Posts Tagged ‘election’

More European Tram-Trains – Rail for the Valley offers a challange to Translink and BC Transportation Minister Shirely Bond

August 10, 2009


In 1994, the GVRD, in an attempt to include the public in the planning process, held a two hour call-in about regional transit, on local cable channels. A panel of experts were on hand to answer the publics questions about transit issues, including rapid transit. Zweisystem phoned in and asked a question: Has BC Transit and/or the GVRD investigated the fledgling Karlsruhe two-system (tram-train), where light rail vehicles or streetcars, were able to network on and operate the mainline railways.

The answer coming from a GVRD planner was disappointing: “We are not interested in European transit solutions because their transit issues are different than ours.” 

Vancouver’s and European transit issues are almost identical; trying to design a transit system to attract the motorist from the car, thus alleviating auto congestion and pollution. The solutions used here and across the pond, are very different. Vancouver and regional planners were and still are planning for very expensive SkyTrain light-metro, while European transit planners, after seeing the failure of light-metro, opted to build with much cheaper at-grade/on-street light rail! The dichotomy continues!

Now in 2009, fifteen years later, tram-train is an accepted transit mode that can operate in smaller cites with much smaller populations, as well it can extend a major city’s transit lines hundred’s of kilometres way, cheaply, by track-sharing with regular railways. Karlsruhe’s famous “Zweisystem” or two-system LRT, the longest tram route is 210 km.!

Rail for the Valley contends that there is the ridership available for a Vancouver to Chillwack tram-train service; a transit service that can be built for a fraction of the cost of one SkyTrain light-metro line. Rail for the Valley is also tired of the old clichéd excuses for the province not investing in tram-train, such as there isn’t the density for transit, or freight trains can’t operate on passenger rail lines. Rail for the Valley offers this challenge to TransLink and BC Transportation minister Shirley Bond: Hold a competition with the suppliers of tram-train, including Siemens, Bombardier, Alstom, and Stadler for a Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban service and see what the ‘real‘ experts on tram-train have to say.


European cities introduce
new tram-train technology

By Brian Baker, Senior Correspondent

June 2009: Interest in deploying the tram-trains concept is growing across Europe during the present period. As all tiers of government grapple with the challenges of beating congestion whilst also cutting carbon emissions this approach, which combines proven technologies, is attractive. By combining heavy rail routes with tramway’s they allow passengers to access key destinations in city centres from suburbs without making a change and attract people who previously used cars thus cutting congestion and emissions.

Germany pioneered the utilisation of combining heavy rail and street running fixed link systems but in the last few years there has also been an upsurge of interest elsewhere. Several schemes are in the construction phase in France and a trial is underway in the UK.

The trial in the UK is being jointly managed by the Ministry of Transport, rail infrastructure owner Network Rail and train operations franchisee Northern Rail. Northern Rail is jointly owned by Serco and NedRail. Northern Rail Chief Executive Heidi Mottram said “ We at Northern Rail are a can do company and we were keen to take part in this trial because we thought tram trains could provide something new which could add to what we were doing.”

“The trial is being conducted in a way which can provide the learning for planning and delivering reliably on schemes anywhere in the UK,” she said.
“The tram train product has generated a lot of passenger growth in Germany and seems to be able to get people out of their cars. For the crowded UK network, its introduction could also free up scarce capacity at the major stations.” 

The trial routes are in Yorkshire and are those, which connect Sheffield with Huddersfield and Rotherham. These two lines share tracks between Sheffield and Meadowhall. During phase 2 of the trial services will leave this busy corridor and connect to Sheffield’s street-running tram system. “We needed a route which includes a passenger only section, sections with some inter-operability and a location where we could get on to the street and operate as a normal tram,” said Mottram.

Stadler, Alstom and Siemens vehicles are already on the market so it seems manufacturers are confident of a niche in mainland Europe. With a narrower track gauge on the national rail system, the situation in the UK is more fluid.

Mottram emphasises that the trial is to test and prove costs and technical operability on the UK rail and street environment. Phase 1 is underway and new tram trains are likely to begin running on the Sheffield-Huddersfield line in 2011.

Vehicles can be supplied to operate in dual-mode. Customers can choose between diesel on the heavy rail system with 750DC for street running and the all electric 25KV or 15KV on heavy rail with the 750DC on street.

In the UK the diesel option is likely to be essential on many of the likely locations for a scheme. In France, so far, the all-electric option is being preferred. In Nantes, for example, the project promoters who are led by Pays de Loire Region are electrifying the disused rail corridor north of the city to Chateaubriant. It will connect with the tramways in the city to permit journeys from Chateaubriant and the other towns served to the city centre without a change.

The first phase from the centre of Nantes to Nort-sur-Edre will open in 2010. The complete service, through to Chateaubriant, will begin in 2013. As in other schemes in France, vehicles capable of speeds of 100 kms per hour on the heavy rail sections are to be deployed. Funding has come from the regional council, the national government, the Department of Loire-Atlantique and Nantes Metropole.

In Lyon, tram trains have been chosen for two new routes. One will link the TGV station at Part-Dieu and Lyon St. Exbury airport to the east and another will serve suburbs to the west. Both will run on electric power on both tracks and street and are likely to open before the end of 2010.

The diesel option has been pioneered in Kassel, Germany. The system cost 180 million euros and opened in 2007. It provides a more frequent regional rail service, with additional stations, along three corridors and allows the tram trains to join the city’s tram network at Schiedemann-Platz using a new tunnel from the Hauptbahnhof (central station.). The ten hybrid diesel electric and 18 dual mode electric vehicles in Kassel are  manufactured by Alstom and are branded as Regio Citadis Dualis. The funding came from a mix of Federal, Regional and Local Authority shares.

In Braunschweig, Germany, a scheme with an estimated cost of 233 million euros is planned. This will use third rail technology to allow vehicles to run over the standard 1435mm gauge tracks on the rail network and on the city’s tramway network, which has a 1100mm gauge.

The new services will provide high frequency connections to Salzitter, a town of 100,000 population to the south of Braunschweig, as well as direct journeys on-street from the central station to the city centre for travellers from the south east and northern suburbs. Although the finance was still being finalised in early 2009 work is expected to begin in the same year. Funding is likely to include 60 per cent Federal government and 22.5 per cent Niedersachen Land (Lower Saxony State) contributions. 

Issues likely to determine the extent of spread of this useful addition to the public transport portfolio include cost, safety and environmental efficiency. Perhaps the most exciting opportunity for municipalities is that it makes the creation of projects for short sections of tramway potentially highly viable.

Delegates at this year’s ACORP (Association of Community Rail Partnerships) event heard that vehicles were likely to cost more than conventional train or tram alternatives as they included a lot of complex parts. Costs could be as high as five million euros for each set. But the benefits could outweigh this as well as providing existing users with higher frequencies and modern environment’s.

Nils Janis, Deputy Director at TTK, consultants to the Karlsruhe system in Baden Wurttemberg which pioneered this combined technology approach to mobility said “these are long-term projects and whilst engineers will eventually find solutions to technical issues political support is essential.”

He said that the vehicles in Kassel used a lot of fuel and were heavy which impacted on track wear but that in areas where there was not support for electrification of heavy rail routes they were an attractive alternative.

The potential for urban regeneration was considerable. Janis cited the town of Bretten in the Karlsruhe region where in the 16 years since the tram train was introduced rider-ship has increased by 1000 per cent. Journey time was reduced by 15 minutes. “The town’s population is up 16 per cent and land values are up 300 per cent,” he said. “Registrations at schools served by tram train are up 82 per cent and unemployment in the town reduced from 20 per cent to seven per cent between 1988 and 2004.”

In Kassel, the system has opened up several development opportunities along the corridors and in the city and has restored the role of the central station, which had been diminished since the edge of city station Kassel -Wilhelmshöhe opened on the new high speed rail line in the 1990’s.


Tunnel vision correctable

June 14, 2009

A note by Zweisystem: Liz James is one of the few writers around who has taken the time to study the issue of transit and transportation and Rail for the Valley welcomes her article.

Elizabeth James, Special To North Shore News

Published: Sunday, June 14, 2009

a recent decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield is likely to have ramifications for all municipal taxpayers — whether or not it stands up to a possible appeal.

On May 27, Pitfield awarded Hazel & Co., a Cambie Street business, $600,000 plus costs in recognition of the severe disruption caused by Canada Line construction.

The decision was music to the ears of entrepreneur Susan Heyes and her counsel, North Vancouver’s Cameron Ward who, for four years, had painstakingly built the case for compensation.

Evidence amounted to thousands of pages. Forensically-audited financial statements supported Heyes’ claim that her maternity-wear business had experienced a loss in sales of more than $900,000. That decline in sales coincided with the appearance of what one customer called the “rubble and muck at Cambie Canyon.”

As Heyes pointed out, “Pregnant ladies don’t like climbing over and around construction trenches and street barricades; nor should they need to.”

After weeks of deliberation, Pitfield decided that Ward had successfully argued Heyes’ case against three of the five defendants: Canada Line Rapid Transit, InTransit B.C., and TransLink.

In his reasons for judgment, Pitfield explained why he decided the extent and four-year duration of the nuisance — an exquisite legal term that belies its real significance — constituted an “unacceptable burden” for the previously successful entrepreneur. He also emphasized that his findings applied only to Hazel & Co. and that, under the strict parameters he had established for this case, he found the provincial government and City of Vancouver not liable.

There is little doubt that Pitfield’s opinion will have implications for future capital projects, and reverberate throughout all municipalities — including the five on the North Shore. No one should be surprised, therefore, if the battery of government lawyers makes much of that point, in the event they launch an appeal.

But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that it will be Heyes’ fault if capital projects become more expensive, there are other points to consider.

As long ago as February 2003, TransLink board directors should have heard the alarm bells. Many of the alerts were contained in the 55-page Independent Review: Phase One report of The Underhill Company, LLC.

Although commissioned by the City of Vancouver, the prophetic findings were pertinent to all TransLink municipalities and concluded:

While “the prospect of senior government funding presents a distinct opportunity . . . it also presents significant challenges and potential financial risks . . . which can cost or save up to a billion dollars.”

So which was it; a cost or a savings?

Premier Gordon Campbell and then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon claim public-private partnerships remove the burden of risk from taxpayers. Yet, it is plain from the Underhill report that the City of Vancouver and, by extension, all taxpayers, remain at risk of financial losses on the Canada Line project.

The report states earlier: “Draft materials showed capital costs to be in the $1.8 to $2.2 billion range. . . .”

So how was it that, at a public meeting in June 2004, City of North Vancouver Mayor Barbara Sharp — representing all North Shore municipalities — still referred to “$1.35 billion, the money we have on the table?” No member of the board contradicted her.

That was not Monopoly money, our tax dollars were at stake.

The most telling Underhill statement appears in the executive summary: “Ultimately, the risks of the RAV project will fall on TransLink.” Those risks include, “a share of the risk related to ground conditions for the tunnel.”

Ah, the tunnel.

In November 2004 — 19 months after the Underhill Review was received by Vancouver council and three months after Sharp put her motion to the TransLink Board – District of North Vancouver Coun. Alan Nixon was so concerned he put the following motion to a special meeting of council:

“That the District of North Vancouver advise Mayor Sharp, as the North Shore representative on the TransLink board of directors, to reconsider her conditional support of this project and consider the rejection of the project as now designed and priced.”

As events unfolded, Nixon’s effort went for naught. In December 2004, the project was approved, and the consortium began its inexorable journey toward Justice Pitfield’s courtroom.

I attended the first of the two June meetings to speak against the project. I heard no discussion of a cut-and-cover tunnel, or of the yet-to-be-proven $400-million savings now being claimed for that method of construction.

It appears Sharp and her fellow directors were either in the dark as to any plan to switch to cut-and-cover, unaware of the significance of the phrase for adjacent businesses, or the phrase had never been used in presentations to the board.

This begs the question: When TransLink held the infamous third vote-until-you-get-it-right, did board members give their informed consent? If they did, why were Cambie business owners not so advised when they attended “public information” meetings, and why did Heyes have to find out only after she had renewed her five-year lease?

On the flip side, if the board was not informed about cut-and-cover details, one is left to ask if that is the process by which billions of our transportation dollars are deployed?

In other words, was this expensive fiasco due to strategic use of confidentiality agreements signed to protect competitive design plans of the for-profit partners in a P3 project dictated by provincial policy? Or was it a mind-numbing omission on the part of those to whom citizens entrust their tax dollars?

Whatever the explanation, justice suggests that taxpayers should not hold Heyes responsible for the fate she suffered. Just like the rest of us, she had no other way to hold the decision-makers to account.

What North Shore taxpayers can do is take heart from the Pitfield decision and resolve to take a closer look at other projects that are on course to drain municipal budgets and citizens’ wallets: the Bilfinger-Berger lawsuit — which also revolves around tunnelling design — for the water filtration project; the persistent downloading of provincial responsibilities onto municipal budgets; provincial policies that allow unelected, unaccountable boards to impose levies that compromise municipal tax revenues; carbon taxes that force municipalities to assign staffing and financial resources to tally the data required . . . the list goes on. Every one of these items warrants a column of its own.

The most important point, however, is this: Governments, at any level, can only spend money they have taken from taxpayers. It is our job to hold them to account for their decisions.

In the overall scheme of things, Heyes’ $600,000 will have been cheap at the price if it persuades us to take a firmer grasp of the wheel that, for far too long, governments have spun out of control on our dime.

Elizabeth James is a West Vancouver writer and editor.


May 4, 2009

Rail For The Valley asked South of Fraser candidates where they stand on light rail.

Click here for their responses

Of particular interest is the BC Liberal party’s support in principle for a demonstration project to be launched by 2010. (See last page of Questionnaire, BC Liberal party response to Q3: Will you support a South of Fraser light rail demonstration project for 2010, the Centennial anniversary of the original Interurban passenger rail service?)

The project would encompass the communities of Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley and Surrey, and offer a twice-a-day excursion service for residents by the summer of 2010.

All-candidates meetings in the Fraser Valley

April 20, 2009

With the election campaign now in full swing, it’s time to get some concrete answers from the candidates and keep Rail for the Valley on the agenda.

Here is a very incomplete list of All-candidates meetings in the Fraser Valley. Check back for updates. There WILL be more meetings posted as they are announced. (E-mail, or post a comment, to add a meeting to this list.)



Fort Langley-Aldergrove
May 5, 7:00-9:00pm
Fraser River Presentation Theatre
Langley Township Civic Facility
20338 – 65 Avenue

Abbotsford West
May 7, 7:00-9:00pm
UFV Abbotsford campus
Envision Athletic Centre North Gym
*hosted by the UFV Student Society

May 5, 7:00-9:00pm
Heritage Park Secondary School Cafeteria, Abbotsford
*hosted by the UFV Student Society

Abbotsford South
May 6, 7:00-9:00pm
UFV Abbotsford campus
Envision Athletic Centre North Gym
*hosted by the UFV Student Society

Chilliwack (both Chilliwack constituencies?)
May 5, 6:00-9:00pm
Evergreen Hall
9291 Corbould Street

May 6, 7:00-9:00pm
UFV Chilliwack campus
Yale Road – UFV Theatre in Building D
*hosted by the UFV Student Society

May 7, 7:00-9:00pm
UFV Trades and Technology Centre
Tyson Road, in the Oval
*hosted by the UFV Student Society

*For more information on UFV Student Society-hosted meetings, click here.

If you can go to just one meeting in your area, and ask a question… with many of us acting together in doing this, it will make a difference in this election.

*Be prepared: most meetings will require that you submit a written question, and the most common questions will be asked.*

Surrey Leader Editorial: Keep the pressure on

December 19, 2008

Frank Bucholz’s Surrey Leader editorial offers strong encouragement to us who are pushing hard for passenger rail service, and holding our government’s feet to the fire.


TransLink is starting to get the message, thanks to relentless pressure from South Fraser mayors and community leaders…

…There has been a smattering of interest in the idea of passenger rail on the corridor over the past 15 years. Now there is more backing for this idea than ever.

Every Fraser Valley mayor is in favour of taking a look at the idea. Surrey has shown strong leadership, both under former mayor Doug McCallum and current Mayor Dianne Watts. In Surrey and Langley it makes particular sense to use the Interurban corridor – to get from one point to another, and to connect with SkyTrain at the Scott Road station.

Take just one example — post-secondary institutions. Kwantlen Polytechnic University campuses in Newton and Cloverdale could both be easily serviced by trains along this corridor, as could Kwantlen and Trinity Western in Langley.

TransLink is facing some big financial challenges. It would cost far less to upgrade the Interurban tracks, still in use for freight trains, than it would to build an extension of SkyTrain to Fleetwood, as proposed by the provincial government.

Those who favour a more intense study of the Interurban corridor in Surrey and Langley need to put pressure on Liberal MLAs and candidates in the run-up to the provincial election in May. Surrey will be a very important battleground in that election.

All I can say is, it’s going to be one interesting election.