A Stark Choice

The stark choice for the Fraser Valley.

Does one want to spend $1.6 billion for seven or eight kilometres of a now obsolete light metro metro system, ending in  Fleetwood, with vague promises of future funding to go to Langley or a Vancouver to Chilliwack, via North Delta, Cloverdale, Abbotsford, Sardis and Chilliwack regional rail service?

With endemic gridlock on Highway One, the answer should be a “no brainer” decision for regional politicians.

Evidently it is not.

Patrick Condon is the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments at the University of British Columbia.

Our region is about to squander its last best hope for a sustainable future, by opting for a massively overpriced seven-kilometre extension of the Expo Skytrain line. What’s worse: It’s an overpriced extension to a place most of us have never heard of: Fleetwood, Surrey.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum won the last election, in part, by promising he could stretch the $1.6-billion in secured transit funding for 10 kilometres (of much cheaper to build) surface light rail, for 14 kilometres of much more expensive elevated Skytrain. He was, of course, proven wrong when the real costs came in. TransLink delivered the bad news last month: $1.6-billion would only pay for enough Skytrain to reach Fleetwood, about seven kilometres away – only halfway to Langley City.

Worse still, there is no funding even remotely in sight to extend the line from Fleetwood to Langley, meaning at best it might reach there some time in the late 2030s.

Sadly, the TransLink Mayor’s Council endorsed this misguided plan when Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, himself lusting for a breathtakingly expensive $7-billion Millennium Line extension to the University of British Columbia, backed up Surrey’s mayor in what could only be read as a “one hand washes the other” quid pro quo of support.

We simply cannot squander that much money, missing our chance to take intelligent action to secure a sustainable and affordable future for our region. The infrastructure funds we commit now must lay the spine for that more sustainable future.

Land use and sustainability always – and necessarily – follow our transportation infrastructure choices. In the 19th century, it was the extension of the streetcar and interurban lines that enabled transit-oriented growth. In the 20th century, it was the provincial and federal highway system that enabled explosive and sprawling auto-based growth.

But another two decades of auto-based growth will choke us in congestion and pollution. It is now both our opportunity and our responsibility to lay the spine for a more walkable, transit-based region. Fortunately, we can. And cheaply.

We can reactivate an existing 90-kilometre passenger rail line all the way from Surrey to Chilliwack for less than the cost of the seven-kilometre Fleetwood Express.

How is this possible? By reviving the still-available, provincially owned BC Hydro interurban rail line. This still-operational line connects every urban centre between Surrey and Chilliwack, as well as more than a dozen sites of higher education and a host of jobs centres employing tens of thousands.

And best of all, it was only the “freight use rights” that were sold to Southern Rail and Canadian National when passenger use ceased, while the “master agreement” protected the passenger rights for public use in perpetuity. We could literally have rail passenger service from Surrey to Chilliwack reactivated in months, rather than the many decades our present path requires.

This existing rail line is completely separated from roads, with crossing gates already installed at major intersections. The full cost of improvements, including a dozen stations, a maintenance yard, additional crossing gates and numerous passenger vehicles, would be less than the $1.6-billion already in hand. Best of all, rail companies now manufacture hydrogen-powered, zero-greenhouse gas rail cars that cost only slightly more than diesel-powered cars.

So, what will it be? A 90-kilometre rail service for North Delta, Surrey’s industrial district, Newton, Cloverdale, Langley City and Township, two Kwantlen Polytechnic University campuses, numerous campuses of the University of the Fraser Valley, Trinity Western University, Gloucester, Abbotsford, Huntington, Vedder Crossing, Sardis and Chilliwack for a grand total of $1.6-billion or the seven-kilometre Fleetwood Express, added to the already at-capacity Expo Line.

It’s your choice, B.C.

Professor Patrick M. Condon
University of British Columbia
James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments2357 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC   –   V6T 1Z4


8 Responses to “A Stark Choice”
  1. Haveacow says:

    (Ottawa Update)

    It’s a hot, bright sunny Civic Holiday Monday in Ottawa as I sip my large iced, white mocha at a coffee shop overlooking Tunneys Pasture LRT Station and the Confederation Line consists going through their 12 day final exam/test. This peace brought to me because my kids sre sleeping over at somebody else’s home tonight. If the Confederation Line passes its test,, the construction part of RTG (the Rideau Transit Group) passes the Confederation Line’s “keys” to the City, whom then will pass the “keys” back to the operations group of RTG, who then passes the “keys” over to their operations contractor, Alstom. If all goes well with the 12 day final testing, sometime in the 3rd week of August, a final 28 day period starts where, final works, systems activation and operations prep and final clean up occurs. During this 28 day period officially, the operators of the Confederation Line receive all final operating approvals, licenses and permission to start up for public service. Sometime after September 8, 2019 the line will start for real. Cross your fingers folks!

    The point is that, a new form of operational transit takes time, like an electric LRT Line operating on the busiest part of our beloved former Transitway, a condition that, many at the former Regional (now City) Transit Planning Department would have only allowed to happen, “over their dead bodies”. This was a quote of one planner back in 1994 to me at a meeting for the possibility of a rail transit system operating on a stretch of existing CPR track through Carleton University. This line became the original O – Train line, which opened in 2001.

    Another Regional/City “hack” told me not long after the opening of O-Train in 2001 that, this was a one time experiment and would never be expanded. Sorry wrong again, the line is going to be closed later this year so it can be greatly expanded and is expected to reopen sometime in 2022.

    This same “hack” and a few of his buddies told me again in 2005 that an electric LRT Line would never be allowed to open along the main or busiest portion of the Transitway right of way, even though it was designed to be converted to rail back in the late 70′s and very early 80′s. Well they were tight about the North -South LRT Line, it was cancelled in 2006 and led to years of court battles with Siemens, which Ottawa lost. You can’t get out of a signed contract for free folks!

    However, those same guys are now mostly gone but I ran into a few of them 2 years ago, when I had a series of short contracts with RTG and the city. I reminded them about that, they admitted they were fighting for their jobs because they had noticed back in the 1990′s that the operational costs of our glorious Transitway Network were growing out of control. They knew its time was running out then.

    As I cross my fingers and hope for a September Confederation Line launch, I pass on this bit of knowledge, a good transportation idea like your Rail for the Valley, will never run out of time Professor Condon, whatever form of rail technology it finally ends up being, it will take out the Skytrain eventually. Fight on! It took us from 1993 onwards to get to the point that the Transitway finally has a fully equivalent rail transit partner. 26 years.

  2. Haveacow says:

    Today, August 7, 2019,.I read an article that said Translink has started the bidding process for the new 5 car Skytrain consists, 41 of them, a total of 205 individual cars. The cost is listed as a total of $1.47 Billion. The article in The Daily Hive, lists this as trains and associated infrastructure. The Daily Hive, confirmed what I had thought, that this was part of the second stage of the current 10 year transit procurement plan. Both the plan and the article was very vague about how much of the $1.47 Billion was Skytrain and how much was associated infrastructure. The list of infrastructure projects I remember reading for Stage 2 was very small and were a series of, low impact, relatively simple infrastructure projects. The reason I am asking is that, there is no way given the list of infrastructure projects that I remember, that the combined costs of all these projects should be equal to even half of this total of $1.47 Billion.

    So what percentage of $1.47 Billion is the Skytrain order and what costs are included in these associated infrastructure projects?

    Currently, there are 14, 4 car Skytrain Consists on order (a total of 56 cars), a few of which have already arrived. This order was priced at $210 million or about $3,750,000 per car.

    This leaves a big fuzzy picture, either the infrastructure projects are costing way more than they really should and or, Translink is planning for a big increase in the price of these latest Skytrains because they’re actually going to tender them outside of their normal suppliers, internationally!

    Even if the price per car on this new 205 car order were to increase to $5,000,000, which would be a tragic price increase of 33% over the previous order. This leaves $445 million for the associated infrastructure projects, which is very high, given the list and scope of the projects I saw.

    Does anyone out there have more specific data regarding the details of this order and associated infrastructure project list and its believed cost?

    Zwei replies: Keeping in mind that the Hive is Translink’s mouthpiece, many stories are not accurate.

    Translink is not going to operate 5 car trains because they are too long for the station platforms and would cause problems with loading. Now they did muse a little with SDO or selective door opening, but it is problematic. I would imagine that the stations would prove problematic as well with larger traffic flows.

    Also keep in mind that SkyTrain also includes the Canada Line which is ordering more cars.

    That being said I think TransLink is in a pickle, they have deluded themselves and the politicians that everyone produces SkyTrain cars!

    They did this with the Evergreen Line faux bidding process, where I was told by a chap t Siemens that it would cost about $40 to $50 million to develop a LIM powered car. “You just do not strap a LIM on a bogie and expect it to work” was a comment that he made.

    My guess is, they are secretly upgrading the Expo line to be able to deal with extra traffic as best as they can.

  3. Kennedy says:

    There is no stark choice. Skytrain is the fastest way to Langley and worth every penny. A tram from north delta through a long scenic route in south surrey is slow. No one wants to go to fraser valley.

    Zwei replies: A completely naive statement based on stuff and nonsense.

  4. Haveacow says:

    It seems they’re ready to order 5 car trains, especially if you believe the pictures the article was using. I did find that they are entertaining offers under the RFQ process. So they have started with requests for qualifications from car builders so it appears they are serious about 5 car consists. Remember only the doors of the train have to be on the platform, the rail vehicle ends can hang off the edge all they want.

    The Confederation Line made sure that the minimum length of a station platform was 90 metres expandable to 120 however, some of the surface platforms are already 100 metres long. and some 90 metres long. At Tunneys Pasture where the platform is 92 metres the 97 metre long trains do spil over the edges a bit. As long as the 14 train doors per side fit the platform, everyone is happy.

    Zwei replies: The question is, can they run more trains with the current power supply?

    Using 5-car trains sort of tells me that they are not going to renew the ATC to allow closer headway’s.

    Also, I think TransLink thinks it is going to get another big splash of federal monies because I do not see the funding happening.

  5. Haveacow says:

    Notice the $1.3 Billion section about the Expo and Millennium section, now $1.47 Billion, of the second Stage summary of the 10 year plan

    Phase 2 Summary
    $7.3 billion in transportation investments
    The Phase Two Investment Plan represents the next milestone in delivering the Mayors’ 10-Year Vision for Metro Vancouver transit and transportation.

    Phase 2 Investments
    Major Projects
    Millennium Line Broadway Extension (Estimated cost: $2.83 B*)
    Procurement starts: 2018
    Construction starts: 2020
    Target completion: 2025
    Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT (Estimated cost: $1.65 B*)
    Procurement starts: 2018
    Construction starts: 2020
    Target completion: 2024
    *Reflects full project scope, including funding received through Phase 1

    Expo/Millennium Line Upgrades Program (Estimated cost: $1.3 B)
    203 new SkyTrain cars with more capacity for the Expo and Millenium Lines, including 108 expansion cars and 95 replacement cars
    Station upgrades
    Construction of upgrades to Burrard and Brentwood stations
    Design of future upgrades to stations, including Columbia, Edmonds, and Stadium-Chinatown
    Vehicle storage and maintenance capacity expansion
    Vehicle storage and maintenance capacity expansion

    Rail Operating (Estimated: $495 M)
    Increase Expo and Millennium Line service during rush hours, mid-day, and weekends starting in 2019
    Increase Canada Line service during rush hours, evenings, and weekends starting in 2020
    Operate the Millennium Line Broadway Extension
    Operate the Surrey-Newton-Guildford Light Rail Line

    Future Projects (Estimated: $36 M)
    Project development and early works for the Surrey-Langley Line
    Planning for a potential Burnaby Mountain Gondola
    Planning for rapid transit to UBC Point Grey campus

    Bus Capital (Estimated: $530 M)
    151 new buses, as well as replacement buses for existing fleet
    Transit priority projects and enhanced passenger amenities along bus routes, including new B-Lines
    New bus depot, as well as capacity expansion at existing bus depots

    Bus Operating (Estimated: $360 M)
    Increase bus service by 8% across the region in 2020 and 2021
    Improve service on up to 75 different bus routes that carry over 350,000 passengers across the region every day
    Provide new bus service to the following communities:
    North Vancouver – Harbourside
    Surrey – 68th Avenue Crosstown (Scottsdale to Sullivan), East Fraser Heights
    Vancouver – East Fraser Lands (River District)
    Implement two new B-Lines by 2021:
    Richmond to Expo Line
    Scott Road (120th Street)
    Extend last SeaBus sailing out of Waterfront Station by 10 minutes to meet the last Canada Line train
    Increase HandyDART service by 7% over 2020 and 2021

    It’s also clear that by using the term “estimate”, they can rob the Rail Operations portion or any other operations part of the 10 year plan to pay for the higher than expected costs in the Expo/Millennium Capital portion.

    Zwei replies: Question: how much of this funding is secured?

    Question: Has TransLink adjusted their costs for inflation and recently imposed tariffs?

    Question: Why is TransLink continually begging for funds from the public, if the funding is secure.

    Question: Will chinese rail companies be allowed to bid on cars, if they stole patents from bombardier and SNC?

  6. Haveacow says:

    The following is from the official RFQ/RFP Ariba website, yes its 5 car consists or 4 car consists expandable to 5 car consists, for the new Skytrains

    1.1 Capitalized terms used in this Scope of Work have the meanings ascribed to such terms
    elsewhere in this RFP, including the contract terms contained within the Production and
    Supply Agreement, unless such terms are specifically defined in this Scope of Work or the
    context of their use requires otherwise.
    1.2 TransLink is seeking proposals for the design, production, supply and delivery of;
    1.2.1 A minimum of two-hundred and five (205) Cars to form forty-one (41) Trains
    comprised of a 5-Car consist (may include a number of 4-Car expandable Trains to
    5-Car Trains);
    all as outlined in the Performance Specification, Contract and as more fully described in
    this RFP.
    1.3 TransLink is seeking pricing and related information for the following Optional Vehicles;
    1.3.1 Option year 1 – Up to thirty (30) Cars forming six (6) Trains comprised of a 5-Car
    consist; Option to be exercised by the end of 2021; and Cars estimated to be delivered by end of 2025
    1.3.2 Option year 2 – Up to seventy (70) Cars forming fourteen (14) Trains comprised of
    a 5-Car consist; Option to be exercised by 2024; and Cars estimated to be delivered by 2028
    1.3.3 Option year 3 – Up to one-hundred (100) Cars forming twenty (20) Trains
    comprised of a 5-Car consist Option to be exercised by 2026; and Cars estimated to be delivered by 2032
    1.3.4 Option year 4 – Up to one-hundred (100) Cars forming twenty (20) Trains
    comprised of a 5-Car consist Option to be exercised by 2028; and Cars estimated to be delivered by 2034
    1.3.5 Option year 5 – Up to one-hundred (100) Cars forming twenty (20) Trains
    comprised of a 5-Car consist Option to be exercised by 2030 Cars estimated to be delivered by 2036
    1.4 TransLink requires a proposed schedule for delivery of Cars. The schedule should include
    a proposed date for delivery and Acceptance of all 205 Cars

  7. Haveacow says:

    These are stage 2 projects so all funding has been secured. What still bugs me is how much is going to be spent on those infrastructure projects. Even the Daily Hive pointed out that this portion of the stage 2 funding will only partially pay for a new Skytrain yard and upgrades to the existing one, which is one of the reasons the $3.112 Billion expansion of the Expo Line to Langley (specifically the 7 km extension to Fleetwood) is so expensive.

    I honestly think that Translink thinks that these new trains are going to be much more expensive than previously Bombardier designed cars.

    Skytrain fans, if these new trains are built by someone other than Bombardier and the cost per car is more than 10% higher than earlier designs, you have an obvious sign that this is indeed a proprietary technology. All bids should be within 5% of each other and within 10% of earlier designs. Notice, in the information on the bid at the Ariba website, Translink is placing major emphasis on new bidders to “innovate in their designs” wherever possible. This is government speak for, if you find a way to build and maintain these trains cheaper we will view your bid very favorably! These are all hallmarks of not only Skytrains proprietary nature but a transit operator who has been forced, probably kicking and screaming all the way, to openly and publicly expand the bidding process to outside suppliers.

  8. Haveacow says:

    What is also clear from the proposed delivery schedule is that, Translink is expecting the Mark 1 cars to be fully retired by 2030 to 2032. It’s only after that point that there will be enough new skytrain vehicles to completely replace the existing passenger carrying capacity of the Mark 1 fleet and that all new consists after that are clearly expanded passenger carrying capacity. So the network’s expanded passenger carrying capacity will only start to have an effect around 2030 or later. That means only marginal increases in capacity due to some limited infrastructure upgrades for a decade or more. All the existing Skytrain orders, the 14, 4 car consists (which equals 56 cars) will only just cover the basic operational requirements of the Broadway and Fleetwood expansions.

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