his much celebrated master piece:
    has been the apex of his career. But his blog
    showing his dedication against the Skytrain lobby
    is certainly worth a visit too since you will find the original citation of the Rail For the Valley Groupie Elizabeth James put in his context:

    “Light rail service can occur at a small fraction of the proposed fully elevated multibillion dollar system, with similar or better results in ridership. Its speed may be lower compared to a fully elevated system but it can be designed with fewer stations and larger parking lots. ”

    Notice how this gem witnesses by itself the above reproach ethic of the Rail for the Valley groupies.

    Against Congratulation to Panos Prevedouros…and come Saturday to celebrate it !
    (Zwei, in case of Panos is elected as Mayor of Honolulu, I am sure you could get an executive position in his team 😉

  6. Richard Says:

    Dr. Prevedouros certainly is not a fan of rail of any type. He knows that stopping the elevated rail will be the end of all rail including LRT and leave plenty of money for roads. He is running for mayor and if he wins, he is pretty clear on what he wants.


    Here is what he is proposing, note that light rail is not mentioned.

    • The Nimitz flyover, approved during Ben Cayetano’s administration, could be revived and the EIS updated.

    • We have detailed plans for Bus Rapid Transit along King and Beretania streets connecting UH and lower Manoa with downtown. With an upper level constructed on Hotel Street, we have a fast alternative for Airport-Iwilei-Downtown-Moiliili-UH-Manoa.

    • DOT plans to develop twin express lanes in the middle of H-1. These will be fixed lanes: 2-lanes inbound in the AM peak and 2-lanes outbound in the PM peak. The reversible lanes will reduce West Oahu commute times to 1990 levels of congestion and provide time to rethink HOT lanes or other alternatives we can afford to build.

    • We have detailed plans for a half dozen underpasses in urban Honolulu, Kailua and Kapolei that can reduce congestion by 25% to 50% after three to six month construction.

  7. zweisystem Says:

    A note:

    Rail for the Valley did not write the article published in the North Shore News, nor is Elizabeth James, author of the article, a member of Rail for the Valley.

    Other than information in the public realm of this blog, RFV did not contribute to this article.

    The SkyTrain Lobby are quick to condemn, but as always are weak on fact and strong on innuendos. It seems that the SkyTrain lobby are deathly afraid of a free and open debate on transit issues in the region, something RFV welcomes.

  8. Paul Says:

    I love the number of 400,000 per day. Hell if that number is “true” Then the vast majority of the metro lines in the world should never have been built. Yup take down those lines in London, Paris, New York, and Toyko.

    Because they just don’t get 400,000 per day. And so they were a waste of money to built.

    What they should of built was a nice at grade LRT line. It would of made the neighbourhood look so nice. People would get on and off the LRT in a very happy and gay way . Sarcasm.

    Of course if you mean 400,000 per day for the whole system. Well lets see there is about 370,000 right now. Now we all know that rail for the Valley feels this number is fake. So ok lets take it down to 300,000 per day just to please them. Oh but wait the full sky train system hasn’t been built yet or at least not to what the livable regional plan envisioned. So we still have to finish off the ever green line and the Broadway Line. There is easily over 100,000 alone for both of those lines. So now we have met and gone past the 400,000 for the system.

    Zweisystem replies: The 400,000 figure came from UBC Professor Condon, who has actually studied the issue. To sum up Paul, it is 400,000 persons per day per line and this figure accounts why light-metro, such as SkyTrain, have been made obsolete by light rail. But the SkyTrain lobby, like the flat-earth society, ignores facts to support their beliefs. We see the same zeal by the SkyTrain lobby in Vancouver as the ‘monorail’ lobby in Seattle – B.S. baffles brains!

  9. Paul Says:

    So again that means that we should go over to Toyko and London and Paris and New York. To tell them that most of their metro lines should never have been built. Because they don’t get 400,000 per day per line. Sure some of them do. So they can keep those.

    I’d bet my life that the people in those cities would laugh at that so hard they wouldn’t even know what hit them.

    Zweisystem replies: Actually Paul, the metros you mention carry a whole lot more than our puny metro system. Todays metros are designed to carry around 40,000+ pphpd! Doesn’t take long to add up doesn’t it. Let’s see – a standard London Tube Train carries about 2,000 persons and operates at about 4 minute (15 trips per hour) headways during peak hours which equates to about 30,000 pphpd. Actually Paul transit specialist in other cities laugh at us and TransLink’s absurd claims about SkyTrain. Haven’t sold many have we?

  10. Paul Says:

    I realize those system carry way more people. But of course there are way more people living in those cities. So their ridership will be higher. You take Professor Condon’s advice that metro line shouldn’t be built until it is guaranteed at least 400,000 persons per day.

    Now if those cities used the same criteria than a lot of their lines would never have been built. Which means they would have at lower ridership on the remaining lines. Which mean less lines are built and so on it goes.

    Ok so we build the at grade system as you envision. Now unless the city never grows. At some point some of those lines would need to be converted. What you are proposing is that we spend the money later to grade separate them at that time? As we don’t need it now.

    I don’t know about you but I do believe it is cheaper to grade separate the lines now rather than later. Unless of course you don’t believe in inflation. Especially if you can do it in an area where there isn’t as much disruption to the people in that area. ie building a line along King George or Fraser Hwy. Most likely will not be as impactful as a line along Cambie or Broadway.

    Zweisystem replies: For the cost of a subway (about $200+ million/km), we can build at least 6 LRT lines. The maximum capacity of a subway is 40,000+ pphpd; the maximum capacity of 6 LRT lines would be 120,000+ pphpd. Put another way, 3 East-West LRT Lines in Vancouver could carry over 60,000+ pphpd, at a far cheaper cost and more conveniently than 1 SkyTrain metro. This where TransLink’s nonsensical density issue comes to play, there isn’t enough ridership to sustain a SkyTrain metro line so they massively density along the line to desperately increase ridership, while good transit in the region goes begging.

    Also you omit the massive costs maintaing a grade seperated transit system.

  11. peet Says:

    Zwei is quick to condemn, but as always are weak on fact and strong on innuendos. It seems that Zwei is deathly afraid of a free and open debate on transit issues in the region, something the skytrain lobby welcomes.

    Zweisystem replies: Me thinks too much BC Bud, Zweisystem and Rail for the Valley demand a free and open debate on transit, to date there has been none!

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