Posts Tagged ‘passenger rail’

As Predicted – “Mayors consider raising taxes to pay for TransLink”

September 16, 2010

 As predicted yesterday:

TransLink is in a conundrum; there is no money for new metro expansion and the bureaucracy refuses to plan for much cheaper light rail. There is no way out, either taxes must increase to pay for metro construction or the transit system stagnates and becomes even more unattractive product for customers.

It seems Langley City Mayor and the rest of the regional mayors are going to take the cowards way out, by raising everyones municipal taxes to build the Tri_Cities Millennium Line. Instead of questioning the need to build, yet again, another hugely expensive metro line on a route that doesn’t have the ridership to justify the investment, regional mayor should look at cheaper options. Instead of saying “NO” to TransLink and their dated and cumbersome metro planning, they are going again to attack the taxpayer to fund political and bureaucratic metro dreams.

Next week, Rail for the Valley will be releasing a document that shows that we can build ‘rail‘ transit cheaper, far cheaper than the planning mandarins, in their ivory towers, on Kingsway can plan for. Here is an example: for the cost of the $1.4 billion plus Evergreen Line, we can build 140 km. of TramTrain in the region plus a Vancouver to Maple Ridge TramTrain service!

Does Mayor Fassbender want a political reaction like the HST, by raising taxes for a transit mega project that in the past has failed to induce a modal shift from car to transit? Are regional mayors so insensitive to the effects of another tax hike to build something that can be achieved for a fraction of its price.

It is time regional mayors hire an independent transportation consultant to give an alternative opinion for transit solutions in the region than what the well heeled bureaucrats at TransLink want forced on the public. Rail For The Valley certainly can suggest one!

Mayors consider raising taxes to pay for TransLink

Funds needed to build Evergreen Line

By KELLY SINOSKI, Vancouver Sun – September 15, 2010

Metro Vancouver mayors will likely consider a separate financial supplement to pay for TransLink’s $400-million share of the Evergreen Line by the end of the year.

Peter Fassbender, chairman of the mayors’ council on regional transportation, said Wednesday the mayors hope to fund their commitment for the rapid transit line, or the provincial government will come up with another way to make them pay for it.

A funding supplement would have to be approved by regional mayors, and could involve raising fuel or property taxes to bring in extra money for TransLink. The province has already said the Evergreen Line, the region’s top priority, will be built to connect Coquitlam to Vancouver via Port Moody. The provincial and federal governments have committed their share of the project.

“We have a window of time to either come up with our commitment or the government will have to do something else,” Fassbender said. “[A financial supplement] is the only way we can come up with our share. What it looks like I don’t know yet because it hasn’t been developed.”

Fassbender will meet Premier Gordon Campbell and Transportation Minister Shirley Bond next week to examine long-term issues of TransLink’s financial woes.

He said he can’t “pre-suppose” what decisions will be made at the meeting but hopes “we’ll be moving forward in a positive way.

“The purpose is to talk about working together to deal with sustainable funding and issues in transportation. It’s not going to be easy.”

A report this week by transportation commissioner Martin Crilly suggested TransLink is still struggling to pay for transit services and will have to look at other methods if it’s to meet the ambitious goals in its 2040 plan.

“To gain ground on the background growth of the region, a greater portion of the region’s wealth will need somehow to be devoted to providing that capacity,” he said in the report. “TransLink has yet to solve the conundrum of funding for capacity expansion, and cannot do so alone.”

Crilly said Wednesday TransLink will have to move in the direction of a “user-pay” system to continue to build transit infrastructure and operate it. Road pricing is just one example, he said, to get more people out of single vehicles and using transit or carpooling.

“That really is a more efficient use of space,” he said. “But in order to increase capacity it’s going to mean people will end up spending less on private travel and more on collective travel.”

Read more:


Mayors, Premier and Transportation Minister to meet next week – The Blind Leading the Blind

September 15, 2010

Talk about the blind leading the blind.

BC Transportation Minister, Shirley Bond (who knows little or nothing about transit), the besieged premier (who knows that building glitzy metro lines buys votes), and regional mayors (who are equally unread on transit) are going to have a private meeting regarding TransLink’s ongoing financial crisis. The first hing that must be done is to invite the public, simply because the public is public transit’s customers and politicians should value their input.  Secondly, TransLink and the Premier must understand that TransLink’s perennial financial malaise is due mainly to the SkyTrain light-metro system and our perverse penchant to build very expensive to build and operate light-metro lines instead of modern light rail!

To date the taxpayer has unknowingly spent over $8 billion for our metro system, yet for less than one  half the cost, by building with modern LRT we could have had almost double the route mileage – more trams, serving more destinations providing more incentive for people to use transit! Now there is a clever thought!

Added to TransLink’s woes, is the singular fact that the SkyTrain light-metro system has failed to attract the motorist from the car and it is just far too expensive to extend in lighter populated areas and has not proven to be a credible transit alternative for the car. The current hype and hoopla about the Canada Line is merely self serving window dressing to sell the public on building more metro, but in real terms, for about $2.8 billion costs to date, the new metro has attracted only about 4,000 to 5,000 new riders (which is about normal for a new ‘rail’ line) and the new riders are mainly the elderly going to the River Rock Casino or Asian shops in Richmond most using discounted concession fares  and students using $1.00 a day U-Passes! The RAV/Canada line has yet to show that it has attracted the motorist from the car.

Yes, the airport is also garnering new ridership, but do not forget the 15 minute service Airporter bus the Canada Line metro replaced.

TransLink is in a conundrum; there is no money for new metro expansion and the bureaucracy refuses to plan for much cheaper light rail. There is no way out, either taxes must increase to pay for metro construction or the transit system stagnates and becomes even more unattractive product for customers.

Next week, Rail for the Valley will present an affordable alternative to TransLink’s present grandiose metro and subway plans, the problem is: Will the premier, Ms. Bond and regional mayors listen!

In BC Rubber on Asphalt Rules!

Mayors, Premier and Transportation Minister to meet next week

By Frank Luba, The Province – September 14, 2010 4:02 PM
A closed-door meeting between Metro Vancouver mayors, Premier Gordon Campbell and Transportation Minister Shirley Bond next week is expected to go a long way toward settling TransLink’s financial woes.

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, chairman of the Metro mayors’ council on transportation, can’t presume to say exactly what will come out of the meeting.

But he and TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis will both speak at the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce luncheon that follows the meeting. Cambell and Bond will also be in attendance.

When asked if there will finally be some news about TransLink’s long-standing cash crunch, Fassbender replied: “We will at least be demonstrating where we need to go and how we’re going to get there together.

“My hope is that Thursday will be a major step forward in finding the answer specifically to the question people have of ‘How are you going to do this?’” said Fassbender

“They’re not easy answers,” he said. “There isn’t a quick fix here.”

The situation has come to a crossroads.

“We’re either going to move ahead or it’s clear we can’t work together,” said Fassbender. “But you know what? I believe we can.”

The problem of TransLink funding was highlighted again Monday night when transportation commissioner Martin Crilly gave his seal of approval to the transportation authority’s 2011 plans.

Crilly pointed out that TransLink doesn’t have the money to do what its own long-range plans to 2040 call for or what the region needs according to Metro Vancouver.

“To gain ground on the background growth of the region, a greater portion of the region’s wealth will need somehow to be devoted to providing that [transportation] capacity,” said Crilly in a release.

“TransLink has yet to solve the conundrum of funding for capacity expansion, and cannot do so alone,” said Crilly.

Read more:

Daily trains from Seattle to Vancouver could double – From the Vancouver Province

August 21, 2010
Good news for rail travel in the Pacific North West.
Despite critics, it seems Amtrak’s Cascades passenger rail service is very popular and they are wanting to add two more returns. The provincial government must be embarrassed as our jet setting Premier has not shown any interest in passenger rail service, in fact detest rail altogether, as he single handedly sold BC Rail to his political cronies, without public debate and without any thought to the future.


An improved Vancouver to Seattle/Portland/Eugene Oregon passenger service will see upgrades to the BN & SF trackage in BC, including fencing the White Rock waterfront route to permit higher speeds, more double tracking and high speed switches and put pressure on the provincial and federal government to replace the century old, single track and decidedly rickety Fraser River Rail bridge, with a modern multi track structure.


This, of course, bodes well for future TramTrain service to Chilliwack, White Rock and North Delta. I just hope that BC’s Ministry of Transportation has the foresight and will do expedite the bridge’s replacement.

Daily trains from Seattle to Vancouver could double

Read more:

By Frank Luba, The Province – August 20, 2010

Amtrak’s long-range plans for trains into Vancouver could mean four trips a day instead of the current two.

The current two trains — which were expanded for the 2010 Winter Olympics from a single daily trip — are only running because the Canadian government extended a pilot project providing border-clearance service to the American carrier.

The project was instituted in August of 2009 in anticipation of Olympic visitors, and then extended in March to continue through September.

It’s been a hit.

The second train attracted a record of nearly 25,000 passengers in July, and the second-quarter total of 214,641 passengers was an increase of 12 per cent over the second quarter of 2009.

Total ridership on the service, which runs all the way to Portland, was 398,414 through to June 30 — a 17.3 per cent increase over 2009.

Andrew Wood of the Washington State Department of Transport, which helps run the Amtrak Cascades service to Canada, said a decision on the pilot project is imminent.

“[The B.C. government] have notified us that a decision has been reached,” said Wood Friday. “They will be notifying us shortly.”

“The B.C. government is very enthusiastic about the train being on and they have been working with us on this,” he said.

“It’s our intention for this to remain permanent and building on our long range plan, we would like to have more service.”

Wood indicated those plans are to have four trips in both directions.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Border Service Agency, which deals with the border clearance project, declined to answer queries about the situation Friday.

The B.C. Ministry of Intergovernmental Relations, which has been working with Washington on the Amtrak situation, failed to respond to a request for an interview.

Whatever happens, travellers to Vancouver from the U.S. can get some good deals if they purchase a trip by Sept. 27 for travel though Sept. 30.

In addition to a 25-per-cent reduction on the price of their train ticket, Cascades passengers can get a downtown Vancouver hotel from $107 US through Tourism Vancouver, and a brochure of reduced fees to a variety of sites through Vancouver Attraction Group.

Among the attractionss are the Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours, Grouse Mountain, harbour cruises and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

A video about the Cascades service can be found at

Texas’s Newest ‘Rail’ Transit line, the Red Line

June 1, 2010

This article for Mass Transit should prove interesting to supporters of the “return of the interurban“, in the Fraser Valley. What should be of interest is the cost of the 32 mile (51.5 km) line is less than $5 million per mile or $3.1 million per km. (CAD $ 3.24 million)!

Let’s see, a Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban line is about 130 km., multiplied by $3.24 million/km. to build equals about CAD $421 million; or about the cost of about 2km. of bored tunnel under Broadway! I wonder if anyone at TransLink, especially those who are earning over $100k a year, are listening?

From Mass Transit

By Doug Allen
Interim president and CEO, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Beginning this week, commuters in Central Texas have another transportation option from which to choose: the Capital MetroRail Red Line, which began service on Monday, March 22, with a week of free service. First-day boardings exceeded our expectations by nearly 50 percent.

The Capital MetroRail Red Line is a 32-mile system with nine stations using existing trackbed. The commuter line travels between Leander, through northwest, central and east Austin into downtown. Built for less than $5 million per mile, it is one of the most economically built systems in the country for the state-of-the-art features it employs. Given a skeptical community and in the wake of an unsuccessful light rail referendum in 2000, the MetroRail project was, by design, limited in scope. Using an existing rail line with only modest upgrades, limiting the number and length of sidings (or double track sections), constraining station size and budget, and buying a starter fleet of only six trainsets all contributed to the highly cost-effective nature of the project. These characteristics allowed for low cost and relatively quick startup, and may be a winning combination for similarly situated cities nationwide. Of course, these benefits are not without consequences, and it should be acknowledged that the level and quantity of service are constrained at the outset by the modest investment levels in the system. Fortunately the system was designed with expansion in mind and plans for doing so are in the works.

Six diesel multiple unit vehicles manufactured by Stadler Bussnang provide incredible safety features, such as state-of-the-art crash energy management systems and passenger amenities. Tray back tables, luggage racks, free Wi-Fi, plush high-back seats, and bike hooks make for a positive rider experience. The system also includes dynamic message boards at stations and onboard trains, and a new Centralized Traffic Control system. Railroad quiet zones have been established to reduce noise pollution through neighborhoods.

Because the system uses existing tracks that will still be used by freight trains — 32 miles of our 163-mile short line, the Llano to Giddings railroad — temporal separation is an important component of the system. As a commuter line, the three northernmost stations accommodate parking for 1,300 cars. At the southern end, two stations incorporate rail connector bus routes designed to be an extension of the train ride to deliver passengers to final destinations downtown and at the University of Texas. These quick bus routes meet the train at the station and drop off passengers at dense employment centers and the university within 10 minutes. Thus far, the rail connector routes are being well-used. More than two-thirds of riders deboarding at the MLK, Jr. Station are using one of two connectors that meet there.

MetroRail’s successful launch was the result of the collaborative efforts of Capital Metro, the Federal Railroad Administration and our rail operations and maintenance partner, Herzog Transit Services, Inc., and their subcrontractors.

The development of MetroRail did experience challenges, however. We delayed the system for nearly a full year to address system components that were not functioning as they were intended. A commitment to cost and schedule very early in the process, before all engineering and planning had been completed, created problems for us early on. The design was enhanced with a Centralized Traffic Control system, but integrating that system with the other signal technologies being employed on the line was more complex than had been anticipated and staffed for. We brought in new expertise and better oversight to the project, and signed on a new MetroRail provider, Herzog Transit Services, Inc. With only a few months until our opening date, Herzog spread across our line like army ants, conducting an intensive analysis of the entire line, and systematically attacking and correcting the remaining problems.

The year-long delay was not without benefit. The Centralized Traffic Control System had been designed to operate in two modes, one for our freight operations, the other for MetroRail operations. Sensing that shifting between modes could be a weakness to the operation, the FRA asked that we consider redesigning the system to eliminate the possibility of human error initiating a shift between modes incorrectly, potentially creating dangerous results. We agreed, and subsequently took the time and effort to redesign and reprogram our entire signal network to put a safer system in place — one that we are more confident of and one that will reduce the potential of problems as we begin operating both freight and passenger service on the same track.

With the design modifications complete and the right team assembled, the FRA gave us final clearance to begin passenger service. Of course, Capital MetroRail is just the beginning. With full trains and demands for all-day and weekend service even prior to the first day of service, we will continue planning for expansion even before the trains lose their new car luster.

Capital Metro employees and volunteers are staffing all nine stations for the first two weeks to assist new riders and ensure they have a good first experience. Beginning March 29, valid fares will be required, and a one-way fare from end to end is $3. Capital Metro will celebrate its successful launch of commuter rail on March 27 with a commemorative “Safety Train” ride of community officials and area students who have participated in our rail safety education program and a dedication ceremony at the Downtown Station.

We are savoring this historic moment for our transit agency and our community of bringing the first modern passenger rail system to this area. Our startup is going smoothly and now we are looking ahead to expansion of the service to meet the needs of our growing region.

UBC SkyTrain Subway Gaining Steam – Is it An Unstoppable Train?

April 13, 2010

For 1 subway line, one can build many LRT/streetcar lines

One year ago, with Cambie Street merchant’s Susan Heyes lawsuit against TransLink fresh in many peoples minds, any thought of a SkyTrain subway under Broadway was quietly ignored. Now, with TransLink teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Vancouver’s political bloggists and mainstream media are gung-ho promoting a SkyTrain subway under Broadway to UBC.

The tired old cliché’s, that helped to sell the Expo, Millennium, and Canada Lines to the public are trotted out as transit fact, while light rail is so belittled, one wonders why anyone would build with it. In recent weeks, radio commentators openly questioned ridership data for the Evergreen Line and intimated that it was not worth the investment, while a UBC SkyTrain subway was. What is so tiresome is that no “real” transit experts are interviewed and specialists in light rail are treated as lepers by the mainstream media; no wonder that so many peoples opinions are warped in the METRO area.

Why then, this mad rush for a $4 billion SkyTrain subway to UBC?

There are many answers to this question, the first is that it will be Vancouver’s ‘last kick at the can’ for large amounts for ‘transit monies’ to be spent in the city. With the population of the City of Surrey soon to overtake Vancouver in city population, Surrey politicians will quite rightly demand a more equitable spending of transit taxes, making sure that Surrey and the rest of the Fraser Valley will get much more for their transit tax dollars.

Vancouver’s residents and politicians have this strange notion that ‘they are the centre of the universe’ and a ‘world class city’. To be a ‘world class city’ Vancouver needs subways, as all ‘world class cities’ have subways and definitely don’t have trams (well almost never). Rapid transit is not for practical use, rather it is built for political prestige, a sort of international bragging rights for being a world class city. With the mainstream media so entrenched in Vancouver’s myopic vision, they also support a SkyTrain subway to UBC, just as the mainstream media supported the hugely expensive Canada line because it serves the airport and as everyone knows, no city can be considered world class until it has a metro to serve the airport.

Vancouver’s former Mayor and City Manager, now Premier and the Premier’s close confident were the driving force behind the RAV/Canada line subway under Cambie St. and so designed the project’s criteria as to not allow modern light rail to be built on the abandoned but existing rapid transit route that bisects Vancouver from the Fraser River to False Creek, the Arbutus Corridor! By doing so, they drove up the cost, from well under $1 billion to over $2.5 billion while at the same time reduced the scope of the subway line to a point that it has less capacity than LRT, if it had been built instead! The same may happen with a Broadway subway; needing billions of dollars more in future upgrades!

There is also the continued clarion call for densification by pseudo transit experts and some academics, yet no one to date, who advocates “higher densities for rapid transit” actually states what density is needed and for what mode. Certainly a light rail option along Broadway would cost at least one fifth to one sixth of that of a SkyTrain subway (a simple streetcar, even less) and it would be logical to deduce that a LRT option would need one fifth to one sixth the density to sustain compared to a subway option. Vancouver’s West End has the highest residential densities in Canada, yet the downtown peninsula is ill served by transit and doesn’t have even a metro station!

The recent Olympics have shown that if you massively restrict parking and close bridges and vehicle access to Vancouver’s CBD, people will use transit. A lot of people used TransLink’s transit system during the the two week Olympic party but many did not pay, rather just hopped on the SkyTrain and Canada Lines at will. It did not snow during the Olympics, so SkyTrain did not show its aversion to snow, by 5 kph operation or 15 minute dwell times at stations.

The Olympic Line was free for all and just using two vehicles, carried over 500,000 customers during its brief operation in Vancouver.

Is there a need for better transit on Broadway? Yes! Do we need to spend over $4 billion to build a subway under Broadway? No! So why then is there a massive push by Vancouver elites, who seldom, if ever use transit, to built a massively expensive subway on a route that could be just as easily served by a much cheaper light rail? Answer that question and then the public would have the answer why Vancouver is the only city in the world that pursues a strictly light-metro option for urban ‘rail’ transit.

Only in Vancouver you say; a great pity for the regional taxpayer.

Costly SkyTrain technology choices baffle – From the North Shore News

March 17, 2010

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?

From the Georgia Straight – Transportation activists mobilize to thwart South Fraser Perimeter Road and Broadway SkyTrain

January 14, 2010

Athens tram - note simple on-street construction

Charlie Smith has another good article in the Georgia Straight about transit and transportation in the region and of course the comments are well worth a read.

Please attend the meetings.

The January 16 meeting will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Sundance Banquet Hall (6574 Ladner Trunk Road). It’s served by the C76 and C87 buses.

January 18, TransLink is hosting a stakeholder meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. on a proposed rapid-transit line to UBC. It will take place at the Plaza 500 Hotel at 500 West 12th Avenue.

France programs CAD $31.5 billion for urban electric rail transit development

January 11, 2010

Modern LRT operating on a lawned R-O-W. 21 century light rail!

Interesting news from France, where the government is investing at least CAD $31.15 billion in urban transit projects. What should be of interest to Rail for The Valley is that France is also investing TramTrain, which “operation is currently adamantly prohibited in the USA by the Federal Railroad Administration, but it has become widespread in Europe, where it’s been operating safely and efficiently for nearly two decades“. TramTrain, the ability to operate trams safely on mainline railways is key for affordable public transit, where the transit customer comes first, not politicians and bureaucrats.

Also of note, is the cost of the proposed and ambitious 130km ‘Arc Express’ automatic metro being planned for Paris. The cost estimate of of € 15 billion to € 20 billion (CAD $22.3 billion to CAD $30 billion) should give one pause to reflect on the per km cost of CAD $171.5 million/km to CAD $230 million/ km as a good indication of the cost of a proposed SkyTrain subway under Broadway. Not overlooking the fact is that subways tend to cost more to build than originally budgeted for, such as the RAV/Canada line, where  the scope of the project was reduced to fit the original budget. Even after $2.5 billion+ was spent on the RAV metro, it is still a ‘bargain basement’ job and will take another $1 billion to $1.5 billion to bring it up to the performance of a regular subway!

France, which as lead  the way with the light rail Renaissance, again is investing in six, ‘new starts’ tram systems on top of six other new tramways under construction, which will bring the total of 30 cities in France operating with LRT or trams.

It seems that the French government is very concerned with ‘Global Warming’ and greenhouse gas, unlike our politicians in BC and Canada, who like to ‘talk the talk’, but in no way ‘walk the walk’. Instead of a program to bring at least 300 km. of ‘rail’ transit to the region to provide an affordable alternative to the car, government is still funding politically prestigious subways, building new highways and investing as little as possible into real transit solutions.

From the Light Rail Now folks:

France programs massive investment of as much as  € 21 billion (US $29 billion) for urban electric rail transit development.

The government of France has announced plans to award major capital grants to help fund investment in new public transport systems, according to a recent report in Tramways & Urban Transit (TAUT, June 2009), the authoritative international magazine about light rail and urban rail transit developments published by the British Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA). “It gives the reasons as both to improve the environment and support the national economic recovery” says the magazine’s report “adding that this new spurt of urban electric rail investment is the first stage of an announced 1500km [930 miles] of new tramway covering just provincial cities across the country.”

In what’s described as the “first stage” of a massive investment in new tramway (light rail/streetcar) development, the French government has committed funding within a “financial envelope” of €1 billion (about US $1.4 billion) to support a list of 57 tramway projects. In addition, the government also announced a commitment of € 15 to € 20 billion (about $21 to $28 billion) for capital funding to help finance “a state-of-the-art 130km [81-mile] automated metro for the capital of Paris, which will have a total of 60 stations and be known as Arc Express.” This “ambitious project” could be completed by 2020, says the TAUT report.

France’s commitment to urban rail transit eclipses by far the USA’s rail transit funding gestures, which seem puny by comparison. Even with the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus package, America, with about 5 times France’s population, has committed only about $8 billion and that’s for both high-speed intercity rail passenger projects and “inner-city rail”. In other words, with about 5 times France’s population, the USA has committed less than one-third as much central government spending for this crucial public transport program “despite all the “yak” about a “green economy”, reducing carbon emissions, addressing the “peak oil” crisis by reducing dependency on petroleum, and the need to shape more efficient urban development and transport patterns and reduce the ongoing costs of mobility.

In contrast, the magnitude of France’s current urban rail development program already under way is staggering:

• Electric trolleybus projects in 5 cities…
• Metro expansion in 2 cities (in addition to Paris)…
• Electric tramway (light rail streetcar) development in 30 cities…

France has been encouraging urban rail transit development, especially light rail tramways, by leaps and bounds. Over the past couple of decades, “new start” tramways have been installed and “legacy” tramway systems upgraded in more than a dozen French cities. (See, for example, our collection of articles at France Rail Transit, Light Rail, Tramway, and Public Transport Developments.)

Currently, according to the LRTA’s summary A world of trams and urban transit . A complete listing of Light Rail, Light Railway, Tramway & Metro systems throughout the World, totally new tramway projects (i.e., “new starts”) are under construction in six more French cities:

• Angers — completion scheduled for 2010…
• Brest — completion scheduled for 2012…
• Le Havre — completion scheduled for 2011…
• Reims — completion scheduled for 2011…
• Toulouse — completion scheduled for 2010…
• Tours — completion scheduled for 2013…

France has also been aggressively developing tram-train operations light rail services that run as trams (streetcars or more advanced LRT systems) on urban streets and reservations, then share “heavy rail” railway lines with intercity rail passenger trains. This type of operation is currently adamantly prohibited in the USA by the Federal Railroad Administration, but it has become widespread in Europe, where it’s been operating safely and efficiently for nearly two decades.

Currently, in addition to those operating and planned, new tram-train systems are under construction in two French cities that already operate brand-new urban tramway systems:

• Mulhouse — completion scheduled for 2011..
• Nantes — completion scheduled (in stages) for 2010-2013…

And, in addition to its existing new tramway system, Lyon has a more advanced, high-performance LRT system also under construction, due for completion in 2010.

Bottom line: While the United States excels among the world’s advanced countries in procrastinating, dreaming, and dithering in terms of urban rail transit development, France is moving rapidly and aggressively to actually put in place a comprehensive, efficient, cost-effective, and highly “green” network of urban electric metros, trolleybus lines, and tramways that will provide lower-cost public transport, ensure quality urban mobility, dramatically minimize petroleum dependency, and help reduce carbon emissions for generations to come.

Why Rail for the Valley must set the agenda in 2010 for light rail in METRO Vancouver.

December 29, 2009

The region is at a juncture: either proceed with light-metro planning and build the Evergreen Line and extend SkyTrain to Langley by 2030 or abandon current regional transportation planning and start anew, but using LRT instead to service many more destinations in the region.

Though TransLink is boasting about its three light-metro lines and continues to conjure up high ridership figures, the startling fact is that the METRO regions transportation network has not generated the all important modal shift from car to transit. 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus to the metro; the RAV/Canada Line’s perceived new ridership is made up of elderly Asians venturing into Richmond’s predominately Asian shopping malls and poorer people going to the River Rock Casino to gamble. Mr. Campbell’s 200,000 car trips a day removed by the RAV/Canada Line was a politically inspired pipe-dream.

With the SkyTrain lobby fighting a desperate rearguard action to build a $3 billion to $4 billion subway to UBC, it is time for Rail for the Valley to ‘grasp the nettle’ and set the agenda for affordable ‘rail’ transit planning for the region.

Why Rail for the Valley?

RFV is the only group in the Fraser Valley focused on a TramTrain solution for a viable Vancouver to Chilliwack light rail service. This is not to say that the other two groups VALTAC and SFOT are not vibrant players, but they have too many agendas to focus on, while for RFV, there is one issue: To reinstate a viable TramTrain service from Vancouver to Chilliwack.

Why a Vancouver to Chilliwack rail service?

By terminating the interurban in Vancouver, as the original interurban did, will give the all important seamless (no transfer) journey for transit customers from the Fraser Valley to downtown Vancouver and visa versa. A downtown Vancouver terminus for the interurban is important to the success of the venture and those who only want the interurban service to terminate at Scott road Station, will court failure. We must remember the lesson of Karlsruhe Germany, with their first true TramTrain service, by eliminating one transfer (from commuter train to tram) at the main railway station, saw a massive increase of ridership from 488,400 per week days to over 2,064,378 per week days; a 423% increase in ridership!

Why TramTrain?

The track geometry of the old interurban line, now the Southern Railway of BC Line, was designed for the interurban, not locomotive hauled trains and certainly not for long and heavy bi-level commuter train cars. By using TramTrain, means that higher speeds can be maintained on the original formation, especially at tight curvatures; as well TramTrain will give the opportunity for ‘classic‘ LRT operation in Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack, with on-street operation.

2010 will be the year that to tell politicians, that the ‘old school’ transit and transportation solutions have failed and that SkyTrain is an obsolete, proprietary light-metro that has been rejected by transit planners for over 30 years. With the dawn of peak oil soon approaching and huge increases in the cost of energy, it is imperative to get the biggest bang for our transit ‘buck‘. RFV must reject calls of a $3 billion to $4 billion subway to UBC, because the ‘Burghers‘ in Vancouver see building subways as a way to gain international status of being a world class city and instead, invest the money for a regional light rail network, which would include a TramTrain service from Vancouver to Chilliwack and beyond.

2010 will start the era for 21st century transit planning in the region.

The Strange Case of the Karlsruhe TramTrain – Streetcar, LRV, or Commuter Train?

December 27, 2009

A Karlsruhe tramtrain operating on tram tracks. The same LRV can operate on the mainline.

Recent posts on the LRTA blog, debated the the present definitions of streetcar/tram and light rail. North Americans tend to define LRT as a light-metro, where as Europeans associated LRT as a tram. Now added to the debate is the tramtrain and the strange case of the Karlsruhe’s new Zweisystem (two system) LRT: is it a tram or a train?

The tramtrain was not invented in Karlsruhe, rather transit planners refined interurban operation with specially designed tram-cars, which could operate on both on the regular railways and on city tram tracks, which use girder rail. The North American interurban was probably the first incarnation of tramtrain as the heavier interurbans operated on both streetcar tracks and railway trackage. In Europe, many light railways operated on city streets and even shared tram tracks when need be, thus the concept of dual operation of trams on railway tracks and trains on tram tracks is both old and sound.

Leaving Chur station the light railway train uses a main road.

The coming of the tramtrain has further blurred the definition of an already blurred subject: just how does one define a streetcar or tram; light rail or LRT; light-metro and of course tramtrain.

On-street train station in Chur is much simpler than many LRT stations.

Light metro has further blurred the definition of LRT as in Asia and North America, light rail vehicles are operated as light-metro on fully segregated rights-of-ways, either on elevated guide-ways or in subway. Though retaining the ability to operate on lesser rights-of-ways, these “hybrid” light-metros have more in common with Vancouver’s SkyTrain proprietary light-metro, than LRT. Seattle’s new LRT, can be defined as a “hybrid” light-metro, which does have sections of at-grade operation, it also has miles of elevated guide-way and subways. Elevated guide-ways and/or subways drives up construction costs and by doing away with the great economies of LRT over metro that originally made the mode successful. This has not been lost on the light-metro lobby.

Seattle's LRT operates on great lengths of elevated guide-way, which costs as much to build as a light metro. The cost advantage of LRT is immediately lost with such construction.

Previous definitions of transit mode (tram or streetcar, LRT) were based mostly on the vehicle size and weight, but with the growing popularity of the tramtrain, where one vehicle can operate as a streetcar, light rail vehicle and passenger train, the old modal definitions are now of little use. What is more, transit planners and politicians tend to call very expensive light-metro projects, light-rail, in an attempt to confuse the populace, forcing the taxpayer to fund the wrong type of transit mode needed.

A Karlsruhe TramTrain on the mainline!

The 21st century demands new definitions for streetcar/tram, LRT and light-metro – not based on the vehicle but on the quality of rights-of-ways. Zweisystem offers these definitions for ‘rail‘ transit.

Streetcar or tram: A steel-wheel on steel rail vehicle, powered by electricity (either by overhead wire or third rail), with the exception of deisel LRT, which operates on-street, in mixed traffic, with little or no signal priority at intersections.

LRT: A steel-wheel on steel rail vehicle, powered by electricity (either by overhead wire or third rail), with the exception of diesel LRT, which operates on a reserved rights-of-way with signal priority at intersections. A reserved rights-of-way is an at-grade route that is for the exclusive use of a light rail vehicle and can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails, a railway line, or as complicated as a park-like lawned  boulevard.

Light-metro: A steel-wheel on steel rail vehicle, powered by electricity (either by overhead wire or third rail), which operates on a segregated rights-of way, either elevated or subway.

TramTrain: An electric or deisel vehicle that can operate as tram/streetcar, LRT or a passenger train.

It is the TramTrain which has forced a rethink on transit mode, as one vehicle can be a streetcar, a light rail vehicle and/or a commuter train, operating on one route.

The lesson for Rail for the Valley is clear: TransLink and others opposed to TramTrain will confuse transit mode to such a degree that the average person will not know who to believe, for clarity, RFV must use the above definitions and ensure others do too.