Future Funding Implications Threaten Regional Transit Projects.

With the clear evidence that transportation authorities around the world opting to build with LRT, one must pose, again, the question;

Why does TransLink inflate the cost of light Rail?

The simple answer is, “they don’t want to build with light rail, so they inflate the cost to match that of SkyTrain.

From the Briefing Paper of UK Light Rail Schemes.

Acknowledgements Richard Higgins, Arup Steve Warrener and Daniel Satizabal, Transport for Greater Manchester Roger Harrison, Keolis Rory O’Connor, Rail Procurement Agency, Dublin Alastair Richards, AMRT Consult Limited Mat Taylor and Rachel Timmis, Franklin and Andrews

A clarification: the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), used existing German Stadtbahn cars or light rail vehicles, and was built on existing but abandoned, largely elevated rights-of-ways, in the Docklands area of East London, thus the initial cost is much cheaper, compared to later extensions. The Docklands was going to be a true LRT system, like Vancouver, but then Prime Minister Margret Thatcher wanted a “automatic” (like the French VAL and Canadian ALRT) system strictly for political prestige.

Later extensions were considerably more expensive to build.

As we can see the average cost of light rail schemes was £12.2 or CAD $20.65 million. Yet TransLink’s cost for LRT in Surrey was exceeding $165 million per km.! TransLink’s cost estimate for light rail was eight times more than the average cost of light rail in the UK!

Our friend in Ottawa, Mr. Haveacow is now warning that the old formula at the federal infrastructure bank will give only 33% of the cost in future funding, with the province anteing 33%, leaving the municipal taxpayer left funding the the rest!

Regardless who wins everybody was warned this year the federal infrastructure bank will only give a maximum funding of 33% of the project cost unless, it’s a federal agency project (like VIA Rail) or its a infrastructure project that is so expensive the municipality in question can’t realistically support its 33% portion. Even Toronto will have to pay 20% on the next 2 subway projects (total cost $16.5 Billion), that’s $3.3 Billion for just the residents of the City of Toronto on the combined cost of the next 2 subway lines. For one of the projects, York Region will have to put in $530 Million or 20% as well.

The point is that, Translink is going to have to put in much more than they have been recently. The mayor’s council is going to have to find more for Stage 3 of their 10 year transit plan. The 20% they paid for Stage 2 will grow to a minimum of 33% in stage 3, regardless who wins the federal election. The 40% (Federal), 40% (Provincial) and 20% (TransLink) era for rapid transit capital funding in Vancouver is over. This means overly expensive SkyTrain projects will have to be rethought.

Even American Transportation Engineer, Gerald Fox warned us back in 2008 with his critique of the Evergreen line;

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.

A regular corespondent (a professional) told me in earnest about the funding issues;

It is a house of cards. Madmen are in charge.

To be blunt, the region cannot continue to build with light metro and TransLink has zero credibility planning for cheaper options like LRT. The regional politicians have been groomed by TransLink like a con artist grooming a mark. It now seems the Metro mayors are heading directly into a financial iceberg, by continuing to plan for the much more costly light metro, instead of much cheaper and more effective LRT.

Building SkyTrain today, is leaving a debt bomb for tomorrow.



11 Responses to “Future Funding Implications Threaten Regional Transit Projects.”
  1. Haveacow says:

    To be fair, the Trafford Park LRT line for Manchester, opening in 2020, will cost $584.9 Million (CAD) for 5.5 km, or $106.3 Million per km.

    However, the high cost of this line which is due to having to construct the entire right of way from scratch, is why they are now considering Tram-Train Lines. Nearly all of the planned future Tram-Train lines already exist in the form of extremely underused freight and passenger railway lines. These lines will have to severely upgraded but will require very few km’s of new track and new legal right of way, thus realizing a huge capital cost savings.

  2. Haveacow says:

    Literally as I was typing the original message, the province of Ontario announced that Toronto will have its portion of both the subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line or Line 2 to Sheppard Ave East (the 3 station option not the single station line extension), the Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge Line or Line 1 and the new Ontario Line paid for so Toronto can put its remaining funds into system and vehicle maintenance. The provincial government will also not upload the running the subway like Doug Ford’s Conservatives originally wanted to. In exchange for all of this Toronto mustaccept the Ontario Line instead of the previously planned Downtown Relief Subway Line.

    So even the Conservatives here realized that Toronto can’t afford its 20% portion of 2 major subway extensions and a planned 3rd rapid transit line. It suggested that Toronto also start the planning of the western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT Line to Pearson Airport.

  3. PopKid says:

    The expo line was cheap to build and was built on the former interurban right of way and inside the CP rail tunnel. The DLR in London is just like the expo line. It is just an elevated automated LRT.

    Zwei replies: Haven’t a clue. The Expo Line was very expensive and all we got was a truncated transit line. Not very impressive when compared to the original LRT plans. The Docklands was indeed an automatic railway, but used conventional light rail cars and had “train captains” to ensure safe operation. The first dockland line was built on abandoned railway viaducts and rights of ways, and was very cheap, when compared to other light metros being built.

  4. Haveacow says:

    The Expo Line was built on the same legal right of way as the interurban line but not on the same rail right of way as the interurban. The Expo Line was mostly built on an above grade, concrete guide way not the original Interurban track embankment. That saved 0 money and introduced huge upkeep costs that the interurban never had to worry about. The Skytrain wasn’t cheap at all to build. Most of Expo Line was a completely new build.

    The original DLR segment was built right on the raised railway embankment of the former London Quayside railways. All they had to do was upgrade the existing physical structures, rebuild a few miles of right of way and rehabilitate the rest of it. Older track was either removed and new track reinstalled or original track was upgraded to higher more modern standards. Then they built new stations as well as new electrical infrastructure. This saved a lot of money building this way.

  5. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr. Zwei’s comparison of British LRT costs with Translink’s costs for LRT in Vancouver does not help understand the most important issues about transit in Vancouver.

    Most of the British costs he cites are from the last century.

    And, any comparison of this kind should consider the ridership that is being provided by the build costs in question.

    What happens to the British – Translink comparison when we account for inflation, and then add the following thought experiment: The British LRT riderships are provided at the per km cost of their most recent line, and Translink’s ridership is provided by LRT at $165 million/km?

    If we add Mr Cow’s data for Manchester’s Tafford Park and only consider the most recent lines in cities listed, there are 7 British LRT systems (Sheffield, Midlands, Docklands, Croydon, Tyne and Wear, Nottingham and Manchester).

    When inflation from the build year to 2018 in each of these cities is accounted for (using http://inflation.iamkate.com/), and the resulting costs in current British pounds are converted to Canadian dollars (at 1.7), the average build cost of the 7 British systems is $35.3 million/km.

    Translink’s $165 mil/km is 4.7 times that number, not Mr Zwei’s “eight times the average cost of light rail in the UK”.

    But far more importantly, how many passengers are being serviced for the British average build cost of $35.3 million/km?

    According to Wikipedia, the annual ridership of most of these British systems is dwarfed by Skytrain’s 160 million. Only Docklands come close with 122 million riders. The Docklands’ LRT’ is actually more like a light metro than it is LRT, and its inflation-adjusted build cost was $206.5 million/km.

    Midland’s annual ridership is only 5.9 million (assuming this is “West Midlands”), Sheffield’s 11.9 million, Croydon’s 28.7 million (if this is the South London tram with that name), Tyne and Wear’s 36.4 million, Nottingham’s 18.8 million, and Manchester’s 43.7 million.

    A simple if crude metric of the cost to provide transit service is build cost/km for each annual passenger.

    (Here let’s ignore other aspects of transit service, like fare levels, public subsidies, trip length, travel speed, service frequency, safety and other issues.)

    When the above average build cost/km of the 7 systems in Britain is divided by their 38.2 million average annual ridership, the resulting number is $1.48.

    For our thought experiment where Skytrain is replaced by LRT, we similarly divide Translink’s $165 million/km build cost for LRT by Skytrain’s annual ridership of 160 million.

    The resulting number is $1.03 – considerably lower than the British build cost/km per annual passenger of $1.48.

    So when both inflation and ridership are considered, Mr Zweis’s “inflated” $165 mil/km cost to build LRT is less than the British LRTs that he cites.

    This thought experiment may not be very realistic, but I think it exposes a mistaken emphasis by Mr Zwei on harping about Translink.

    Zwei replies: You are like the rest of the SkyTrain crowd, see no LRT, speak no LRT, hear no LRT. Yet, no one builds with SkyTrain. You guys never, ever deal with that singular fact.

    Remember, SkyTrain numbers are boarding’s, no linked trips, in the UK they actually count people or customers, as well over 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus. i would say that Translink has always inflated ridership figures by 10% to 15% because of course SkyTrain is built for political reasons and not transportation reasons. Internationally, this fact is well understood.

  6. Bill Burgess says:

    Oops, the average British build cost/km divided by average annual ridership is $0.92 not $1.48. So it is marginally lower rather than higher than the thought experiment’s number of $1.03 for Translink rail services.

  7. Haveacow says:

    First, British cities have a patchwork of operating schemes that make comparisons to our large single operator transit networks here in North America, difficult. Manchester for example, has many operators that each individually operate part of the bus system (individual Line packages or groups of bus lines), the LRT System, many regional rail line operators (broken up into line packages all operated by different companies) and individual intercity rail line operators. All have very limited transfer facilities between the different operators and modes. They do have a common ticketing scheme. Keep in mind as well that, many of the British cities you mentioned have considerable commuter rail and intercity rail services which function as commuter rail.This draws passengers away from the LRT and bus systems.

    Manchester also has a system of expressways which would put many North American cities to shame. These highways have transit operators which offer express buses that “steal” transit passengers from the many local bus operators LRT, commuter trains and intercity railways. Their passenger numbers are significant, unfortunately they are not included in the area’s transit passengers totals. This happens because the private companies that provide them are not part of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive Operators Agreement.

    Manchester’s LRT ridership seems low also because it’s LRT ridership only, boardings not complete linked trips. Transfers from many other modes are not considered a trip but a fraction of one . The current Manchester Area transit network, does not have a common consistent network wide criteria for passenger information gathered from each individual operator.

    Manchester Metrolink, the LRT operator, recievies its subsidy from the government on a line by line basis not a network basis. This means that, they have to cover a much higher percentage of their operating costs from fares. So peak period train frequency is limited to 6 minutes per line. Where lines meet and travel in common routes the frequency is much higher, but the existing lower frequency on branches of the LRT network, reigns supreme. Due to financial reality, off-peak service frequency drops significantly to roughly 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the line and day. They simply can’t afford to operate the same way we do.

    The operator pays for the vehicles and trains from individual vehifle subsidy and fares, not general transit operating subsidies like here. Therefore only minimum numbers of buses and trains are ordered, nothing waisted. This means frequency will suffer, even if there is sufficient numbers of passengers for more vehicles. They have to apply for an individual subsidy or pay with their own cash from fares. Once they apply for a vehivle purchasing subsidy, the Federal Government then has to create an individual Act of Parliament releasing the subsidy to the operator. There must be a vote on it in Parliament, It can take years. The advantage, transit costs are kept low for the taxpayer. All this makes their operating conditions very different and unfair to compare just using raw numbers.

    A more accurate comparison between the Skytrain and British LRT would be to compare passenger/hour of transit service per cost/km (with older costs adjusted for inflation) for each system. The data is available from the yearly report of the Manchester Transportation Executive and the Canadian Urban Transit Association (which is available for a small membership fee)

    I have learned over the years, to take great care with British transit numbers. Their system of seperate operators for various bus routes (usually, although not always neighborhood based operating contracts or packages), LRT operators, different railway operators and the differing methods and definitions make comparisons to ours passenger numbers extremely problematic.

    For example, the LRT operator in Manchester, Metrolink, for some strange reason don’t count transfers from buses as complete fares if they dont use the bus-train transfer hubs, built by Metrolink and the bus operators..

    What’s really confusing is the Commuter Rail Network. Many of the area rail operators will count rail passengers on regional trains as transit customers, these are trains which generally stay in the Greater Manchester Area and function like the Vancouver’s West Coast Express. However, the many intercity trains like, the numerous Manchester to Liverpool Semi-Express and intercity linehaul locals (both cities are very close together in Canadian distances), get a majority of their passengers from commuters traveling inside the Greater Manchester or inside Greater Liverpool’s catchment area only but are counted as national intercity passengers not transit passengers. This is not a small number of passengers either, over 15 million rides per year by intercity train passengers traveling inside Greater Manchester were not included in area transit passenger totals, when I looked at the figures for 2014-2016.

  8. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr Zwei, I did not even mention Skytrain; my though experiment was about ***LRT*** in Vancouver. You frequently assure us that LRT can match or exceed Skytrain’s pphpd so you should have no objection to this substitution.

    Translink is far from unique within North America in reporting ridership in terms of boardings. But it has also reported ‘journey’ ridership for a long time. The latter is pretty consistently about 60% of the boarding ridership (see https://www.translink.ca/Plans-and-Projects/Accountability-Centre/Ridership.aspx).

    Let’s assume you are right that British LRT ridership is expressed in journeys. If we use the ‘journey’ rather than ‘boarding’ ridership for Vancouver, the build cost/km to provide its 96 million annual rider ‘journeys’ is $1.72/journey.

    That is 1.7 times the British LRT rate. Not your “eight times”.

    Mr Cow, your points about the difficulty making such comparisons are exactly why I objected to Mr. Zwei’s so-obviously flawed claim that it is “eight times” cheaper to build LRT in Britain than Translink’s “inflated” estimate for LRT in Vancouver. (But I am not sure how your suggested metric of “passenger/hour of transit service per cost/km” addresses the issue of capacity. Can you explain this?)

    My point is that we should attack Translink for its actual sins, not the imaginary/exaggerated sins that are the too-frequent subject of this blog. They just get in the way of any serious challenge to the transit powers that be.

    And Translink may be part of the problem, but it is not the ***key*** problem in achieving better transit in Vancouver.

    Zwei replies: I’m afraid it is. TransLink had a fiduciary duty to build the best transit for the route the transit is to be operated on. They have failed that and continue to promote half truths, deception and deceit with their transit planning. Just today, I am told that by building the subway, will further cause businesses to flee Vancouver, as well as those not fortunate enough to earn over $140,000.00 a year, the base income to rent a condo in the new towers. I am sorry, the TransLink has not calculated and released the operating costs for the subway and the extension in Surrey. Also, SkyTrain hides costs to make the mini-metro look good. The failure of any meaningful input has now condemned the regional taxpayer to new onerous tax hikes.

  9. Haveacow says:

    Transit Passenger-km per hour of transit service. A measure of how many passengers every operational hour of transit ( train or bus) has vs the Transit-km per operational hour, or how much service you are actually supplying to the public. This final measure, will give you a ratio of how heavily any vehicle or train is acgualy being used. This ratio can then be applied on a per vehicle, per line or over the whole network. The cost per km part is assumed inside many of the measures and I probably shouldn’t have put in, sorry to confuse. I was in the middle of a very short coffee break at the time and had very little time to fully explain. These types of measures aren’t generally used publicly because the final answer is an odd number that requires further math to make it palatable to the public.

    The problem is the Skytrain, it’s bizarre combination of component technologies make it expensive and uncommon. The North American transit industry likes commonality, unlike Asia’s, Latin America’s and sometime Europe’s. Due to extremely conservative attitudes towards trandit in North America, operators prefer very cheap predictable and easily copied technologies that reduce overall costs. This is why new technologies take a long time to take root here in North America, no one wants to be the Guinea pig that has to deal with expensive and possibly fatally flawed new tech.

    The failed hydrid bus craze comes to mind. Bus technology that was supposed to be cheaper, easier to implement and deploy as well as on top of it all, good for the environment. It is quietly and quickly being replaced with fully electric buses. Which have had very very big development problems of their own to deal with. Although it’s true that a hybrid bus might have some limited environmental advantages, if used in the right way. It has clearly failed as a cheaper alternative to diesel buses and maintenance issues continuously illustrate how difficult they are to operate and deploy in the community.

    Europe’s huge numbers of tram, tram-train and light rail transit lines provide an economy of scale and a good manufacturing base, which allows LRT operational technology, to fit well into the North American operating environment. Where Skytrain doesn’t fit well and has seen very few sales because of this. Cheaper off the shelf technologies give potential oprators fewer question marks around potential trouble spots. Simple, very cheap electric motors don’t require a 4th rail (The induction rail), the Linear Induction Motors need, just to operate.

    For example, Vancouver’s Skytrain Network doesn’t need LIM propulsion and has never needed it. Standard electric motors would be fine that is why Bombardier offers the Movia Automated Light Metro (The marketing name for Skytrain) with standard electric motors first and then offers LIM propulsion as an option for more hilly operating environments. Your expensive above grade concrete track viaducts that are the hallmark of the Skytrain Network, eliminated the need for the superior hill climbing ability of LIM propulsion in the first place as well as all the extra track infrastructure that this propulsion system needs with it.

    If your old enough you will understand this reference, It’s 1986 and you guys are the only family in the neighborhood that has a “Beta” VCR when everyone else has a VHS VCR. Its time to switch to VHS before they stop making cheap “Beta” tapes. The difference here is that, you will save a lot more money in the long run switching to an LRT type operation, away from Skytrain type operations. Unlike Video Tapes, Light Rail Transit systems are still going to be used in the future due to its superior scalability and far greater routing adaptability, compared to Bombardier’s very limited, Movia Automated Light Metro line of vehicles.

  10. Bill Burgess says:

    Further evidence below that Mr Zwei’s complaint that Translink greatly exaggerates the cost of building LRT is …

    … greatly exaggerated!

    I cite it not to defend Translink, but against Mr Zwei’s claims that LRT is available at such dramatically less cost than Skytrain that only lies and corruption have prevented Vancouver from adopting LRT.

    An article from _Railway Age_ reports project cost numbers for the eighteen LRT lines that are in development or construction in North America in 2019 (see https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/light-rail/big-year-ahead-for-north-american-lrt/ ).

    There are 12 for whom both project cost and distance are reported: Hamilton B, Las Vegas, Minneapolis Blue, Minneapolis SW, Ottawa Confederation East, Ottawa Trillium Airport, Phoenix West, South Central, Sacramento Riverfront, Seattle Lynnwood Link, Seattle Federal and Seattle Lynnwood Extension.

    The project costs of these twelve average US$154 million/mile, which converts to US$ 248 million/km and Cdn$ 327 million/km.

    So Translink’s estimated Cdn$ 165 million/km for LRT is *half* that of twelve LRT lines that are actually being built.

    Comparisons like this invariably include a lot of “apples to oranges” because of the differences in such projects. But of the 12 projects, only two have costs/km less than Translink’s $165 million: Ottawa’s Trillium Airport Branch, and the Sacramento Riverfront Street Car.

    The latter’s ridership is projected to be only 5,800/day (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacramento_Streetcar).
    A better comparison when considering ridership for Translink’s LRT number – which is presumably based on the Surrey LRT proposal – might be Seattle’s Lynnwood Link, with a projected ridership of 50,000 per day according to Railway Age.

    But its cost per kilometer is Cdn$ 489 million.

    It is now a few years ago, but the Evergreen Skytrain extension cost $1.43 million (https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/evergreen-line-late-but-under-budget-says-province), or $132 mil/km.

    Zwei replies: Seattle’s so called LRT is in reality a light-metro, with 90% of its route grade separated either in tunnel or on viaduct. The light metro uses light rail vehicles, which in theory can operate on lesser rights-of-ways. The problem in Seattle is two fold.
    1) Because of the very strong monorail lobby (akin to our SkyTrain lobby) meant to sell the idea of light rail, they had to make it light metro. in fact most light rail lines in the USA boarders on light-metro due to the American penchant for subways.
    2) The reality of huger construction costs is now going to limit the expansion of the light metro, thus the much needed network will probably not be completed.

    I remind you, Caen built 16 km of tramway/LRT for $373 million.

  11. Haveacow says:

    I read the article and many of its Ottawa numbers are way out of date. Plus, there are also costs in American LRT, Light Metro and Metro projects that aren’t included in Canadian projects because they are considered operational costs not project related capital costs (apples to oranges comparisons).

    Not all LRT projects infrastructure is the same, Ottawa and Seattle LRT stations are much larger than say Hamilton’s planned stations or Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Green Line expansion stations. Many projects include other things such as Maintenance Facilities, Light Rail Vehicles and other infrastructure costs.

    For example, $355 Million of the $4.6 Billion Stage 2 LRT project in Ottawa is sidewalks, roadway curbs, both drainage and sanitary sewers, water lines, gas lines and bike and walking paths within 100 metres of the project but not connected to the LRT project. Needed yes, but already funded City of Ottawa projects atteched to the LRT program budget so a blanket construction permit and construction insurance savings could be realized.

    I have project data on the actual per km cost of just LRT right of way costs from CUTA if you guys are willing to wait a day or two?

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