The Broadway Follies Part 2 – Questions & Answers about LRT


Zwei received a phone call from a confused citizen regarding a transit meeting he attended in Vancouver about transit options for Broadway. It seems a state of confusion reigns about what LRT is, what LRT can achieve, and modern transit in general. This is not to unexpected as TransLink has never been clever about LRT and generally has misinformed the public as a result.

The following are some common questions that the average person needs answers for, if he/she is able to make an informed decision on transit issues.

  • Q: What is LRT?
  • A: LRT or light rail transit is a steel wheel on steel rail transit vehicle, mostly electrically powered from an overhead wire. LRT can handle traffic loads of between 2,000 and 20,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd) thus effectively bridging the gap of what can be economically be handled by buses and that which needs a metro.
  • Q: What is a streetcar?
  • A: A streetcar is a light rail vehicle which operates on-street, in mixed traffic, with little or no signal priority at intersections.
  • Q: What is the difference of a streetcar and LRT?
  • A: The difference between a streetcar and LRT is when the streetcar operated on a reserved rights-of-ways or a route reserved for the exclusive use of a streetcar and with priority signaling at intersections. By operating on a RRoW, a streetcar is free of traffic and other obstructions, thus obtain higher efficiencies and commercial speeds.
  • Q: what is a tram?
  • A: A tram is an European term for a light rail vehicle or streetcar.
  • Q: What is capacity?
  • A: Capacity is a function of headway and consists of several variables including vehicle capacity and train length. Modern LRT can obtain capacities of over 20,000 pphpd! A transit route operating LRVs, with a vehicle capacity of 200 persons, operating at 10 minute headways, is said to have a capacity of 1,200 pphpd (200 LRV capacity x 6 trains per hour or one train every 10 minutes).
  • Q: What is headway?
  • A: Headway is the time between trains on a transit route. If a transit route is operating at 6 trains per hour, it is operating at 10 minute headways.
  • Q: What is the minimum headway which LRT can operate?
  • A: The minimum safe headway that streetcars  can operate at is about 30 seconds.
  • Q: It has been said that LRT causes massive delays at intersections, is this true?
  • A: No it is not true. LRT with priority signaling (the ability to preempt a traffic signal in favour of the LRV) cause less delay than a standard light controlled intersection. The time for a LRV to clear an intersection is about 4 seconds.
  • Q: It has been said that LRT is much slower than a subway, is this true?
  • A: No, not so; the commercial  speed of a transit line is as fast as it has been designed to be. Generally speaking, subways have fewer stops than LRT, thus obtains higher commercial speeds, but at the same time the higher speed sacrifices the customers ability to access the transit system. Given an equal quality RoW, with equal number of station per route, there is no difference in commercial speed. Modern LRT, operating on RRoW’s can obtain almost the same commercial speeds as a subway.
  • Q: I a subway safer than LRT?
  • A: No, subways tend to have a higher death rate than light rail, the SkyTrain metro system’s annual death rate is about 2 to 3 times higher than Calgary’s C-Train.

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9 Responses to “The Broadway Follies Part 2 – Questions & Answers about LRT”

  1. Donna Dobo, Says:

    Please subscribe me. Iam a Director on the West Broadway Business Association and a proponent of LRT on Broadway.

  2. curious Says:

    How can I phone-call you to discuss the issues of LRT? is there a number I can dial to (you or some representative of the light rail committee)?

    I prefer direct phone-call conversation rather than email.

    Zweisystem replies: I tried to email you with my phone # but the email was returned. Email me at and I will send you my phone number.

  3. zweisystem Says:

    A message.

    I welcome dissenting views but I will refuse to publish posts that are profane, threatening, libelous, or silly.

    Threats against my family will not be tolerated and I will refer the next posted threat to the police.

    Thank you

  4. richard Says:


    Do you mind giving a source for your C-Train death rate figure? I can’t find anything online myself… Thanks!

    Zweisystem replies: I was told over the phone by a C-Train executive 2 years ago. All transit operators are very sensitive about fatalities on their system.

  5. richard Says:

    Thanks for the answer. So there’s nothing in writing anywhere re. C-Train accident and fatality statistics? Would have made an interesting comparison if there was any data…

    Zweisystem replies: SkyTain deaths are about 3 times of that of the C-Train

  6. Anonymous Says:

    So let me get this straight, no official stats for either system, yet somehow you know there are 3 times the fatalities on Skytrain? We are supposed to believe you have conversations with transit executives?

    Zweisystem replies: Bob Mackin of the 24 Hours Newspaper did a feature story on the topic two years ago. SkyTrain averages about 3 times for deaths per annum than Calgary’s LRT.

    As for conversations with transit officials, Calgary’s transit types are far more willing to give me the straight goods than TransLink’s. Calgary transit, it seems, has nothing to hide, while TransLink is afraid to divulge anything, which gives one a strong suspicion they they are hiding something..

  7. David Says:

    My parents went to one of the Broadway corridor public meetings hosted by TransLink.

    They said people didn’t work very well together at their table and so not much was accomplished during the consultation portion. Hopefully other meetings went better.

    They told me that TransLink said the LRT option would require the removal of on-street parking. They were very concerned that the side streets would fill with people looking for a place to park.

    I told them that TransLink’s presentation was bad design, that other cities retain parking and reduce the number of general purpose vehicle lanes. I explained that doing it right would ensure the only car traffic on the street would be people who live or shop in the area, that it would virtually eliminate through traffic.

    Given that almost everyone at the meeting seemed to want to push traffic off 10th and up to 16th, it’s a real shame that TransLink didn’t show them that LRT could do exactly what they want.

    It’s actually ironic that people are worried about LRT increasing the demand for side street parking because the shift of cars off 10th and onto the side streets has already happened. There hasn’t been a shortage of parking on 10th since the city installed parking meters. Apparently people are perfectly willing and able to walk an extra couple blocks to save a buck.

    Zweisystem replies: The taking away parking space is TransLink and the City of Vancouver Engineering dept. scare tactic to frighten merchants from opting for light rail. From what conversations I have had with area merchants, it is backfiring badly as everyone has the INTERNET, everyone can see what modern LRT looks like, and everyone is growing alarmed at TransLink ham handed strong arm tactics.

  8. david m Says:

    aside from speed (which will always be lower for lrt viz alrt), and the fact that a broadway line will necessarily devolve into a streetcar (because of the unlikelihood of translink throwing up local bus overlap), the main thing for the broadway corridor is the elimination of turning lanes on the lrt rights of way. basically, we just don’t see an improvement here. in my opinion, it’s just smarter to build it underground and reduce capacity on broadway with widened sidewalks, bike lanes, dedicated local bus/taxi lanes – especially when we’re thinking over the 100 years timeframe that we are.

    Zweisystem replies: Actually it is very shortsighted thinking. The question is is basically this: Do you want to have a speedy, limited stop subway, with low frequency diesel bus service operating on the street, or do you want a reasonably fast light rail system, that reduces auto traffic and operational costs?

    In 100 years time, the Broadway subway will be needed to be completely refurbished about 2 times at immense cost, or a surface LRT, which is much cheaper all around?

    The cost of a Broadway subway will be about $200 million/km.+, versus a reinstatement of LRT on Broadway, costing $20 million/km+ (remember the poles, span wires and electrics are all emplaced), thus we can build about 10 times the LRT than SkyTrain. Do you really want to put all your rail transit into a ‘Broadway’ basket?

  9. David Says:

    Got a question for you zwei.

    Vancouver has a lot of trolley buses that cross Broadway and some that would, in any future transit system, run along the route.

    Trolley buses use poles to reach a pair of supply lines that differ by 600V. I think I read somewhere that Coast Mountain Bus has one at +400V and the other at -200V to ground.

    LRT only needs one wire, but it must be at +600V or +750V depending on the vehicle. The overhead power collection for LRT is typically a pantograph.

    Are there any other cities dealing with this situation? If so, how?

    I can’t think of any city I’ve been to where trolley buses and trams aren’t geographically separated, but I have to admit that studying overhead wires is a really low priority when I’m travelling.

    Zweisystem replies: San Fransico has both streetcars and trolleybus routes and they have junctions where both lines cross, without a problem and the same was true with Toronto. It is just a matter of design. I know T&UT had pictures of trolleybus and tram overhead crossovers, but it was many years ago.

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