A Letter To BC’s Auditor General John Doyle

Long time light rail advocate, Malcolm Johnston, has sent a letter to John Doyle, BC’s Auditor General regarding the recent Evergreen Line audit.

To the point, if LRT vehicles have higher passenger capacities than Skytrain cars; are cheaper to supply than Skytrain cars and LRT can be built on much cheaper rights-of-ways and operate at comparable headways, how then can SkyTrain be the best option based on providing more capacity at a similar than LRT?

Of course the answer is “Skytrain can’t” and as Mr. Johnston points out “only seven SkyTrain type systems have been sold in 33 years, compared to over 160 new LRT lines built during the same period.“, demonstrates that transit planners have rejected SkyTrain almost completely.

Maybe because modern LRT can provide higher capacities than Skytrain at a cheaper cost.

The Auditor General of British Columbia, John Doyle, dear sir,


The just released Audit of the Evergreen Line contains a factual error that SkyTrain and not light rail was the best option because of its greater capacity at similar costai??i??.ai??? Today, modern LRT has proven to have a somewhat higher capacity than SkyTrain and to date not one of the seven SkyTrain type systems built around the world has yet to obtain the capacity that modern LRT has obtained in revenue service.

Capacity is a function of headway” and given equal Skytrain or light rail vehicle capacity, operating at same headway’s, would give comparable capacities, but because LRT is cheaper to build, LRT would be able to provide the same capacity as Skytrain, at a much cheaper cost.

One modern light rail vehicle has a maximum capacity of about 250 persons (all seats occupied and standees @ 4 persons per metre sq.) and costs in the range of $4 million to $5 million per unit.

One Mk. 1 Skytrain car has a capacity of 75 persons and had a cost of about $2.5 million a car. One Mk.2 Skytrain car has a capacity of 110 persons and costs just over $3 million per car. Please note, that Skytrain cars operate in married pairs thus the cost per unit must be doubled when compared with a light rail vehicle.

The Canada Line is not Skytrain and the Canada Line metro cars are not compatible with Skytrain operation and thus are not included.

To come near to matching the capacity of a light rail vehicle, at least two Mk. 2 cars SkyTrain cars would be required, in the end, costing more than one modern LRV!

As modern LRT can obtain the same headway’s than Skytrain on a far cheaper rights-of-way and using less cars than SkyTrain is is a matter of logic that modern LRT can obtain the same capacity as Skytrain, but at a far cheaper cost!

Skytrain was first marketed in the late 1970′s, only seven type systems have been built, during the same period, over 160 new light rail lines have been built and a further 36 are under construction or are obtaining final approval. Strange then, if SkyTrain can provide a superior performance than LRT, that it has done so poorly on the international market.

In 2008, responding to a letter from a Victoria (BC) transit group, American transit expert Gerald fox, gave a candid view of the Evergreen Line’s business case, summing up stating:


It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayersai??i?? interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.

It is my belief, that the Auditor General and the Auditor General Department have been mislead with erroneous claims about Skytrain and light rail and if an independent audit of the Evergreen Line were to be undertaken, these erroneous claims would be exposed.

Malcolm Johnston

The following is the full text of the Gerald Fox letter:


From: A North-American Rail Expert

Subject: Comments on the Evergreen Line ai???Business Caseai???

Date: February 6, 2008 12:15:22 PM PST (CA)


The Evergreen Line Report made me curious as to how TransLink could justify continuing to expand SkyTrain, when the rest of the world is building LRT. So I went back and read the alleged ai???Business Caseai??? (BC) report in a little more detail. I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too. Specifically:

Capacity. A combination of train size and headway. For instance, TriMetai??i??s new ai???Type 4ai??? Low floor LRVs, arriving later this year, have a rated capacity of 232 per car, or 464 for a 2- car train. (Of course one must also be sure to use the same standee density when comparing car capacity. I donai??i??t know if that was done here). In Portland we operate a frequency of 3 minutes downtown in the peak hour, giving a one way peak hour capacity of 9,280. By next year we will have two routes through downtown, which will eventually load both ways, giving a theoretical peak hour rail capacity of 37,000 into or out of downtown. Of course we also run a lot of buses.

The new Seattle LRT system which opens next year, is designed for 4-car trains, and thus have a peak hour capacity of 18,560. (but doesnai??i??t need this yet, and so shares the tunnel with buses). The Business Case analysis assumes a capacity of 4,080 for LRT, on the Evergreen Line which it states is not enough, and compares it to SkyTrain capacity of 10400.!

Speed. The analysis states the maximum LRT speed is 60 kph. (which would be correct for the street sections) But most LRVs are actually designed for 90 kph. On the Evergreen Line, LRT could operate at up to 90 where conditions permit, such as in the tunnels, and on protected ROW. Most LRT systems pre-empt most intersections, and so experience little delay at grade crossings. (Our policy is that the trains stop only at stations, and seldom experience traffic delays. It seems to work fine, and has little effect on traffic.) There is another element of speed, which is station access time. At-grade stations have less access time. This was overlooked in the analysis.

Also, on the NW alignment, the SkyTrain proposal uses a different, faster, less-costly alignment to LRT proposal. And has 8 rather than 12 stations. If LRT was compared on the alignment now proposed for SkyTrain, it would go faster, and cost less than the Business Case report states!

Cost. Here again, there seems to be some hidden biases. As mentioned above, on the NW Corridor, LRT is costed on a different alignment, with more stations. The cost difference between LRT and SkyTrain presented in the Business Case report is therefore misleading. If they were compared on identical alignments, with the same number of stations, and designed to optimize each mode, the cost advantage of LRT would be far greater. I also suspect that the basic LRT design has been rendered more costly by requirements for tunnels and general design that would not be found on more cost-sensitive LRT projects.

Then there are the car costs. Last time I looked, the cost per unit of capacity was far higher for SkyTrain. Also,it takes about 2 SkyTrain cars to match the capacity of one LRV. And the grade-separated SkyTrain stations are far most costly and complex than LRT stations. Comparing 8 SkyTrain stations with 12 LRT stations also helps blur the distinction.

Ridership. Is a function of many factors. The Business Case report would have you believe that type of rail mode alone, makes a difference (It does in the bus vs rail comparison, according to the latest US federal guidelines). But, on the Evergreen Line, I doubt it. What makes a difference is speed, frequency (but not so much when headways get to 5 minutes), station spacing and amenity etc. Since the speed, frequency and capacity assumptions used in the Business Case are clearly inaccurate, the ridership estimates cannot be correct either. There would be some advantage if SkyTrain could avoid a transfer. If the connecting system has capacity for the extra trains. But the case is way overstated.

And nowhere is it addressed whether the Evergreen Line, at the extremity of the system, has the demand for so much capacity and, if it does, what that would mean on the rest of the system if feeds into?

Innuendos about safety, and traffic impacts, seem to be a big issue for SkyTrain proponents, but are solved by the numerous systems that operate new LRT systems (i.e., they canai??i??t be as bad as the SkyTrain folk would like you to believe).

Iai??i??ve no desire to get drawn into the Vancouver transit wars, and, anyway, most of the rest of the world has moved on. To be fair, there are clear advantages in keeping with one kind of rail technology, and in through-routing service at Lougheed. But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.

It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analysed honestly, and the taxpayersai??i?? interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.


But the BIG DEAL for Victoria is: If the Business Case analysis were corrected to fix at least some of the errors outlined above, the COST INCREASE from using SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line will be comparable to the TOTAL COST of a modest starter line in Victoria. This needs to come to the attention of the Province. Victoria really does deserve better. Please share these thoughts as you feel appropriate.


3 Responses to “A Letter To BC’s Auditor General John Doyle”
  1. From the LRRPro blog says:

    From an overseas transit expert, taken from the LRRPro blog.

    Two embarrassing factual errors (mistakes or lies) in one sentence.

    As anyone who’s not dyslexic can find out in just a few minutes.

    Wow. Corporate communications spokesdroids in action.

    1. Greater capacity:



    “4.9.5 Operating Capacity
    The system will be capable of delivering a peak hour capacity of 10,400
    passengers in 2021.”

    Calgary C-train has a capacity of 12,000 *seats* phpd *today*. Which can
    easily be upgraded to 15,000 *seats* phpd by additional rolling stock.
    Capacity including standees is in excess of 30,000 pphpd.

    Try to match that capacity with any system that requires grade-free
    stations (with stairwells, escalators, etc.) and you will see that
    the stations are *the* major chokepoint of such systems. As can be seen
    from the requirement for expensive reconstruction of certain stations
    at Vancouver. Low-floor light rail rolling stock allows for side
    platforms at level with sidewalks etc., so there is *no* such

    2. Similar cost:



    “Estimated Cost: $1.4 billion”

    for a line of 11km in length. That’s $127 mio per km.

    Calgary’s South Line extension to 210 Avenue is projected at $180 mio
    for 3.5 km. That’s $51 mio per km. Which I would still consider as
    outrageously expensive, but it’s still just a fraction of ART.

    Sincerely, Wolfgang

  2. eric chris says:

    John Doyle is a great guy and a straight shooter. How he missed the mark on this one is a mystery.

    Skytrain has been sold over and over again for its speed. Fine, sky train speed is more than offset by the long time that it takes to catch a bus or walk to the distantly spaced sky train stations.

    The number of trains is directly proportional to how fast the trains are. That is, if you can double the speed of the trains, you can cut the required trains in one-half.

    Unfortunately, to get people to the sky trains in time, the buses have to be sped up to match the sky train frequency and “double the buses” are required to increase the bus frequency from the normal 20 minute frequency to the typical 10 minute frequency for buses transferring passengers to sky train. These buses are being made to operate on a rapid frequency – well in excess of the transit demand – at a huge cost. Gulp.

    This cost is never added to the business case for sky train and blows the business case for sky train to pieces. The bottom line, regardless of how TransLink hides this cost, TransLink is always begging for money to run the buses under the guise that the poor transit users can’t be kept waiting – even though transit riders in the rest of Canada accept the 20 minute to 30 minute wait for the bus and don’t expect bus service every two to 10 minutes.

    In contrast, trams operating at one-half the speed of sky trains also require buses operating at a slower frequency to give the buses time to fill with passengers – to reduce the number of buses required. Still, the overall travel time is about the same for the tram as for the sky train because the trip to the closely spaced tram stops is fast.

    For the Evergreen Line mostly traveling in open fields, the sky train option is merely to keep all the people, who built their careers on sky train, employed. How the swindlers at TransLink have managed to make fools of the taxpayers here for so long is embarrassing and baffling.


    Zweisystem replies: It is my belief is that the AG just checked TransLink’s numbers without doing any research and if you use TransLink’s numbers, golly gee whiz, SkyTrain is better than LRT. In the past, the AG’s department were never allocated the money to do a forensic audit of SkyTrain. In fact there has never been an independent audit of Translink and is probably why TransLink is sinking like the Titanic.

  3. I. K. Brunel says:

    I am constantly amazed by the silliness of officials regarding Vancouver’s SkyTrain light metro.

    With the just released report, British Columbia’s Auditor General is deliberately deceiving the public with his Evergreen Line opinion by rubber stamping TransLink’s wishes. Doesn’t the man and his office do any research at all?

    There is a very good reason why the supertram has made Skytrain a historical footnote, it is a superior transit mode. In the bare knuckle world of transit planning and fiance the supertram has made gadgetbahnnen mini-metros a poor choice simply because the supertrams superior operation, capacity, combined with much cheaper construction options.

    The foolishness that passes for transit planning in your part of the world smells of a colonial lack of self esteem, leading to building grandiose metro systems for the sake of looking ‘world class’. In cruder parlance, it seems metro Vancouver suffers from ‘penis envy’ or ‘short man’s disease’.

    Every time I hear or read about a project claiming to be world class, conveys to me that the project is grossly over built for what good it will do.

    I do recommend that BC’s Auditor General, contact the UK’s National Audit Office, which has has greater experience with transit and transit projects, as it stands, he is far out of his league.