A letter in the Surrey News Leader

Transit: There is a better way

The Editor;

The Conservatives have re-announced the committed $700-million portion for the proposed Surrey Light Rail Transit (LRT). The total cost of this project will be over $2 billion, yet present passenger flows are below the amount needed to make the operation viable for light rail and it would be fiscally suicidal for SkyTrain expansion.

There is another way.

Almost five years to the day, the Rail for the Valley group released a study done by Leewood Projects in the UK, proposing a modern LRT solution that would connect Richmond and downtown Vancouver to Chilliwack using the former BC Electric interurban route, that would also service Cloverdale, Langley and Abbotsford, for just under $1 billion.

The study envisioned the use of TramTrain, a light rail vehicle that can be used as a streetcar or a passenger train, using existing rail tracks.

TramTrain was first pioneered in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1992 and has been an outstanding success. So successful that today there are 12 lines ai??i?? 265 kilometres of route mileage serving 190 stations.

A Fraser Valley TramTrain service to Vancouver and Richmond would give faster travel times than using the proposed LRT and SkyTrain Expo Lines, as well as giving residents in Abbotsford and Chilliwack direct transit service to Vancouver.

Using TramTrain in the Fraser Valley would be a win-win situation for both transit customers and the taxpayer. Even former TransLink CEO, Tom Prendergast, was supportive of the idea.

TramTrain is a 21st-century innovation that could provide more transit to more locations at a cheaper cost than the current transit projects proposed by TransLink.

TramTrain puts the transit customer first, which in Metro Vancouver, is a novel idea.


Malcolm Johnston

Rail for the Valley



13 Responses to “A letter in the Surrey News Leader”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Wow, you sure put a bee in Daryl’s (Skytrain for Surrey’s Daryl) bonnet! He had to take time out of his busy schedule doing school work, to reply to your letter.


  2. eric chris says:

    @Havecow, thanks for the news from the “campaign manager” educating us on s-train. Daryl DC (campaign manager of s-train) is obviously cultivating his future career to join the gravy train at TransLink, or so he hopes. According to my sources, TransLink will not be around much longer, however, and Daryl DC might have to work for Surrey LRT if he wants a job after he graduates.

    Bombardier could be going under and is $9 billion in debt – due to poor s-train sales, I’m sure. If Bombardier goes, so does s-train and spending more on s-train is foolish. Bombardier burning money with a blowtorch is considered a bad investment according to financial analysts.


    Currently, in low housing density Metro Vancouver, the practical limit in moving capacity of s-train is about 12,500 pph. Diesel buses are necessary to transfer riders to s-train and s-train cannot get beyond 12,500 pph, therefore, until the population density of the s-train corridor is increased, to that of Hong Kong. Moreover, these diesel buses make s-train much more expensive to operate than LRT which does not require these “extra” diesel buses. So, where do you want to live, Hong Kong or Vancouver?

    I suggest that Daryl DC might consider moving to Hong Kong where he can be happy. Surrey is less undesirable without him.

    @Haveacow, anyhow, is there a public report outlining how bad the concrete decay is on the s-train viaducts and what the cost is to repair the concrete viaducts? You mentioned something about concrete falling from the s-train viaducts in one of your or your posts, I believe.

    One of the engineers who is part of the WPG-Kitsilano citizens’ group looking at reporting engineers at TransLink to their professional association asked me about it after I mentioned your post on the concrete falling from the s-train viaducts. Building concrete viaducts for s-train in Metro Vancouver is not smart. It is really class action level negligence.

    Planners at TransLink have built concrete viaducts which have saddled taxpayers with billions of dollars of future liabilities. Currently, the city (Vancouver) is looking at tearing down a few hundred metres of viaducts used by cars – due to earthquake concerns. This is going to cost around $200 million. TransLink has about 50 kilometres of concrete viaducts over roads and sidewalks. These viaducts can topple in an earthquake onto cars and people.


    Their cost (viaducts by TransLink) to tear down (or maintain in the future) will be astronomical. More s-train riding on concrete viaducts is a non-starter as far as I’m concerned. Hearings are necessary to put the planners who are putting the public at risk, in jail, in my opinion.

    Citizens in WPG-Kitsilano are upset about the diesel exhaust exposure from the express diesel buses operated by TransLink. They view the use of express diesel buses requiring transfers (just like s-train) as TransLink’s sneaky way to condition transit users to see s-train as the logical evolution of the current express diesel buses. Any attempt to use trolleybuses which are the precursor to LRT or trams is being thwarted by TransLink.

    Unfortunately, diesel exhaust from the express diesel buses operated by TransLink at 50 times the usual frequency on other diesel bus routes in Canada is killing people who are developing heart and lung disease from the very high diesel exhaust exposure. If TransLink runs trolleybuses every three minutes (like the 99 B-Line express diesel buses) to replace the 99 B-line express diesel buses requiring transfers, people don’t have to wait 10 minutes to transfer to the 99 B-line and the commuting time is reduced.

    TransLink won’t do this to make transit better for its users or to save money. That is, electrical power for trolleybuses costs less than diesel fuel for diesel buses. TransLink is maintaining the trolleybus lines running the entire length of the express diesel bus route, regardless, and can save money by running trolleybuses on Broadway, even if it means buying more trolleybuses on credit and paying-off the trolleybuses over time.

    More importantly, TransLink is increasing medical costs and is literally killing people developing heart and lung disease for TransLink to make everyone accustomed to hub to hub transit (b-line and s-train). This is not ethical.

    In fact, it is criminal. Citizens in WPG-Kitsilano are also worried about the Jericho Lands being over developed with a sea of high rises if TransLink plops another s-train station at Alma Street near UBC and don’t want another condo high rise village in WPG for TransLink to make its s-train viable (reduce the number of bus transfers to s-train).


    Well, my prediction for the Federal Election: Liberals, but I voted Green. What this means for transit, I have no clue.

    Zwei replies: From memory, I believe the viaducts are designed to withstand a 6 magnitude earth quake, after that oops. The late Des Turner had a letter from a structural engineer which stated that the SkyTrain viaduct was only tested for deep shaking quakes and not more shallow rolling quakes, thus a shallow rolling quake could dislodge the cantilevered viaducts, which in the letter said it would resemble a long line of one fingered salutes.

  3. Rico says:

    And to think I was mainly against the Interurban route because it would be so poor at connecting people and destinations. Here is a link from Daryl’s article that shows the assessment of the rail options on the Interurban and the ‘technical challenges,’ ouch, even I did not realize how dead an option it truly was (for the record nothing in the report actually says it can’t be done, only that it will end up being very expensive unless you want an hourly service…and very expensive for few people = dead).


    Zwei replies: Rico, either you are profoundly stupid person or a troll. The interurban line travels through city centres, Langley Abbotsford, Chilliwack , and Sardis as well service several post secondary institutions. Close to YXX and providing direct to downtown service on a comfortable LRV would make the service a winner.

    Daryl is a teenage stooge being played by the SkyTrain Lobby. I would trust anything from the the GVTA, as they are an arm of the SkyTrain Lobby (Bombardier and SNC Lavalin). Oh yes, the Canada Line, another GVTA wonder, the only heavy rail metro/subway in the world with less capacity than a streetcar. Yup

    My betting Rico, is that you are a troll, or rather a Luddite, whose leader is a teen aged stooge.

  4. Haveacow says:

    Still digesting what happened yesterday as it applies to my business! I don’t know if there are any public professional engineering studies regarding the concrete wear and earthquake resistance of the above grade skytrain ROW but, I sure remember the surprise on the faces of Translink staff during our Skytrain facilities tour when we started handing them pieces of their own viaducts that, had fallen at locations both north and south near Metrotown station and just south of Commercial Station.

    Chris, don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-trolley bus in anyway but most (not all) of the latest generation of electric-diesel hybrid buses are pushing the traditional trolley bus out of the marketplace. In Seattle for example hybrid buses with a special “whisper mode” replaced the dual powered trolley buses because they were cheaper and easier to maintain than traditional trolley buses as well as the dual propulsion mode trolley buses used by King County Metro. Both King County Metro and Sound Transit have invested in hybrid buses with the “whisper mode” technology alteration for their routes that use the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

    Usually with hybrid buses, the “electric only/diesel engine charging the batteries mode” is triggered when hybrid vehicles travel in stop and go conditions which translates to a sustained speed less than a prescribed level. I don’t know what that speed threshold is for Translink but its 38.5km/h in Ottawa. In Seattle however, there is an extra mode when buses enter the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) that immediately switches to the electric only propulsion system of the hybrid bus. This ability to operate for an extended period as a trolley bus without the wires has a lot of people concerned for the traditional trolley bus system in many cities. Although it is definitely suffering, the traditional Trolley Bus is not dead yet due to the fact that, the range on the electric only propulsion of most hybrid buses is very limited, especially when the operators need vehicles to travel at sustained high express speeds, like the higher speeds needed in between the stations in the DSTT. The current charging technology just isn’t good enough yet for sustained higher speed express travel on electric only propulsion. But trolley bus sales throughout the developed world are dropping compared to other types of buses. Thus, the relative cost of the traditional trolley bus is increasing relative to other bus types.

    On a side note, I am very interested when the final decision will be made to ban buses from Seattle’s Downtown Transit Tunnel (DSTT) to allow decreases in rail frequency. Currently, both buses and LRT use the tunnel and a complex signaling system determines whether buses or the trains are allowed to proceed through the tunnel. Thus both modes are hindered, operationally. I have read that, both King County Metro, the city of Seattle’s transit service as well as the regions largest and Sound Transit, the Seattle Area’s regional only long distance transit operator (LRT, express bus and commuter rail modes), currently have a joint agreement to operate the DSTT. This joint operational agreement for the DSTT is soon to end and a new operational situation will see Sound Transit operating the DSTT alone. Thus it is possible that by 2019 at the earliest, Sound Transit, which has and continues to invest so much money and resources into the area’s LRT system will remove the buses in the DSTT to improve the currently very limited LRT frequency. Therefore the Tunnel will become a LRT only ROW.

  5. Haveacow says:

    Oops that should be Eric not Chris, sorry Eric, my Brainfart!

  6. Dondi says:

    Zwei: “Daryl is a teenage stooge being played by the SkyTrain Lobby.”

    Harper: “Just not ready”.

    Zwei replies; Daryl is like the NDP, beating a 1970’s drum, people don’t listen anymore, nor do they vote.

  7. Haveacow says:

    I read the same study guys. People who don’t work generally with rail technology or have a lot experience understanding its operational nuances missed one major thing, all the options studied were not Tram-Train Operations. A EMU or DMU service is not a Tram-Train Operation they are fundamentally different types of railway operations and have to be looked at as a Tram-Train not a DMU or EMU operation. Its like when I get mad at people who think BRT is just LRT with buses. Operating a real BRT system requires a completely different mind set and operating plan than a rail line. You can do things with BRT, you just can’t do with LRT. Just as there are certain operational plans and scenarios you can do with LRT and you should never attempt with BRT.

    Beyond the basic need for rule changes to the national operational railway rules, required for Tram-Train operations to be legalized in Canada. The planning of Tram-Train systems needs to be changed from the way both our LRT systems are planned and the way our Commuter Rail systems operating on our mainline railway networks are planned. Both types of rail operations use different and often contradictory planning criteria.

    Here is one simple example, I have many to use just off the top of my head, a street running section of LRT type infrastructure that is connected to a traditional mainline railway line using a standard turnout (a railway track switch), forms a connection that is the main operational advantage of a Tram-Train line. That turnout which operates as a busy LRT track component but is located on a portion of mainline railway has to be operated and have its maintenance scheduled in a very different way then what is commonly done with most mainline railway line turnouts. If you were to simply study these rail transition zones on Tram-Train lines and their required operations, using traditional mainline railway planning criteria and measures, its simple existence comes out as a negative performance aspect and thus should be avoided. However, its absolutely essential for Tram-Train operation and is at the core of their great benefits associated with Tram-Train Lines.

    The actual operation of a compatible vehicle for a Tram-Train line that runs in both the standard types of LRT corridors and mainline railway corridors requires a completely different set of measurable planning criteria than what was used in Daryl’s study. When you run a conventional LRT vehicle in a standard situation, using standard operational technology, rules require the operator or the operating computer system, to respond to track and traffic situations in certain ways. This has effects on the whole system and line performance but can be planned for easily using standard LRT performance measures. A Tram-Train LRV operating on mainline railway right of way has to respond differently to the same situations which show up to be a negative operational aspect when you apply LRT planning criteria to them. Thus, operation on this section of mainline railway track with LRT planning criteria would not look favorable but is absolutely essential for Tram-Train operation.

    Lastly, Tram-Train operation seems quite simple on the surface but it is actually very complex and can vary significantly, system to system. This very wide ranging, broad and complex operating environment we call Tram-Train Operations is the main reason there is so much resistance to it in Mainline Railway circles, especially freight operations. It also forces, I am very embarrassed to admit, our notoriously lazy freight operations to religiously stick to pre agreed schedules and run times. This type of operation forces all the railways using the shared Tram-Train corridor to be quite unforgiving of operator and management screw-ups.

    Zwei replies: If TramTrain is to operate (and I think financial pressures will make it more attractive an alternative) the federal government must act and adjust the rules of operation. Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate is now looking at TramTrain and TramTrain safety and I think any decisions made in that bureaucracy will go a long way to influence our lot on this side of the pond.

  8. Rico says:

    Hi Zwei,

    I actually meant to address my last post to Haveacow since you don’t acknowledge anything that does not match what you want to believe. If you were actually interested in making transit happen or making improvements what you should be doing is reading the report (I know you don’t believe in actually reading things that may conflict with what you believe but still) and addressing concerns raised in the report. It is entirely possible that you or someone you know has cost effective solutions for the concerns raised in the report, if the route could be made cheap enough if may not even matter if it does not serve many people….but right now there are a lot of potential problems raised in the report, all of which are solvable, but all of which cost money to fix…so read the report and come up with some innovative solutions.

    One final word about the route, it is usable from Langley to Scott (but even there it misses most of the origins and destinations), east of Langley it weaves like a drunken sailor through very low density single family/rural/farmland except for the town centers…and those town centers are now connected with a nice straight freeway….going direct to where most people are going….and there are express buses on it as well (at least from Abbotsford, not sure about Chilliwack). Even for Langley to Downtown Vancouver times on the 555 plus Skytrain would be 57min while Langley to Scott road via the Interurban would be 43minutes and then another 33 minutes by Skytrain…so on the best part of the Interurban route the bus would be 19minutes faster….and if you want to go to most destinations in Surrey you would loose even more time relative to bus options….or if you were coming from Abbotsford it would be incredibly long compared to the bus….so why would anyone use it? Just answering my question here, if you lived or worked in Cloverdale or South Surrey and lived or worked somewhere along the route your travel would be improved. Everyone else it would suck….and it does not take a ridership study to predict a route that takes longer for pretty much everyone and goes through some of the least dense (population and destination) areas of Metro Vancouver will not have many people using it.

    Zwei replies: You don’t get it Rico and you never will. There is no money for SkyTrain. Daryl doesn’t get it either or Dondi or the SkyTrain Lobby. The financial s*** is about to hit the fan and the realities of a proprietary railway is going to hit the taxpayer like a knockout blow.

    You see the Leewood RftV plan can bring a direct Vancouver to Chilliwack rail service at half the cost of a stand alone SkyTrain to Langley. it is the only economic way to provide rail transit. Just keep on smoking the good ganga boys and dream of all things SkyTrain, Bombardier is going to pull the plug on ART production, then what? You just don’t go out on the open market and by Skytrain do ya.

  9. Haveacow says:

    Rico, one of the really neat things about a Tram-Train line is you don’t have to be slavishly connected to the mainline railway network if it doesn’t work for you. You can connect either segregated street running and or segregated private rights of way to go were you need to go and then re connect to the railway main line when it suites you best. I have no doubt when you look at the map of the old interurban or Radial Railway route that Zwei proposed to use that, sections of the line, including a section which I believe use to go around a know drained lakebed would cause some time to be lost. Remember even Zwei has called his line a possibility. It could be used as a template for the basis for a new route that does work better regarding time and passenger access. The basic advantage of the concept is that, its easy and a lot cheaper to build and operate from its mostly at grade right of way and stations, operated using a very simple rail vehicle technology. Whereas the Skytrain Network, has to have every metre of its right of way created from scratch, using the most expensive and difficult to maintain types of built infrastructure operating a vehicle that very few other system operators use. Skytrain or the Bombardier ART Model 300, as a vehicle and propulsion system is far more expensive to buy and maintain than conventional LRT technology and it is generally has lower capacity. It makes up for this lack of capacity by forcing the operator to run at high frequencies, again guaranteeing higher maintenance costs. Yes, high frequency service is good at generating ridership but, if you have to cut service off peak, so you can run very high frequencies at peak because you can’t afford to do both, you have a real problem.

    Even the people who maintained your trains said that, you could cut Skytrain and track maintenance by about 30-40% by using simple electric motors rather than the overly expensive and difficult to maintain Linear Induction Drive Units. Then you can remove the highly troublesome and expensive 4th Rail (The Induction Rail) from the entire network that is only needed because of the propulsion technology. The modern electric motors used by most of the worlds LRV’s manufacturers are very easy to mount/install, smaller and use far less power than your Skytrain technology does. Bombardier even admitted that their current and improved LRV motors use considerably less power than does ART Model 200 & 300 LIM propulsion systems. This why when they sell the ART 300 system, LIM motors are only a option, not a core part of the product.

  10. Rico says:


    You should note the report addressed tram-train without calling it tram train and discussed the regulatory environment requiring seperation. As you read the report you should note that a reglatory environment allowing tram train pretty much solves none of the concerns raised in the report…unless you only want a train an hour.

    Zwei replies: Most of the report was contrived as the SkyTrain centric TransLink just not want to build with light rail in any form.

  11. Rico says:

    Zwei, your comments on the report may be more valid if you actually read the report.

    Zwei replies : Did, 4 years ago. it was stuff and nonsense then and it is stuff and nonsense now. It was written for people like you, flat earth types.

  12. eric chris says:

    Please replace my last post with this one:

    @Haveacow, Chris is fine, too. I’m sure that TransLink torched the study showing how the concrete viaducts supporting the s-train lines are prone to collapse, just as TransLink shredded the study by an environmental firm 10 years ago. This study which TransLink paid for to show how its diesel buses were improving the air quality backfired.

    It showed that the diesel exhaust from the nutty level of diesel bus service by TransLink on Broadway is killing people. TransLink employees over the last 10 years have dismissed the advice of medical professionals telling TransLink to remove the diesel buses on Broadway.

    TransLink does operate diesel-electric articulated buses on Broadway. They don’t have the whisper trim option and blow more soot than the regular crap that TransLink runs.

    Anyways, s-train was down, yet again, on Saturday. None of the newspapers mentioned it, only the CBC which does not receive “advertising” revenue from TransLink said anything about it. Massively expensive full page “advertisements” which are grotesque bribes in disguise are how the buffoons at TransLink keep the lid on their incompetence and corruption.


    Over the last month, TransLink has been “advertising” heavily in all the major and not so major newspapers in Metro Vancouver about how Compass has arrived, well sort of, double or quadruple full page ads. What for? Everyone is fully aware of the Compass debacle. Idle fare gates are the nasty reminder of the Compass disaster. TransLink does not have to remind the 86% of the population which does not use transit about it.


    Voters rejected TransLink in part due to the $200 million Compass system which is already obsolete. Smartphones do what Compass does for free and smartphones don’t cost taxpayers $12 million annually to administer by the monkeys at TransLink.


    For my last 60 litre gasoline purchase to drive my car, I paid TransLink $15 out of the $77 charged for the gasoline purchase, 19.5% tax fee to TransLink. “Insert appropriate four letter adjective here” you Colleen McLay, TransLink “CEO” or PLO. Are you kidding me, people in Vancouver put up with this robbery for Colleen and her bozo-schome accomplices to earn huge salaries doing simple jobs for them to drink gourmet coffee at our expense?


    Am I the only one who is disgusted by the taxes going to the TransLink bureaucracy set up to employ morons who are being paid crazy salaries to waste our money? TransLink is one big comedy routine, haha, for now anyhow, that is, until the axe falls.

    “The optics of this are not good, in the times when [TransLink management] are asking everyone else to tighten their belts, and cutting back on runs and running times and recoveries,” MacLeod said. “Even if this contract is a minimum cost, this is money that could at least go back into the system.”

    Exactly. Fire every last one… of the… at TransLink, the sooner the better. Planners at TransLink in the end won’t be able to talk their way out of their crap. Warning, the following video clips contain expletive language and graphic scenes which may not be suitable for some viewers. They show (figuratively, of course) what happens to dirtbags who claim to have our “best intentions” when they really don’t.


    And that as they say, is that. Taxpayers here are pretty far from okay, as it were… over being…


    Unbeknownst to everyone at TransLink (and their concrete selling friends making money from concrete viaducts for s-train lines at the expense of taxpayers) in Metro Vancouver, covert operatives lurk in their midst and they for the last three years have been collecting information in Victoria and New Westminster to send everyone fleecing taxpayers (to build s-train and subway lines) to an unhappy place. Have a nice day, dirtbags, by March 2016, you’ll find out more.

  13. Dondi says:

    I don’t have a dog in this race about motors, but I forwarded Haveacow’s comments to someone who actually hands-on services the Skytrain cars, including their motors. Within the Skytrain hive he is a worker-bee, not the queen-bee for whom Zwei has such contempt and not even one of the drone-bees who Haveacow probably quoted above. This is what he wrote back:

    “All I can say is that the LIM motors require very little maintenance, simple height adjustments periodically because of wheel wear.That’s about it for maintenance. Yes they are expensive but we are running many of them that are nearly 30 yrs old. The induction rail also requires minimal maintenance and is not troublesome, expensive, yes, but again, long lifespan. I’m sure that traction motors turning the wheels would work just fine, also sure that they and their control units would require a hell of a more maintenance and would not equal the lifespan of the LIM’S. TRACTION MOTORS= MOVING PARTS=WEAR.”

    Can anyone provide a serious estimate of the complete life-cycle costs for the various options? Having just replaced an alternator on my motorcycle the advantage of no moving parts makes an impression on me!

    Skytrain periodically boasts that it is about the only system in North America where fares cover operating costs. (Note to Zwei, can you please spare us your usual point about capital costs here?) Presumably this is partly due to their automatic control system (no drivers to pay). But if maintenance costs are really so bad would they not preclude such claims?

    Zwei replies: The problem with LIM’s are many. The must be 1 cm air gap between LIM the reaction rail and both rail wear and wheel wear means that both the reaction rails must be raised/lowered to maintain the 1 cm air gap. As well, Skytrain uses the wrong type of LIM (which history goes back to a German monorail that was once showcased at the CNE); instead of a repulsive LIM, SkyTrain uses an attractive LIM.

    LIM’s have proven to be both power consumptive (that 1 cm air gap again) and maintenance intensive, though the LIM has no moving parts (modern electric motors have very few moving parts as well) it must be tinkered with constantly like a 1960’s English sportscar.

    As for operating costs, TransLink does not apportion fares between bus and SkyTrain and with 80% of SkyTrain’s riders first taking a bus, this cost is very important. The provincial government also subsidizes SkyTrain by over $250 million annually. All aside, if SkyTrain is so good, why then no one builds with it and only 7 have been built since the late 1970’s? Like Mr. Cow, they came, they saw, and they built with LRT.