A letter sent to Surrey Council – LRT in Surrey Part 1.

From the usual suspect, long time LRT and tram advocate Malcolm Johnston.

What has been forgotten by most, is the historical context for our light metro system has been lost, due to political, bureaucratic and academic intrigue.

The illustrations have been removed for brevity.


Dear Mayor and Council;

My name is Malcolm Johnston and I have been advocating for modern Light Rail Transit (LRT) since the early 1980ai??i??s. I have been a member of the international Light Rail Transit Association since 1984 and the person who coordinated the Leewood/Rail for the Valley Study, recommending a Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain (a variant of LRT) service operating on the former BC Electric rights-of-way. Today I belong to the Rail for the Valley group, promoting the Valley TramTrain.

Except for the odd letter in local newspapers, I have not been involved with the Surrey LRT, until events have forced me to.

I am disturbed with the planning of the Surrey LRT and after consulting with transportation engineers in Canada, the USA and Europe, who are members of the LRTA and/or read the Rail for the Valley blog, my concerns are indeed valid.

Modern LRT combines three concepts, the low-floor tram; the reserved or dedicated rights-of-way, and priority signaling at intersections, which provides a service that rivals todayai??i??s much more expensive metro systems.

Ottawaai??i??s low floor trams have the same capacity of four MK.1 cars or three Mk.2 cars.

Modern LRT made the metro variant, light-metro (what we call locally SkyTrain) obsolete by the end of the 1980ai??i??s.

Today, there are over five hundred and fifty transit systems that fall in the LRT family, with over two hundred built since the Edmonton LRT (considered to be the first modern LRT built) opened in the late 1980ai??i??s. Since this time only seven of the unconventional, proprietary SkyTrain type systems, which has been marketed under the various names including ICTS, ALRT, ALM, and ART, have been built.

Why has modern LRT proven so popular?

The answer is simple economics, as one modern tram (1 tram driver) is as efficient as six buses (6 bus drivers) and for every bus or tram operated, one must hire a minimum of three people to manage, maintain and operate them. When one considers that wages account for about 80% of a transit systemai??i??s operating costs, the savings by operating LRT over a forty year business cycle are considerable.

SkyTrain, an automatic light metro does not see this economy of operation, even though it has no drivers, light metro has many attendants, signaling and maintenance personnel to ensure smooth operation and SkyTrain needs continued bus operation to feed it its customers. This greatly increases operating costs.

When SkyTrain was forced upon the GVRD in 1980, experts of the day opined that SkyTrain would drive up operating costs, which would eventually lead to finical shortfalls and cannibalization of the transit system in the suburbs. These predictions have come true.

The myth that SkyTrain paid its operational costs was exploded in 1992, when the GVRD Study, The Cost of Transporting People in the GVRD found that SkyTrain was heavily subsidized, more than the entire bus system at the time!

Recent studies have also shown that TransLinkai??i??s cost per revenue passenger is about one third higher than Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.

Even though warnings of high costs for SkyTrain light-metro went unheeded by local politicians and planners, those in other jurisdictions did due diligence and have built with light rail instead.

Again, only seven of the proprietary Ai??ALRT/ART (SkyTrain) systems have been built in forty years.

It is important to understand the difference between LRT and a streetcar.

The difference is not the vehicle, rather it is the concept of the reserved or dedicated rights-of-way, which enables a tram to operate without hindrance. LRT does not impede automobile traffic.

The reserved rights-of-way can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails or in most cases, the reserved rights a way is a boulevard for the exclusive use of the tram. In Europe these boulevards are lawned and landscaped, making the tram route a linear park.

Intersections are signal controlled, giving priority to the tram, over automobile traffic and is just like any other light signaled intersection. Those who claim LRT intersections hinder traffic, must concede that all light controlled intersections hinder traffic and the argument is moot.

A streetcar operates on-street in mixed traffic.

Transit planners in Europe consider that a streetcar or tram route with 60% or more of its route operates on reserved rights-of-ways can be considered LRT.

It also should be noted that there is no operational advantage for grade separating LRT on viaduct or in a subway and it only increases the costs, without any real benefit.

Today, the cost for a modern LRT line, should be around $25 million/km. to $35 million/km.

Surreyai??i??s proposed LRT is being planned as a poor manai??i??s SkyTrain, acting strictly as a feeder line to the now almost capacity Expo Line.

This will adversely affect ridership on the proposed light rail line.

According to one transportation specialist; ai???The Surrey LRT System is just that, itai??i??s entirely Surrey based system and it doesnai??i??t go anywhere else. The benefits only fits a certain subset of the Surreyai??i??s possible transit passenger market. The current route design gives no other connection to the outer region than pouring more passengers on to the SkyTrain system, instead of for example, connecting to the SkyTrain and then by passing it on its own right of way, outwards towards the rest of the region.ai???

The cost of the proposed LRT has now rumored to have surpassed $100 million/km. If this is true, then I am afraid that those planning for LRT are deliberately inflating costs to make the project unbuildable.

This happened in the 1990ai??i??s during the Broadway/Lougheed Rapid Transit Project, where the cost of LRT was deliberately inflated to within 7% of that of SkyTrain, which then made the flip-flop from LRT to SkyTrain, what we now call the Millennium Line, publicly acceptable.

I see the same scenario happening now, in 2017.

I do support modern LRT in Surrey. I do not support the present planning as it both expensive and myopic and I would strongly urge the City of Surrey to engage a company with the expertise in planning, building and operating with LRT, as Rail for the Valley group did, by engaging Leewood Projects of the UK for an unbiased study for the feasibility of a ai???railai??i?? service from Vancouver to Chilliwack.

In 2010 The Leewood Study found that a 130 km. Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain (a variant of LRT), track-sharing with the existing railway line, could be built for just under one billion dollars!

Modern light rail is extremely adaptable in operation as it can be built as a streetcar, light rail, or a tramtrain.

LRT can also carry freight or have ai???Bistroai??i?? cars serving light refreshments and even vintage trams can operate on LRT lines.

Modern LRT has over 125 years of development behind it and there is plenty of scope for LRTai??i??s continued development in the future.

This why LRT is built today, its inherent simple design and operating philosophy enables to mode to operate economically where it is built. Designed right, light rail can provide a user friendly alternative to the car.

Those who advocate for SkyTrain, advocate for a dated proprietary transit system, which costs more to build, maintain, and operate than LRT. ALRT/ART was designed in the 1970ai??i??s to cope with 1970ai??i??s transit issues.

LRT constantly evolves and never becomes ai???stale-datedai???, evidenced by many tramways that can trace their linage over 120 years of operation and now operate as modern light rail.

Light rail transit is truly the transit mode of the 21st century and should be designed as such, which at present it is not.

Malcolm Johnston



23 Responses to “A letter sent to Surrey Council – LRT in Surrey Part 1.”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Zwei, here is the link to the”How Many Will It Carry” segment from O.C. Transpo’s “Ready 4 Rail” sub section of the official O.C Transpo website. This site has many important information nuggets you might find very useful as well as a huge cash of graphics. Here are some links.




    The most important pieces of information from is the line that on opening day is expected to have a passenger carrying capacity of 10,700 p/h/d (passengers per hour per direction). Each LRV or Car has 4 sections (expandable to 5) and is 48-49 metres long. They also note that the LRT system design is flexible enough to be expandable up to 24,000 p/h/d, when needed. The other important part is that, 10,500-10,700 p/h/d is the current functional operational limit of our Transitway Network (BRT System) as well as being the current peak hour passenger traffic level of the network, right now. So passenger numbers are expected to be quite high on opening day. The difference is that, we presently move 10,700 p/h/d during the morning peak hour using 185-200 buses/h/d (buses per hour per direction). The LRT system will be able to do this using 15 (2 car consists) running with a 3 minute 15 second peak hour service frequency, that’s a massive operational cost saving over the Transitway.

    Zwei replies: Calgary once had an excellent technical page on-line, which gave costs, employees, etc. The technical page was truncated and after a few emails, it transpired their employees were tired of being called liars by people in the 604 exchange!

  2. Haveacow says:

    I remember that page you were talking about, it was quite an extensive list of Calgary transit statistics in a basic easy to read format. It was mostly basic information but useful if you knew how to combine them into professional grade statistics. I didn’t realize it had caused so much trouble. My only complaint was that it was already fairly dated information when I first saw it and no doubt it was probably quite a bit of hassle for someone to update. It did have a lot of stats on it and it would take a single person even with computer and internet access, most of the day to check and update. I find that unfortunately, unless you have interested summer students, most city planning and transit operations just don’t have enough staff left to do this kind of public information stuff anymore. This is one of the advantages of using these new chip based transit fare card systems, it can collect a lot of this kind of data in real time and have it combined with 3-dimensional spatial and time based displacements, all at the same time.

  3. eric chris says:

    Thanks for the excellent post, Zwei, for future reference, and comment Haveacow. Ottawa’s 600 passenger LRT is impressive. More striking is the elimination of the roughly two hundred diesel buses clogging up roads and degrading the air quality. I expect asthma and cancer rates from diesel exhaust in Ottawa to fall sharply. Operating costs for public transit will plummet, as well. Planners in Ottawa have done a marvelous job. Here’s a related link on Budapest’s tram service.


  4. Haveacow says:

    I have to ask, when is part 2 coming? Is the next article, “A Novice’s Guide To Transit…” unofficially part 2?

  5. zweisystem says:

    Part 2 will be posted this week. I believe Surrey’s council will receive the letter Monday.

  6. Kuldip Pelia says:

    LRT is a Proven DISASTER
    LRT causes accidents resulting in death, destruction of property, traffic delays, street closures, and congestion
    See what happened in Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, and Houston-the cities with LRT. Just Google the headlines.
    • Destroyed in Seconds Houston Metro Rail- YouTube video
    • Man struck and killed by CTrain in northeast Calgary | CTV Calgary …
    • Man found dead near CTrain tracks in city’s south | CTV Calgary News
    • Pedestrian killed by CTrain was 43rd accidental death on LRT system
    • Drivers could be stuck at LRT crossing for up to 16 minutes: Metro LRT ..
    • Man dies when hit by MAX train in East Portland; service disrupted …
    • Portland Streetcar collisions? Nearly 1 a week, reports say …
    • Person struck, killed by light rail train in Seattle | Q13 FOX News
    • Metro LRT Line experienced 11 service delays in November
    • LRT shut down after crash with cyclist – Edmonton – CBC News
    • Link light-rail service halted by car crash in Rainier Valley | The Seattle ..
    • Crash closes light rail tracks, busy road for hours | KIRO-TV
    • Seattle Light Rail Hazard Analysis Shows High Collision Potential and …
    • Light Rail Increasingly Dangerous | The Antiplanner
    • Light Rail Train « WCCO | CBS Minnesota – CBS Local
    • Twin Cities light-rail tragedies raise safety alarms – Twin Cities
    • Don’t let idiots build your transit

    Zwei replies: your ignorance on the subject is absolutely appalling. Why then have only 7 ICTS, ALRT,ALM, ART systems built since the late 1970′s and today now over 200 new LRT systems have been built, during the same period.

    You fully demonstrate the SkyTrain Lobby lack of research and absolute lack of credibility. Read a book on the subject, you may learn something.

  7. Kuldip Pelia says:

    Skytrain is much cheaper than LRT
    Dollar value of Time-savings with Skytrain
    1.Value of Time savings on Guildford-Newton Skytrain line
    If Skytrain is built between Guildford and Newton (instead of LRT). It is reasonable to assume that 15 minutes travel time will be saved on a round trip. The cost of 15 minutes-$5. Let’s assume 100,000 round trips are taken each day.
    As rapid train systems with their own right-of-way last for a long time (London is 154 years old, Paris is 117 Years old). Let us calculate value of time savings for 100 years in this case. Let us assume 2% rate of return.
    Yearly value of time-savings = 100,000*5*365 =$182,500,000
    Present value of time-savings with Skytrain = $7.87 Billion
    2.Value of Time savings from King George-Langley Extension
    Travel-time saved on a round trip = 14 minutes
    Transfer time saved at King George station, for a round trip = 10 minutes
    Total time saved on a round trip = $24 minutes worth $8
    Yearly value of time savings for 100,000 round-trips = 100,000*8*365 = $292,000,000
    Present value of time-savings with Skytrain = $12.58 Billion

    Total time-savings on both the lines =7.87+12.58 =$20.45 Billion
    (This value is in today’s dollars)
    Future value of time-savings = $148.15 Billion
    So Skytrain is much, much cheaper than LRT.

    Prof. Kuldip Pelia
    Surrey, BC

    Zwei replies: Your bullshit baffles brains technique does not work here. You are sputtering nonsense.

    I am only allowing this post to show how utterly ignorant you are.

  8. Haveacow says:

    @ Professor Kuldip Pelia

    Having worked for Bombardier in the past I can honestly tell you that the ART 300 Innovia Automated Light Metro line at Bombardier is in serious trouble. It just doesn’t have enough sales and doesn’t make sense to continually hold open production lines here in Canada for it, which is what Bombardier has been doing. Even the new Montreal REM Project will have to seriously modify the exiting technology to make it work. It appears that it will use some of ART 300 components but it will be highly modified, no linear induction motors, no 3rd rail power and it may have to use another automated operating system because of problems with the higher voltage mainline railway power system REM will be using. Bombardier’s Cityflo 650 Automation System evidently can’t easily handle the 25 KV OCS (overhead wires) system they have been using on the line. The point being, its a one off technology that will resemble the Skytrain. somewhat but has very high costs and lower peak capacity than the Commuter Rail Line it will be replacing.

    Bombardier is now scrambling to set up an LRV production facility in Kingston to produce nothing but the 100% low floor LRV’s for the 5 LRT Lines in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region around Toronto (an official legal planning region since 2003). They have over 400+ orders for their Flexity Swift and Outlook LRV’s just in Canada (Toronto Area and Edmonton). Even with Metrolinx buying 61 Alstom LRV’s as a stop gap to cover the possibility of Bombardier not being on time for the opening of stage 1 of Toronto’s 20 km Eglinton Crosstown Line, the remaining order is still considerably higher than anything that will ever be ordered from the ART 300 Automated Light Metro line ever. Bombardier has built and delivered over 3000 Flexity LRV’s worldwide since its inception in 1997.

    Even Alstom’s Citadis Sprit LRV (a modified Citadis Type 302 LRV design specifically marketed for North America) which Metrolinx has ordered 61 vehicles for and is currently delivering to Ottawa 34 LRV’s (Ottawa Stage 1) +4 LRV’s (stage 1 follow on) and now 38 LRV’s for Ottawa Stage 2 (38+ km of LRT lines to be fully and completely opened by 2023). That’s 137 LRV’s for just Ontario. Since its inception in the late 1990′s the Citadis LRV built by Alstom has over 1900 orders.

    You need very large order numbers now a days to keep production lines open for a specific product. It doesn’t mean Bombardier won’t produce the ART 300 Innovia system, it means that any order has to wait for a freed up existing production line. Then retooling has to happen (which adds extra costs to the order) before production can begin.

    Meaning from this point on, even major components and parts for the Skytrain design like its trucks (bogies) are now subcontracted by Bombardier and not produced by them directly anymore, which can lead to further troubles if strict production quality standards aren’t maintained because they are needed so infrequently and the new standard truck (bogie) design for all Bombardier transit and passenger railway equipment can not be used by the Skytrain technology.

    Too few customers have been buying the Skytrain technology to really make it worth their time. I believe the skytrain technology days are numbered, since now on top of all the other competitors Bombardier has it now has to deal with a massive Chinese rail car producer which has been making inroads into the international LRV, Light Metro, Subway/Metro and Commuter Rail Markets. Even India has a growing railcar sector that they will have to compete with. So unless there are large orders for a good standardized vehicle (with specialized designs on request) that can be produced in large numbers they just won’t do it anymore, its become too costly.

  9. Haveacow says:

    Oh yes, something else really quickly, modern LRV’s cost half as much to maintain than the Skytrain technology that’s one of the reasons it isn’t being ordered much anymore, don’t believe me, ask Bombardier! Skytrain parts are really expensive and require more manpower to work on them, especially compared to modern LRV’s. LRV standard electric motors and parts last just as long as the LIM technology, and they operate at lower power levels than the Skytrain technology and they can operate the same automation systems as the Skytrain, if needed. The problem is that, when you use the automation technology Transport Canada and the FTA in the US require the line to be completely segregated from everything else. This drives up the construction costs. Since LRT systems can operate in a far greater number of types of rights of way, compared to Skytrain, the construction costs are generally lower, which is everything when you want to plan and build rapid transit lines, especially in cities with no prior rail experience. LRT means lower cost to build and lower cost to operate. Its only because of Skytrain’s very high ridership which has for the most part maxed out due to limitations in the system’s operating capacity that, keep its higher operating operating costs in check. But the operating costs of the Skytrain are going even higher as the line and the older technology it uses ages.

  10. Dondi says:

    Mr. Cow, Translink or its predecessor has claimed in the past that Skytrain was one of the only transit rail systems in North America whose operating costs (which presumably include maintenance) are covered by fares collected.

    Data from the Canada Transit Fact Book for 2014 quoted by the 2016 Transit Report Card by local councilor Nathan Pachal (sp?) place Vancouver’s cost per passenger trip at $3.86 compared to $3.96 for Toronto-Hamilton. Montreal is lowest at $2.97, and Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa are $3.36, $3.39 and $3.72. This data include buses, etc. which probably swamp the rail numbers.

    So, can you quote or point to what Bombardier says about comparable maintenance costs, power consumption and service lives for the ‘Skytrain’ system vs. an LRT ‘equivalent’?

    Or even better, an authoritative independent opinion on these points, which I take your’s to be, but expressed with numbers and sources?

    I don’t think there is any doubt in any quarter that construction and other capital costs are far higher for elevated or subway systems than for modern LRT. And your points about the high overhead costs for low-production systems like Skytrain are convincing. But for the foreseeable future we in Vancouver are stuck with it. I am not suggesting that is sufficient reason to expand with Skytrain! But how much will the operating costs be, compared to LRT?

    Zwei replies: Of course those comments were pure bullshit. In 1993, the GVRD found that SkyTrain was subsidized to the tune of $157 million annually. Today the ALRT/ART/Canada Lines are subsided in excess of $300 million annually.

    The other fact, always overlooked, is that over 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first takes the bus and thus the fares charged must be apportioned between bus and train. As TransLink, pre Compass Card, did not apportion fares thus they had no basis to make such claims.

    Fact is, TransLink does not make that claim today and the lack of interest in building with SkyTrain, I would say most others treat the claim as extremely spurious.

  11. Haveacow says:

    @Dondi, no unfortunately you can’t quote professional on the job experience its not in a paper or book. Plus any paper sources I could quote you, would get me sued instantly for violating confidentiality. This particular industry is very guarded and its the same in all of the major competing companies, Bombardier included. That’s why I have to walk a very fine line here on this site. If I am being vague it is because I don’t want to get sued!

    The primary issue for Bombardier’s Innovia 300 Automatic Light Metro System (Skytrain in Vancouver’s case) is that, as a Transport system and transit operating technology it competes directly with two of Bombardier’s biggest selling operating technologies or products.The MOVIA line Subway/Metro/Heavy Rail class which has sales and orders in excess of 5000 units and the Flexity family of LRV’s which has 3000 plus in sales and orders. This has caused much internal company friction around Bombardier’s product divisions and staff. Instead of the transit operating technologies operating in separate markets or in a best case scenario, products operating in the same market and complementing each other, the LRT/Light Metro issue or the Light Metro/Metro issue both plague Bombardier Transportation management.

    The common problem, the Light Metro category, has been undermined by technological progress. For example, the LRT side now has modular 80-100 metre long single car LRV design variants of the Flexity for a number of European transit providers who are now in the process of building new maintenance centres for their tram and LRT fleets. Building new larger maintenance and storage facilities frees up space for the larger LRV’s and modernizes the maintenance of them. This removes the main operational issue of having very long single consist LRV’s operating on busy lines instead of more complex multi car consists, usually operating in multiple permanent married pairs, this action alone simplifies many tram and LRT operations in many older cities. These larger street capable vehicles give near or equal to subway/metro levels of passenger carrying capacity while being able to operate in more operating environments than a Light Metro ever could.

    On the Subway/Metro/Heavy Rail side the lowest possible passenger levels required for these class of vehicles has dropped significantly in the last 2 decades due to again, modular open gangway vehicle designs, simplified maintenance, scalable systems and designs used for multiple size train categories and more common standardized parts. It’s still really expensive to build a tunnel and underground stations but it has become a lot cheaper to operate them, assuming care is exercised during the design process. For example, the TTC’s lighting cost for the newest subway extension is less than 1/3 compared to the original portions of the Yonge Line because natural light is collected and concentrated using light wells and concentrating mirrors into fiber optic lighting cables as well as the use of plain old LED’s instead of florescent bulbs at night.

    These improvements have squeezed the Light Metro technology from both ends of the cost and capacity categories to a point it has now effectively been squeezed out entirely. LRT holds more passengers than Skytrain and can operate in more and varied environments making it operationally and politically more palatable. Where the Heavy Rail/Metro/Subway market can operate much more cheaply and do it with fewer passengers making it much more economical than in the past.

    There is a simple basic problem with the entire Skytrain concept. Skytrain operating concepts limits the need for heavier infrastructure and longer trains by using technology mainly computers, to supplement and manage a rail system that uses a higher frequency to bump up its carrying capacity. That is a big mistake, one of the easiest ways to have big operational problems is to rely on frequency. It has always been cheaper and easier to have longer trains than to run more trains, within reason. Given your high passenger levels, this makes Skytrain more expensive to maintain because you have to have a much larger proportion of the fleet operational at any one time or you have to a much larger fleet than you would normally have using more traditional forms of rail operating technology. This makes it absolutely critical to limit Skytrain’s track operating costs and maintenance load. Having a system that is using nonstandard propulsion systems (Linear Induction Motors), requiring extra track infrastructure (Induction Rails), non standard parts like its truck and flange sizes, all provided by a single company or a ever shirking number of connected companies, complicates things. In fact it complicates things to a point where, even outside factors like a lack foreign buyers can cause high costs and serious long term supply issues for your entire city’s rapid transit system.

    To save on costs most large rail car companies like Bombardier build standardized parts and systems that can be scaled up or down on as many of the company’s products as possible. In Bombardier’s case many of the systems that were once only available to Skytrain for example like the Cityflo 650 Automation system can know be used on most of Bombardier’s products.

    As I mentioned before the Trucks (Bogies) of most of Bombardier’s passenger railway products (mainline railway and transit systems) use the new FLEXX Bogie System which is scalable up or down for many of Bombardier designs. This saves a lot of time and money during design and construction which shows up in savings for vehicle costs to the customer. Unfortunately, Skytrain’s Linear Induction Motors can’t use this design because the propulsion unit has to be mounted between the flanges (wheels) at the centre of the truck mounted frame instead of the side of the frame where it is significantly easier to get at to conduct maintenance. This is where most of the worlds electric or diesel electric propulsion units on trains are mounted. Thus if you need to work on a Skytrain LIM Propulsion unit you have to raise the entire body up into the air by the maintenance crane after detaching the trucks from the body, then roll out the trucks on the maintenance work track and use a separate automotive like mobile hoist to lift the propulsion units out of the truck. This takes a lot of time and several people usually two or three people.

    Whether it is a Alstom Citadis Spirit LRV used by Ottawa or Bombardier’s Flexity Family of LRV’s, you need only a single person to bend down beside the truck, remove 2 rubber caps use a $80-$100 digital multi-metre that can be purchased from any electric or electronic supply store, attach the 2 leads and with information stored on a wallet sized card determine if the electric motor needs to be re[placed. If it does he or she brings over a modified powered or unpowered pump truck similar to what grocery stores and factories the world over use to move pallets around a building. Position the truck to fit under the electric motor after removing 4-6 fasteners with a air hammer available in any commercial garage, unplug a series of 2-4 plugs (depends on company design and rail vehicle truck size) push a release bar and the motor should without to much prompting pop out right onto your pump truck and you you take it away. The old motor goes back to Bombardier for repair or recycling and a new one is put on your pump truck and you go back to the vehicle and do the same process only backwards, to put the motor back on. An experienced person can do this in less than 5 minutes per motor needing replacement. At no point was the body of the LRV separated from the truck mounting, needing the maintenance bay heavy lift crane or the time multiple staff for this simple repair. This is just one example of the problems/issues with Skytrain’s maintenance load.

    The new Mark 3 vehicles Translink bought doesn’t change many of these problems, some were addressed but many were not. The LIM propulsion unit can now be tested before it is removed with a automotive hoist and doesn’t have to be hooked up to a separate testing unit mounted on a wall in another room. The mobile testing units are a Bombardier product that you have to buy from only them. The information sent to the maintenance computer unfortunately, via the Skytrain onboard communication system and antennas, still can’t tell what kind of problem you have in the propulsion unit only that there is one. This is not in a book or online, you have to talk to the staff and managers in person to get that kind of information or have done it yourself.

    Yes Dondi you have a point, you are stuck with the Skytrain. However, you can fix a few of these problems when the much needed upgrades come around for the Expo and Millennium Lines. As I mentioned before here on this site after talking with representatives from your British Columbia Rapid Transit Company and its former maintenance head (no I will not give his name to protect him legally from Translink), his suggestion for cutting maintenance and operational costs by over 1/3, simply getting rid of the overly expensive LIM propulsion. The standard electric motors used now are just as reliable, save power and will also allow for the far superior regenerative power production feature, something that is difficult with LIM Propulsion. Plus a significantly simpler to maintain maintenance schedule compared to the LIM units. There is no need for a cumbersome and somewhat flaky induction rails (the 4th rail) and the other existing Skytrain sub-systems would operate fine without the LIM. That is why Riyadh opted for standard electric motors instead of LIM propulsion units on their new Innovia 300 trains.

    Next, I would build LRT lines to supplement the at capacity existing Light Metro lines and yes, I would use Zwei’s Tram-Train concept as much as possible. Especially at the region’s periphery, it really does save money and adds a lot of flexibility without having to build as much, new track. The federal government seems to be in an experimental mood so, I would try for a Tram-Train trial project immediately. If Tram-Train was a no go I would use a system of diesel multiple units or even electric multiple units on existing mainline railways and or series of new tracks and lines, just like Ottawa’s Trillium Line. There are a lot of unused and underused existing rail rights way in Southern BC according to Transport Canada’s Line monitoring system. Contact Transport Action BC they have the available public numbers.

    As an aside, for the first time Bombardier publically stated on its website that, it doesn’t recommend the Skytrain technology for peak period passenger levels bellow 8000 passengers/hour/direction. That’s a big reveal! If I had said that publically when I was working there, I would be serious legal trouble.

  12. Dondi says:

    Mr. Cow, thank you for the useful explanation about Bombardier systems.

    I appreciate your need for professional discretion, but if you can point to what you said Bombardier says about relative operating costs, power consumption, etc. (like your useful reference that they cite a peak passenger load of at least 8000 per hour per direction for Skytrain) I think the level of discussion would be raised.

    But please explain why you say that running fewer cars with greater frequency increases costs, in a driverless system. The shorter stations needed should reduce costs, other things being equal. OK, more trains means greater wind resistance, but is that very significant?

    LIMS have no moving parts, so how can they have higher maintenance costs than conventional electric motors? Yes, there are small tolerances for the gap between the LIM and the power rail. but this is a different issue.

    I emailed a friend who is a long-time Skytrain technician in their Burnaby maintenance shop (sorry, I can’t name him). This is what what he replied:

    “Lims sometimes don’t need changing out for 20 years,then they are inspected,new insulation applied in liquid form and then it hardens. The only reason a Lim would be removed prior would be because of something hitting the Lim,especially at the bottom and damaging the insulation.In the early years snow was a problem and water would get into the windings and short out the Lim. The snow problem was solved long ago so really Lim changeouts are infrequent now.”

    So it does not seem like the need you cite to hoist the cars to work on the LIMS would be a big cost factor over the service life of the car. And I doubt conventional electric motors last anywhere near the length of time that Skytrain LIMS have been in service.

    We all know it is a different question with capital costs, but what data can be gleaned from Translink does not point to high operating costs for Skytrain.

    CUTA data shows that in 2012 direct operating costs for Translink as a whole were about 25% greater than for all transit in Calgary (see graph on page 15 of http://www.translink.ca/-/media/Documents/about_translink/corporate_overview/corporate_reports/peer_comparison_reports/2014_Peer_Agency_Report.pdf). However, most of that margin is likely due to the bus system rather than rail, given that page 36 of http://www.translink.ca/-/media/Documents/about_translink/corporate_overview/corporate_reports/quarterly_reports/2016/Financial_and_Performance_Report_09_30_2016.pdf says that the “operating cost per capacity km” for Skytrain/Millenium line for the first 9 months of 2016 was $0.028 compared to $0.106 for the Canada line and $0.118 for CMBC [buses).

    Similarly, the "GVRD study" from 1993 that Mr. Zwei likes to cite reported that 'operating' plus 'maintenance' costs per [passenger?] km” were $1.300 for Skytrain, compared to $2.442 for Diesel bus and $4.51 for Trolley bus.

    I see little evidence that operating costs are one of Skytrain’s big sins. Perhaps operating costs are no longer covered by fares (as once claimed), but is that true of any transit rail system?

    Zwei replies: Dondi, you just do not get it. Only seven transit systems operate SkyTrain and only three can be considered “metros” not one ALRT/ART SkyTrain has been allowed to compete against LRT, why? Answer: SkyTrain costs more to build, operate and maintain, than comparable LRT systems and possibly next year, there will no longer be any ALRT/ART SkyTrain on the market, so every car must be custom built. Very expensive.

    SkyTrain never paid its operating costs as BC Transit and TransLink never apportioned fares between SkyTrain and the bus, thus they could claim anything they wanted too. Remember also BC Transit and TransLink have been in partnership with Bombardier Inc. to sell SkyTrain abroad, thus many claims are spurious or out right fabrications.

    SkyTrain has been plagued with problems, but our local media have cleansed much from the public’s view, unless there is a major shutdown. SkyTrain planning only survives because of the utter ignorance of local transportation planners and politicians and with a complete lack of public scrutiny.

    If Bombardier’s rail division merges with Siemens, then SkyTrain days are numbered, then the costs will Sky rocket!

  13. Jason says:


    You state. “Today, there are over five hundred and fifty transit systems that fall in the LRT family, with over two hundred built since the Edmonton LRT (considered to be the first modern LRT built) opened in the late 1980’s. ”

    In fact, the Edmonton LRT opened in April, 1978.

    A substantial portion of the Edmonton LRT is underground. There are 6 subway stations in the Edmonton LRT system. A significant portion of the Valley Line LRT, now being constructed, uses an overhead guideway like the SkyTrain, and one of those stations (Davies) will be overhead, like a SkyTrain station. The Edmonton LRT uses dedicated rights of way, surface intersections, underground subway stations, and, with the Valley Line, an overhead guideway. It is not an example of the “tram” you seem to think it is, and if anything it proves that LRT can be whatever the designers want it to be.

    The SkyTrain system’s level of frequency cannot be matched by the Edmonton LRT, therefore, LRT systems like Edmonton’s or Calgary’s, though good, cannot match the standard set by the Vancouver ALRT.

    The Vancouver ALRT represents the ultimate in engineering performance for a system. No LRT system in Canada matches its safety or performance record.

    Zwei replies: Both Calgary and Edmonton’s new light rail lines were in fact copied after German S-(Stadt or city railway) Bann, but introduced articulated rail cars. it was soon discovered that grade separation was not needed as a much cheaper reserved R-o-W produced the same results.

    As for SkyTrain, the UDTC purchased old and discarded technology and cobbled together a transit mode that was inferior to the emerging light rail. Only 7 sold in 40 years tells the tale I’m afraid.

  14. Jason says:


    You state. “Today, there are over five hundred and fifty transit systems that fall in the LRT family, with over two hundred built since the Edmonton LRT (considered to be the first modern LRT built) opened in the late 1980’s. ”

    In fact, the Edmonton LRT opened in April, 1978.

    A substantial portion of the Edmonton LRT is underground. There are 6 subway stations in the Edmonton LRT system. A significant portion of the Valley Line LRT, now being constructed, uses an overhead guideway like the SkyTrain, and one of those stations (Davies) will be overhead, like a SkyTrain station. The Edmonton LRT uses dedicated rights of way, surface intersections, underground subway stations, and, with the Valley Line, an overhead guideway. It is not an example of the “tram” you seem to think it is, and if anything it proves that LRT can be whatever the designers want it to be.

    The SkyTrain system’s level of frequency cannot be matched by the Edmonton LRT, therefore, LRT systems like Edmonton’s or Calgary’s, though good, cannot match the standard set by the Vancouver ALRT.

    The Vancouver ALRT represents the ultimate in engineering performance for a system. No LRT system in Canada matches its safety or performance record.

    Zwei replies: Much misinformation here, Edmonton’s initial LRT was built underground because Edmonton is the capitol of Alberta and city fathers wanted a “world class” subway. The huge cost of subway construction retarded growth of the LRT system.

    Actually Calgary’s LRT has surpassed the so called SkyTrain standard, now with closer headway’s and longer trains. Only seven SkyTrain’s sold in 40 years tells the tale.

  15. Jason says:

    Zwei replies: your ignorance on the subject is absolutely appalling. Why then have only 7 ICTS, ALRT,ALM, ART systems built since the late 1970′s and today now over 200 new LRT systems have been built, during the same period.


    Whomever “Zwei” is, ad hominem attacks tend to make the attacker less credible, and less worthy of belief in the eyes of the moderate, intelligent public.

    Fatal accidents and serious accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles, involving the Calgary and Edmonton LRT are real. They do shut down those systems for hours or sometimes even a day. Except for on-purpose collisions between SkyTrain and individuals,

    “Why do …only 7 ICTS, ALRT,ALM, ART systems [been] built since the late 1970′s?”

    One possibility is that quality and performance don’t come cheap. But Honolulu is building one, and so is Montreal.

    So why don’t you tell us?

    Zwei replies: The death rate on SkyTrain is about twice of that of Calgary’s LRT and a whole lot more than Edmonton’s LRT. The last death on Edmonton’s LRT, first in over two years, was actually a murder. Only seven SkyTrain’s sold in 40 years tells the tale.

    As for cyclists and pedestrians hit by trams in Calgary or Edmonton, over 99% are the fault of the cyclist or pedestrian ignoring signals, in fact many are attempted suicides. It is better to compare how many pedestrians are hit by trains, and with cars. Only 7 SkyTrains sold in 40 years tells the tale.

  16. Jason says:

    Zwei replies: your ignorance on the subject is absolutely appalling. Why then have only 7 ICTS, ALRT,ALM, ART systems built since the late 1970′s and today now over 200 new LRT systems have been built, during the same period.


    Whomever “Zwei” is, ad hominem attacks tend to make the attacker less credible, and less worthy of belief in the eyes of the moderate, intelligent public.

    Fatal accidents and serious accidents with pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles, involving the Calgary and Edmonton LRTs are real. They happen at least once a year and they do shut down those systems for hours or sometimes even a day. Except for on-purpose collisions between SkyTrain and individuals, that sort of accident is non-existent on the SkyTrain.

    “Why do …only 7 ICTS, ALRT,ALM, ART systems [been] built since the late 1970′s?”

    One possibility is that quality and performance don’t come cheap and most municipalities who build these systems opt for lower performance and more accidents, at a lower cost

    But some municipalities, like Vancouver, opt for high performance and high safety at a higher upfront capital cost. Honolulu is one such municipality, and so is Montreal.

    So why don’t you tell us why only 7 such systems have been built since the late 1970′s?

    Zwei replies: Study after study has shown that SkyTrain costs more to build, costs more to operate and costs more to maintain than LRT, SkyTrain has never been allowed to compete against LRT and for good reason, it would lose. All SkyTrain’s built to day were either private deals, China, NY, Korea or forced upon the operating authority such as Vancouver and Toronto. LRT was not allowed to compete against SkyTrain in Kuala Lumpor because the operating authority thought it was a monorail. Detroit is the only city that openly bout an early ICTS system, but has never expanded it.

    SkyTrain is not safer, on the contrary more dangerous and not allowed for sale in Europe, under EEC rules.

    SkyTrain is yesterdays technology, dated for today’s transportation needs. Only 7 built in 40 years tells the tale.

    By the way, Honolulu does not have SkyTrain they have another proprietary light-metro and buyers remorse is very high as the system costs are astronomical and SkyTrain is not being built in Montreal, rather a puny EMU service that will again prove costly, being not very well designed.

  17. zweisystem says:

    Jason, I have sent you to spam, because i am not going to allow a debate on a subject which debate has ended decades ago.

    We all know surface transit has accidents, but those accidents in the vast majority are due to bad driving or narcissistic actions of those involved.

    Vancouver’s media do not report deaths on SkyTrain and for good reason, there are a lot.

    So here are the facts. SkyTrain has been made obsolete by LRT, only seven ICTS;ALRT;ALM;ART systems have been sold since the late 1970′s. Not one has ever been allowed to compete against LRT, in fact the Kuala Lumpor ART system was built by mistake as senior politicians wanted a monorail and light rail variants were not allowed to bid. K.L.’s third R/T line was indeed a monorail!

    SkyTrain production will soon be abandoned as no one wants to build with it, with no sales in a decade.

  18. xraydeltaone says:


    What are you going to do to convince decision-makers that you’re right? You seem to have put allot of effort into your website but the SkyTrain is growing instead of shrinking and they keep building more of it.

    Zwei replies: The Rail for the Valley group has put forward a workable plan for rail passenger rail service in the Fraser Valley. Leewood projects (UK) have put a lot of effort into this plan.

    As for politicians, I am afraid to say “follow the money”. Transit is built in Metro Vancouver, not to efficiently and affordably move people, rather it is built the serve the financial needs of political friends and insiders. Effectively, TransLink plays a part of an eunuch and does what it is told to do.

    The question boils down to this do you want to keep building with the obsolete SkyTrain with a 10 to 15 km line every decade or so or for the same money, do you want to build a regional transit system that the taxpayer can afford.

  19. xraydeltaone says:

    And also if accidents are preventable even though the drivers are bad or narcissistic why not avoid those accidents with grade separation?

    Zwei system: It all comes down to cost, with grade separated transit costing 2 to 4 times more than at-grade, subways, at least 10 times more. So lets say you have $2 billion to spend on “rail” transit:
    1) You can build 60km to over 100 km (TramTrain) at grade network.
    2) about 15 for elevated or
    3) 7 km for a subway.

    You get a far larger network with LRT which will attract more motorists from the car, which will reduce the overall accident rate.

  20. xraydeltaone says:

    Maybe you can convince the government to shut down the SkyTrain and build the Zweisystem!

    Zwei replies: Exactly, for that is what the Germans call TramTrain!

  21. xraydeltaone says:

    Yes but here’s the problem: nobody but you and your fellow travellers (works on so many levels) seems to care about the plan. The politicians want to keep building the obsolete SkyTrain as you say. You have pointed out that they will override superior LRT to keep this white elephant from the 1980′s alive.

    Since the SkyTrain is an obvious failure and your plan is unambiguously good, it should be easy for you to convince the politicians to build it. What can you do to convince them that you’re right and they’re wrong?

    If, on the other hand, it’s just a question of money, is there really any point in pursuing the Zweisystem?

    Yet, there’s another angle. Since you have predicted that the SkyTrain train car production is going to shut down anyway, presumably that system will eventually “grind to a halt” as the vehicles wear out or whatever, and the SkyTrain will at some point be decommissioned and torn down. Then they will presumably build the Zweisystem. So presumably all you need to do is wait and let the inevitable course of events happen on its own.

    Incidentally, about when do you think that will happen?

    Zwei replies: What will happen is that gridlock will become endemic and the province will not have the money to build a fancy rail system that will help solve it. The province and TransLink will be forced to look at cheaper rail alternatives such as at-grade LRT.

    Hint: The #1 highway has been shut down completely at least 6 times in the past two weeks, due to accidents. When this becomes daily, people will demand an alternative.

    The other item that may come into play is that Bombardier Inc. (one of the two patent holders of ART) may sell or combine its rail division with Siemens and Siemens will have nothing to do with ART as they have their own propriety VAL system. As it stands, it is illegal to build SkyTrain in Europe because of safety concerns and it will cost a lot of money to rectify and the other problem is that ART is really dated tech and if a merger of some kind happens, Bombardier’s ART may go the way of the Dodo Bird.

    You will still be able to buy cars and parts, but at a much higher cost! Just ask Essen and their Schwebbebahn (monorail) rebuilding.

  22. zweisystem says:

    Thank you xraydeltaonefor good questions and not tirades and accusations.

    There is a lot to transit and over the 30 years I have advocating for better transit, i have kept correspondence with scores of professionals who keep me up to date.

    The one theme those professionals repeat over and over is that the root of our transit ills is SkyTrain and the fascination of light-metro.

    You may not like what i say, but I an repeating what professionals have told me. In a sense, do not shoot the messenger.

  23. Haveacow says:

    Hey guys being nice to Zwei is easy if you understand the path he has taken. Here in Ottawa we had an entrenched Transitway system (Our marketing name for our BRT Busway Network) and its supporters make your Skytrain supporters seem quite tame. Every attempt to propose a rail based transit line (of any technology) was immediately and aggressively discredited officially and unofficially. I was professionally threatened by senior city staff back in the 90′s when I said I would lend by expertise to a group of people developing what eventually became the original O-Train Line in Ottawa.

    To protect us professionally we had to work through the Regional Chair’s Office. Which is the head of the then Ottawa-Carleton Regional Government, which is in charge of O.C Transpo our transit agency. The Regional Level of government became the defacto city government when the Ottawa-Carleton Regional or Upper Tier was amalgamated with the 12 lower tier municipalities (including the old city of Ottawa) into a single tier municipality or just the new City of Ottawa, by the government of Ontario in 2000. The Regional Chair became the new Mayor.

    Anyway, even when the O-train opened officially and was named a success there was and still is, much action by people to spend as much time as possible derailing the whole thing. When a larger LRT system was proposed and the Transitway, which was designed to be convertible to LRT was going to be convertedoperating technology, senior city staff still fought tooth and nail for decade to stop it. People involved with the original North-South LRT Line here in Ottawa were celebrating when it was cancelled after the 2006 civic election by the new mayor and council. Even though it was already under construction, breaking a signed contract with Siemens. Still certain senior staff were celebrating the vote even when the city had to pay $37 Million to Siemens after loosing the court case following the breaking of the LRT signed contract. They proudly commented that the whole project had been designed to fail, a comment that was seconded by groups like Transport Action Canada, CUTA and unofficially, me!

    I have no doubt in my mind, like it or not, their is a minority of people somewhere in the official halls of Translink that, secretly do everything they can to keep Skytrain operating and the system growing regardless of its obvious shortcomings and do whatever they can to keep every other type of transit operating technology away from their Skytrain operations. Mainly because they have everything to loose professionally if Skytrain technology falls out of favor.

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