It’s So Simple, The Expo and Millennium Lines Operate Movia Automatic Light Metro Not SkyTrain

Bombardier’s SkyTrain, a rubber tired people mover system.

Originally posted March 19, 2019.

So many politicians and members of the media still keep referring SkyTrain as a transit product. It is not, it is the name of Metro Vancouver’s regional light-metro system which comprises of a conventional railway, the Canada Line and an unconventional, proprietary railway used on the Expo and Millennium Lines,  which is now called Movia Automatic Light Metro. The patents or  the now called MALM system are owned by Bombardier Inc. and SNC Lavalin. Even the CEO of TransLink, Kevin Desmond doesn’t know the difference, which leaves one quite gobsmacked that he has the competence to be CEO of TransLink, especially when we are spending $4.6 billion to build 12.8 km more of it!

The Canada Line is not compatible in operation with the Expo and Millennium Lines and visa versa!

To be blunt; the Canada Line operates conventional electrical multiple unites produced by ROTEM but can also operate comparable EMU’s built by other companies.

The Expo and Millennium Lines operate the unconventional and proprietary Movia Automatic Light Metro, produced by Bombardier Inc. and are not compatible with any other railway except their own family of seven lines.

SkyTrain is a rubber tired airport people mover marketed by Bombardier Inc. and has no relation to the MALM system also marketed by Bombardier Inc.

Bombardier Is Building SkyTrain at LAX…..But, It Ain’t Our SkyTrain!

Los Angeles Airport (LAX)t is building a $5 billion SkyTrain system, which may cause confusion because in Bombardier’s line of transit systems, SkyTrain is a rubber tired people mover system and not the trains used on the Canada, Expo, and/or Millennium lines.

Cries of shock and disbelief!

The name SkyTrain, which was chosen by contest, is the name for the Metro Vancouver regional rail system and not the vehicles.

Bombardier’s proprietary ART/Movia Metro is now the official name of the Expo and Millennium Line’s cars and ROTEM, a subsidiary of Hyundai, supply the electric multiple units (EMU’s) for the Canada Line.

So calling the actual trains SkyTrain is wrong as the SkyTrain regional rail system operates two distinct railways, the conventional Canada Line and the unconventional proprietary ART/Movia lines.

They are not compatible in operation.

I would surmise that Bombardier Inc. liked the name SkyTrain so much that they use it for their airport people mover system, which is far more marketable than their now obsolete ART/Movia metro system of which only seven have been built in the past 40 years!


9 Responses to “It’s So Simple, The Expo and Millennium Lines Operate Movia Automatic Light Metro Not SkyTrain”
  1. Edgar says:

    There is nothing proprietary about MALM. Numerous systems have unique elements (Toronto has a wide gauge), some systems in Japan use unconventual guide rails.

    The reality is that on big orders there are always elements which must be changed for local systems. There is not really such thing as an off the shelf model and if there is it exists in China with the car class system. That being said even the “complex” MALM trains we have in Vancouver are not electrically complicated and a number of companies are capable of building compatible vehicles.

    Zwei replies: Sorry you are wrong. The MALM cars have parts that are protected by patents, owned either by Bombardier Inc. or SNC Lavalin. To replicate the parts will take a great deal of time and money, in order of about $60 million after the cars are produced and safety cased. Now on a big order this can be absorbed by the non compliant manufacturer, if they want. it is becoming clear that Bombardier is in trouble and may cut production of MALM and Alstom do not want any part of it as it is a poorly designed system, where much cheaper alternatives give superior operation.

    As one transit consultant told me, you just do not slap on a pair of LIM’s to a truck and let her go.

    Toronto’s streetcars operate on a Broad gauge of 1,495 mm, versus a standard gauge of 1,435 mm. Subway lines are also broad gauge, unlike SkyTrain cars, they can operate on standard gauge trucks if need be.

    To further illustrate the point many tram manufacturers in Europe build cars that can accept any gauge of truck to operate on metre gauge, standard gauge or unique gauge tramways. The Skoda Innekon cars are a good example.

    The Scarborough line and the the two new LRT (light-metro) lines are also of standard gauge.

    The unconventional guide rails also make the systems proprietary as no other manufacturers have “off the shelf” models.

    Actually, most off the shelf LRT/trams can operate on other LRT/tram lines or even on the main railways if need be.

    As for MALM being proprietary, it is only in the past year that this has become an issue, as BC Transit and Translink have always acknowledged that the now called MALM lines are proprietary. It is the politicians and bureaucracy that are trying to rewrite history to distort the truth about MALM.

  2. Edgar says:

    MALM if that’s what we are really calling that is obviously not going to be in constant production. A assembly line can easily be spin up for a new order as it has been repeatedly in the past. And if Bombardier goes under it won’t be an issue getting the info to find a new builder.

    You’re also referring to it being poorly designed but why? LIM isn’t proprietary, narrow bodies are proprietary, dual power rails aren’t even . . .

    Also I need to question your 60 million dollar figure, not only does it sound completely unrealistic but I also don’t know what calculation you did to get to thag

    Zwei replies: It is obvious that you do not know what you are talking about. Production lines are very expensive affairs and one does not assemble, disassemble and assemble them again.

    MALM uses attractive LIM’s which the UTDC bought the patents from Krauss Maeffi, which developed them. Attractive LIM’s are rarely used because of their nature of having close tolerances.

    The figure of $60 million to develop a new car from design to production came from the Evergreen line, where Bombardier had a very good financial edge because the MK.2 cars were indeed proprietary.

    This why Translink is so touchy about the MALM system being proprietary, because rumour has it that Alstom isn’t even interested in bidding and that Bombardier may not even bid for the order due to severe financial problems. There are several very worried managers in Sapperton, fretting over a bid that no one wants. Internationally, MALM is considered dated, if not obsolete.

  3. Edgar says:

    I guess we will see what happens. We have had no issues getting cars for the past 30 years. I don’t think we should be basing anything off of rumors. There are plenty of companies that could build a compatible vehicle, attractive Lim’s or not. The lines exist now and the demand exists even one order is sufficient.

    With regard to production lines as someone with experience is rail vehicles manufacture, they 100% do get torn down and rebuilt. There are a vast number of different vehicles that need to be assembled and the production line looks different for most if not all. That’s completely fine as usually the manufacturing cycles are several years in length. This is just a reflection of the fact that rail systems are largely not using off the shelf vehicles, largely in some parts of the world like North America for historic reasons. If you look at the largest systems in North America the TTC, NYCT, CTA, T, BART etc. they all use trains which are of different loading gauges, voltages etc. they are not intercompatible. That is ok because the parts which are not intercompatible like electrical equipment etc is all relatively simple comparitively. The more complex systems (largely signalling) are quite similar across systems and the same is true for SkyTrain in Vancouver. (All our lines use inductive loop as opposed to beacons)

    Zwei replies: When the UTDC owned ALRT, they had a production line set up for MK.1’s and after Bombardier acquired the UTDC and rebuilt ALRT and marketed it as ART, they had a dedicated production line and a assembly plant in Vancouver. But, cars could be produced and the UTDC and later Bombasrdier were sole suppliers of vehicles to the Expo and Millennium lines.

    But now, Bombardier is in a financial pickle and it seems Alstom does not want to build cars for an orphaned proprietary railway, which they deem to be greatly inferior (as did Bombardier’s European managers), sourcing new compatible MALM cars may pose a problem and just may cost more than TransLink has budgeted for.

    Here is the problem and it has nothing to do with the electrics and signalling, which are a completely different issue. It is about building light frames and steerable axle trucks and placing the LIM’s. This is where the technical and engineering patents come into play.

    Both Alstom and Siemens, I understand have bodyshells that will be acceptable, but they do not have the frames and trucks, which is costly. So they have to make new steerable axle trucks and a lighter frame of they may cause premature damage to the viaducts and the steerable axle trucks are needed to negotiate tight curvature, which again, if not done right will cause premature wear at curves and the system has enough problems already with the ART cars. Then after they design and produce the trucks, test them, then they have to safety case them. This is expensive and for Alstom, at least, not worth the bother.

  4. Warren Angell says:

    Edgar makes a very good point. Production lines are quickly disassembled in my experience since most transit rail systems use different vehicles in North America. Very few systems are large enough to require a continual production line dedicated to producing vehicles (perhaps New York is the one exception) so typically production lines are actually changed quite frequently in accordance with current orders. If this was not the case manufacturers would need to hold onto a massive amount of real estate to keep fully ready the assembly lines for numerous different vehicles types and systems.

    Zwei replies: Actually they are not and I have been told that it is a costly procedure, with many problems and expense. Also, please do not confuse production lines with assembly plants, which can be shut down or changed as per order.

    The vast majority of light rail vehicles use common parts, unlike our MALM cars which proprietary parts are becoming very expensive.

    The problem is that bombardier may not be in a position to bid on the cars or if they did, not able to complete the contract, with no one else wanting to produce them because they are inferior all the way around. Vancouver is now the only market for these cars, who cares!

  5. Haveacow says:

    No production lines take awhile to retool, anywhere from a few days to weeks depending on the design of the new vehicle however, retooling a line isn’t impossible obviously, but it adds cost to the vehicles’ final price. Many city transit representatives don’t want to pay more than they absolutely have to. This over sensitivity towards price was the reason I once saw Bombardier loose an order because the potential customer believed that an extra $10,000 for a cost saving maintenance technology made the locomotive too expensive. This was for a mainline passenger railway locomotive which was priced at over $3.5 Million per unit. This was a very low price for these locomotives, especially compared to the existing competition’s designs.

    Yes, many rail vehicle products today from most rail car producers, like LRT or Heavy Rail/Metro/Subway, are simply one basic off the shelf product design, with slight production variants for each city. It’s only when a off the shelf design for a certain category of rail vehicle isn’t available, does a special one-off design, begin to be developed.

    Recently most new Bombardier Heavy Rail Vehicles are the same basic design with body size and some internal variations. This is known as the Movia Line of products. Toronto’s Rocket Subway Train and New York’s newest metro models are all the same technology under the widely differing body and interior spaces that the passengers ride in. It’s those outer physical differences that appear to make them different. For example, the Movia Line basic floor frame comes in different lengths and widths but most of the propulsion and communication technology are the same.

    Lately Bombardier even wants common adjustable sized parts for trains of different categories. For example, Bombardier has a universal design of powered train boggie that can be scaled up or down, regardless of the rail vehicle’s size or category. So wether the rail vehicle is a LRV or a freight engine, the same basic design is used in the vehicle’s boggie. Skytrain’s boggies can’t use this standardised design because of its propulsion technology and is made by a separate sub-contractor not by Bombardier directly.

    New York’s Subway system comes with issues because it’s not one system but 3 different systems built by 3 private companies with different sized trains and stations. By the 1940’s the last of those companies went bankrupt and were taken over by the City of New York. The lion’s share of the work on the New York Subway System since then, has been trying to knit this system together with varying degrees of success.

    Having worked for Bombardier and with other transit car builders in the past, I can tell you off the shelf products are the first thing offered to most new customers. The days of every city getting a stand alone vehicle design are over. The only time an “orphan design” is chosen, (Bombardier’s term not mine) is when there is no off the shelf design available or wanted by the customer. However, the customer is made to understand that this approach comes with higher vehicle costs than if a off the shelf design had been chosen.

    The Skytrain is an orphan design because fewer and fewer of the options that make up the Skytran as a whole, options that people in Vancouver would recognize as your Skytrain, are being chosen by other cities. The LIM propulsion system of the Skytrain is a prime example. Bombardier offers it as an option instead of the cheaper standard electric propulsion motors. The lack of sales in many of Skytain’s other special features (other than the Citiflo 650 Automation System which is a big seller) is probably why the Skytrain technology was shoved from its own design category into the Movia set of products last year by Bombardier.

  6. Rico says:

    If we just wait a couple of months we will know if Zwei was right for the first time or not. Personally I predict multiple bidders and a reasonable price but I have been wrong before.

  7. zweisystem says:

    Warren Angell and Edgar have the same IP addresses, thus will no longer be permitted to comment. An d previous comments have identical IP addresses as well.

  8. Ethan D'Angelo says:

    Transit companies do custom builds all the time so it’s pretty clear that procuring vehicles isn’t going to be a real concern, that’s what these companies are in business for. By your current definition numerous successful railways around the world are “proprietary”.

    The trains take 650v and run on LIMs with turnable bogies yes. . . . no special patents are required to build trains to this spec. Dancing around using half truths and supposed rumors to suggest Vancouver’s transit system is doomed is questionable. And with what Alternative? You list the Canada Line in other places, but need I mention that the cars used on the Canada Line are quite literally used on zero other lines around the world? Yes, Rotem makes other similar cars but other manufacturers also make similar cars using Lim’s.

    The most confusing part is how you’re trying to debate whether the system is really called SkyTrain? Or whether it’s allowed to be? Most Linguists would suggest the approach you’re taking is prescriptive and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the majority of those living in the Lower mainland colloquially refer to all automated rail transit as “SkyTrain”, the official name being effectively irrelevant.

  9. zweisystem says:

    Actually, transit companies do not do custom builds all the time, those wishing to purchase transit vehicles have to take what is being offered or pay a huge cost having a vehicle custom built.

    Again, you just cannot strap a LIM on a truck and expect it to go. The present trucks are mechanically steered (one axle steers the other) and with the LIM, a very expensive item. No other company produces them and unless a company builds the truck under license, they must be designed, tested and safety cased. Then one must have a frame designed to accept the truck, not cheap at all.

    The Canada Line car product is used in many cities around the world and i do not know where you get your information from, but they were not a custom design. Translink has gone to a lot of trouble to hide this fact.

    Look, again, ad nauseum, the light metro system is called SkyTrain, it comprises of the unconventional, proprietary MALM system and a conventional railway. SkyTrain is the name of Bombardier’s ruber tired airport people mover system.

    So, what don’t you get?

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