A Comment Worth Reading – Costs!

The chap who uses the avatar Haveacow is a transit and transportation expert and it is a must, reading his comments; I certainly do!

I have been in this game for almost 35 years and the song sung by the SkyTrain lobby never changes.

Those defending light metro in Metro Vancouver never deal with costs.

Current politicians defend the Broadway subway because they say all infrastructure investment is good, while ignoring the costs. Using Toronto Transit Commissions numbers, the annual cost to operate and maintain a 5.8 km subway is around $40 million annually. That is $40 million added to the current operating costs of the light metro system.

Where is the money coming from?

From fares?

I doubt it as the subway is right on the main transit route to UBC where the deep discounted U-Pass is used by students and anyone else working at UBC.

So where is this funding coming from.

Higher taxes, higher fares and a diminished bus service south of the Fraser.

But the local taxpayer is on or near his/hers breaking point paying ever higher taxes, with many older pensioners fleeing the TransLink tax zone, creating even more congestion throughout the Fraser Valley. Zwei is soon to do this as well.

So it is important to consider tempering TransLink’s claims and start worrying about costs.

We build with a light metro system that costs up to ten times more to install than LRT (TTC ART Study)

We operate a light metro system that costs more to operate and maintain than LRT

We operate a light metro system that desperately needs refurbishing, yet TransLink remains mute on the subject.

Costs is a dirty word in TransLink’s lexicon.


Graph prepared by Metrolinx to inform the debate on choice of modes

In its entirety.


The figure is 15,000 not 1500 passengers per hour per direction for the maximum theoretical capacity of the Skytran network. .


The actual figure given to C.U.T.A. by Translink for 2018 is 14200. I have no doubt that it can vary quite widely day to day (most systems do have a wide variation in daily traffic) up to14800 or even higher, however your the power system and existing track turnouts (switches) and track configuration make operations consistently above that level problematic. New higher speed turnouts need to be installed because the ones used now require the trains to slow down dramatically. Higher speed turnouts are longer with frogs (turnout points) that are at a longer angle, which means all your track geometry has to change as well as having to relocate signalling and power equipment.

Yes, you can even operate for short periods above 15,000 p/h/d but it is not recommended. Any changes to that will also require new signaling and communication equipment and signal processors. The current communication equipment can’t react fast enough if you are operating at or beyond its limit. Legally, 1 train every 109 seconds is the operational limit.. This limit is set by Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Agency. If you want to lower the operating frequency a new proving test and schedule has to be approved. This can take 2 years as long as Translink has the improvements in place so that the testing can begin. One major problem, the existing electrical power system for the entire network is at its limits. More trains increases the electrical resistance on the system that ,lowers the electrical current level, its the electrical current or flow that actually moves the trains.

Most of the cabling that attaches all this track and signaling infrastructure to the power system and the operating system is old and also in desperate need of replacement. The fires you have along the tracks are because animals and birds are building nests on top of or traveling along the cables. Their claws, talons and beaks have cut into the now aging and probably non-pliable overly rigid cable sheaths and are causing shorts. Many of the cable connectors and brackets are also in need replacement.

Can you increase the capacity of each train by increasing the size of the trains (which is exactly what they are doing) yes but again, there are conditions to this. The more you go over the limit of 15,000 p/h/d you severely tax the Citiflo 650 operating system. Bombardier is now no longer updating the Citiflo 650 and Bombardier is switching to a new automation operating system, which means knowing Bombardier, all new equipment will need to be purchased. Bigger trains increase the electrical resistance on the power system, which lowers the current available. Drop the current too low and everything stops. Can you fix this sure, but that requires more new electrical infrastructure, that costs big money!

Much of the existing infrastructure on the core part of the Expo Line is 33-36 years old depending on the construction date, remember it opened in 1986, much of the bridges and concrete could be at least 36 or even 37 years old now. Concrete ages geometrically, the longer you put off refurnishing said concrete, the more the costs grow above just inflationary pressure. I saw much concrete patch work on the underside of the viaducts during my last visit but no rebuilt new concrete sections. The concrete base plate that the track actually sits on needs work and isn’t getting it..

@Rico and @Fredinno,

Passenger flows of 25,700 are possible but will require 5 car trains, an updated and new automation operating system, major overhauls of electrical and signaling infrastructure. Track work will also have to be done, base plate and viaducts will require refurbishment to the steel reinforcement and concrete. This sounds simple but it is very expensive and time consuming. Very, very time consuming on an operating line. The existing infrastructure just can’t do the passenger flows you want . The vast majority of this work hasn’t even been budgeted yet by Translink.

$860 million in brand new signaling infrastructure as well as some tunnel reinforcement and track upgrades have been happening on Subway Line #1 in Toronto. This is the 66 year old, Yonge-University-Spadina-York subway line which is the busiest in the country. The TTC has been shutting down sections of the line on weekends for 7 and half years now to do all the work required. This was the preferred choice compared to shutting the whole line down for 1.5-2 years. It appears they will still be doing work on it well into 2020.After that, they have to do line #2, the Bloor-Danforth Subway Line.

Lastly, more new and larger trains mean a new yard for. You guys are out of yard space. A new maintenance and storage yard for Skytrains was planned in the follow on extension of the Expo Line to Langley. However, a spy of mine just told me that, due to ever increasing land costs in the Lower Mainland of B.C., the yard may have to be built as part of an interim extension because the cost of going all the way to Langley and building a new maintenance and storage yard at the same time is not affordable, unless senior levels of government pay for the whole line. Translation, Translink can’t afford its 33% and in this case, even 20% of the expected cost of the line is to high to get to Langley as well as build any other extensions at the same time. Like the extension of the Millennium Line to UBC from Arbutus.


10 Responses to “A Comment Worth Reading – Costs!”
  1. fredinno says:

    Oooh, an entire *article* dedicated to me! Nice.

    I decided to edit my previous comment, this is the primary one, delete the previous one please.

    Ok. That just raises the question of why you can’t just spend money to fix those.
    The Expo Line Upgrade Strategy Report states many of the same problems as you do (aside from the switches, I can’t find anything for that- unless you’re conflating the Canada and Expo).

    From the Report: “Theƒ incrementalƒ capitalƒ costsƒ ofƒ theseƒ improvementsƒ(inƒ2010ƒ$)ƒisƒestimatedƒatƒ$783ƒ millionƒorƒ$39.2ƒmillionƒannuallyƒoverƒtheƒnextƒ 20ƒ years.ƒ Theƒ estimatedƒ incrementalƒ totalƒ operatingƒcostƒisƒ$712ƒmillionƒforƒtheƒnextƒ30ƒ years.”

    Mind you, even if you pay all that out in one chunk (lol no), that’s still fairly cheap. For instance, the cost of the Leewood Study Interurban Stage 1 LRT is about $607M in 2010$.

    The concrete thing assumes TransLink has not been properly maintaining these structures. If the guideways need to be replaced as a whole because of ‘concrete’, What about the concrete guideways on the Trans-Canada?

  2. fredinno says:

    Oh yeah, and the Leewood Study. The cost is $492M in 2010$ using the cheapest interurban Stage 1 option (diesel.) The cost/passenger-hour for the Interurban cannot go below $328,000 per passenger-hour. Meanwhile, the cost of the Broadway Extension and Fleetwood Extensions are $3.96B in *2010$*, with a 25% contingency added (https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/skytrain-fraser-highway-expo-line-extension-cost-light-rail-transit) to those costs.

    The cost per passenger-hour for the Skytrain projects is $264,000, *with* the cost contingency included. Granted, demand on the Fleetwood Segment will not reach the maximum # any time soon.

    Without the cost-contingency, the cost per passenger-hour is $198,000 on the Skytrain extensions.

    Either way, the Skytrain extensions, even without using TransLink’s projected ridership numbers, is at least highly completive on the pessimistic end, and twice as better on the optimistic end.

    Look, I want to be straight with you. I actually like the Tram-Train Interurban idea. But even using your own numbers, the economics don’t add up.

    Not to mention much of its expected Ridership can be accommodated by improving on the existing FVX, R1, and 555 Bus services- ie. the original killers of the interurban.

    Zwei replies: WTF? You haven’t a clue about SkyTrain costs and the ability for the taxpayer to pay. You twist and turn your assumptions to the point of silliness. Funny, that no one builds with SkyTrain because it is too expensive.

  3. My first observation is that the cost for at-Grade LRT is probably too high. Using the light-weight technologies laying down track bed looks to be as simple—and cost effective—as building a BRIO railroad with wooden blocks (the real-world street railways are using pre-cast concrete road blocks).

    Then, if the upgrade is taking place where BRT or trolley service is already running, the electrification is already in place, and the cost savings have to be taken into account. All of Vancouver falls under this classification.

    I’ve come to think about the continuous upgrade path from trolley to BRT to tram as a ‘transit pyramid’ (https://wp.me/p1yj4U-1ta). In this scheme, tram is 6x cheaper to build than skytrain in viaducts and 12x cheaper than skytrain in a deep bore tunnel.

    The flip side of the coin is the carrying capacity. 15,000 pphpd is the skytrain maximum. The Canada Line carries about half that much (6,600). But a 4-car tram can move 33,000 pphpd or more:

    300 per car x 4 cars x 1.7 min = 42,353 pphpd

    First, there is nowhere on the Lower Mainland where we see that kind of demand. Second, once demand arrives and surpasses this level, we could easily add another car. Tram should run on the center of the boulevard, with tree medians on either side. That makes it safer to cross the street. If an intersection is blocked by a tram at a stop, the signalling should be able to handle that.

    My comments really revolve around the quality of the resulting urban space, and the private sector mega-projects with public-sector mega-projects (towers-and-skytrain) linking together to spike land values.

    Skytrain-and-towers is the reason we have a crisis in the supply of affordable houses on cheap land.

    In the first instance, both elevated and tunnel systems induce traffic into the freed-up road space. So, traffic congestion arguably gets worse not better. Second, overhead viaducts blight neighborhoods. And thirdly, when we include platform access times, the speed advantage for elevated or tunnel systems in 20-minute transit trips dissolves away. Its faster to get on a tram stopping in the center of the street than to climb up to a viaduct, or descend into the bowels of a deep bore system.

    However, it is the second point that needs reinforcing.

    Vancouver is building towers-and-skytrian believing in the “Best Use, Maximum Value” of land.

    Unfortunately, as we have seen over the past 30 years, this sets up an economy unfairly favouring powerful interests: train manufactures and tower developers.

    The middle class has been squeezed out. We can no longer afford to buy a house in the city we call home. Future generations? Expect the gap between those who own and those who rent to widen.

    The question really comes down to whether we are going to spend $8 billion on skytrain-and-towers to UBC or $700 million building a tram to the very same destination?

    The $7.3 billion saved can then be used to build up neighborhood cores where convenience, services and jobs can locate near a tram stop. Our schools are in a shambles, so are our local roads. Our shopping streets function like ‘open traffic sewers’ when they should be ‘people places’ instead. All of this requires government spending to turn it around.

    Don’t be fooled by the shell game that there are federal, provincial, local and regional pots of money. It is all tax money paid by one and the same tax payer: us!

    So, what we need is a revolution in our way of thinking. And a combined effort from all the professions to build the city we want, including fast, convenient, modern transit serving houses affordable to all. The towers can stay in Communist Hong Kong.

    And it is not just the ‘city’ that needs to build out. We need to take modern tram out to the valley to service new tram towns, run by new elected councils, delivering affordable housing on cheap lots by the tram-car full. That’s a democracy running on all cylinders (or very soon… electric motors).

    There is no other way to turn back the cost of housing to levels affordable by all of us. And the right transportation choices are a crucial part of it.

  4. Fredinno says:

    Ok, yeah. Then show your data, methodology, and prove me wrong. The Leewood Study is a feasibility report, not an economic report. Admittedly, mine are back of envelope. You can do better than that, can you? The contingency cost is real, something you would know if you actually read the links I give you.

    The Vancouver taxpayer can’t afford to upgrade its existing systems for the next 20 years and yet can afford to expand them outwards for the next 10 for several times the cost?

    The Elignton Crosstown, an LRT Line in Toronto, is $442M/km, while the Broadway extension, a fully underground Skytrain Extension is $496M/km, so the costs are comparable. The cost for the Langley Extension is $195M/km.


    Zwei replies: The Elignton Crosstown Link has a 10 km subway. It is not light rail, not even close.

  5. Fredinno says:

    Point is, Skytrain’s not really that expensive.

    Zwei replies: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. You don’t have a clue then. No one buys it because it is too expensive. You have been brainwashed and refuse to see or understand the issues.

  6. Almond says:

    Always hated the upass. While some people get a discount. The others have to keep paying increasing fares to subsidize those receiving a discount. If upass was eliminated then the regular monthly bus pass could be reduced slightly for everyone to encourage more to use transit. Currently Translink is asking $98 to $177 per month to use its services. $50 to $100 would be more reasonable. Public transit should be cheap. It is mostly used by low income people.

    Zwei replies: No disagreement there at all!

  7. Haveacow says:


    The Eglinton Crosstown’s building cost is 5.65 Billion (including cost overruns) at 19.2 km that’s $295 Million per km the 12.25 Billion includes 30 years of operating costs and maintenance costs over the length of the operational contract with Crosslink. Each station is longer than Skytrain stations at 100 metres long, Skytrain stations are only 80 metres, there are 25 of them almost 3/4 of them are underground. Each Train will be 90 to 91 metres long (3 LRV’s at 30.4 metres each), where even 5 car Skytrains will only be 83 metres long. The Broadway extension of the Millennium Line is $2.83 Billion and only 5.7 km long. That’s $496 Million per km, considerably more than the Crosstown Line.

    Over $500 Million of the $5.65 Billion includes land reclamation costs to clean the soil in the maintenance and storage yard which has been an industrial site since the 1820′s. One of Upper Canada’s first Tanneries as well as a large cheese factory was on the site in the 1820′s and 30′s. Not to mention the rail yard and coal slat area for 4 railways and the Canadian location for Kodak film from the 1910′s u til the 1990′s.

    The amount of tunnel is actually 11km because both the Ontario Science Centre Station and the eastern terminus at Kennedy Station got put underground by the Rob Ford administration.

    The original 10.1 km of tunnel is mostly because Eglinton Ave from roughly Laird Dr. in the east to Keele Avenue in the west was widened in the 1880 (before cars, trucks and even electric streetcars which came to Toronto in 1891) when Eglinton Ave. first started the process of suburbanization as a main road that was mainly residential. Very little of it ever had streetcar lines so it wasn’t widened during the streetcar era either. Today that section of Eglinton is barely 4 lanes wide. Each lane in the tunneled section barely hits 9 feet wide. So there was no room for surface LRT. Whereas the surface sections of the Eglinton Crosstown are on a stretch of Eglinton Ave. East that is 7 to 10 lanes wide.

    What’s interesting is that most of the support caisons for the original Yonge Subway tunnel built between 1947 and 1952 that required rebuilding in the Yonge St. -Eglinton Ave. area (The Yonge Line opened in 1954) and are responsible for about half the cost overruns. The LRT tunnel goes underneath the Yonge subway.at this point

    The biggest repair job was the last caison in the boundary area between the end point of the original line and the 1974 Eglinton to York Mills Road subway extension at Montgomery Avenue. This was the historic site of the main tavern in the busy Yonge-Eglinton crossroad farming community. Montgomery’s Tavern was the site of the Battle of Montgomery Tavern in the Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada.

  8. Rico says:

    There has been a bunch of comments so I was worried Haveacow would lose my last comment.
    Haveacow could you please get me a link or screen shot of the CUTA pphpd data as what you say conflicts with the 2018 performance review and several other reported numbers, are you sure you did not look at 2017 data?

  9. zweisystem says:

    Just a note: Fredinno has been sent to spam, but rehashing the same stuff over and over again gets tiresome. If he wants to sing lovely songs about SkyTrain, there are plenty of places to to go, Skyscraper, SkyTrain for Surrey, or the Hive.

    The real news is here, now that is somewhat arrogant on my part but i do not see news and information on the sites mentioned.

    A comment from an academic, who wishes to be anonymous; “Complete with comments that prove you cant cure brainwashing.”

    If our system is so good, why doesn’t anyone copy us and our exclusive use of the proprietary MALM?

    By the way, placing tram tracks on city streets is not has hard as you portray, the real problem here is the CoV Engineering Dept., in a fit of professional misconduct have created all sorts of anti LRT diatribes, which seems to have the backing of not only the CoV, but Translink, Metro Vancouver and the Provincial NDP.

  10. zweisystem says:

    I have been told that the U-Pass was designed for about 30% usage, with the other 70% of U-pass holders subsidizing them. The same contact told me that the U-Pass is seeing about 50% usage (conservative estimate) meaning that the regular bus customer is subsidizing it.

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