Less Transit For More Money – The Canadain Way

A Paris tram - What Surrey's LRT could have been.

Here we go again.

The combined naivete of regional mayors about regional transportation and the abandonment of their fiduciary duty protecting the taxpayer from ill advised “prestige projects” such as the Broadway subway and the Expo Line extension in Surrey, is just simply breathtaking!
Both the ill conceived Broadway subway and the now equally perverse decision to proceed extending the Expo Line, will suck precious transit monies into two hugely expensive and politically prestigious transit projects, yet not improve regional transit at all. Both projects will not take a car off the road.
It is simply unbelievable that regional mayors could be so collectively ill informed.
Let us not forget the 2015 TransLink plebiscite, which saw 62% of voters reject more funding to TransLink and now in 2019, after large tax increases in many areas in the region, I would think it foolhardy that politicians would come cap in hand for more taxes to pay for their favourite gadgets and gizmos.
Metro mayors have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
Why is Vancouver continuing to build with light-metro and especially with a proprietary light metro, as used on the Expo and Millennium Lines?
Why is TransLink deliberately misinforming the public about light rail, even though it is the most popular rail mode for public transport around the world, used in one form or another in almost 600 cities around the world?
What is SkyTrain and why has it created such a fascination with local politicians?
The following may prove enlightening.
SkyTrain is the name of our regional light-metro system which consists of two very different railways, the Canada Line which is a conventional railway and the proprietary and now called Movia Automatic Light Metro system used on the the Expo and Millennium lines.
The MALM system uses Linear Induction Motors which makes it a proprietary transit system as it is not compatible in operation with any other transit system, save its own family of seven systems.
Automatic train control, is not proprietary but is a signalling issue and driverless trains have been around since 1927 (London’s Post Office Railway). What is now called MALM is not even the first automatic metro as London’s Victoria Line is considered the first automatic metro in the world, opening in the late 1960′s.
Chronology of the Movia Automatic Light Metro:
  1. First called Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS), the automatic proprietary light metro was developed by the Ontario Crown Corporation, the The Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC) in the late 1970′s, using cast off technology from previously failed proprietary transit systems. The LIM’s came from the Krauss Maffei Transurban MAGLEV.  Two systems were built; Detroit as a single track demonstration line and Toronto system, forced upon the TTC by the provincial government. The 1983 IBI and ART Studies commissioned by the Toronto Transit Commission found that ICTS could cost anywhere up to ten (10) times more to build than light rail for about the same capacity. The market for ICTS collapsed overnight!
  1. The UTDC promptly changed the name from ICTS to Advanced Light Rail Transit (ALRT) and sold one system to Vancouver. The name change did not fool anyone, except for the then Social Credit Party and later the NDP. The name was altered slightly to Advanced Light Rapid Transit, which again fooled no one, except in Metro Vancouver an it still seems to fool present politicians.
  2. Lack of sales forced the province of Ontario to sell the UTDC  to Lavalin, which promptly changed the name to Advanced Light Metro (ALM) and just as promptly went bankrupt trying to sell ALM to Bangkok, Thailand. As per the agreement, the patents and assembly plants were returned to the Ontario government (except for the patents filed by Lavalin which were then absorbed by SNC when it became SNC Lavalin), which sold the lot to Bombardier Inc. at a fire sale price.
  3. Bombardier completely rebuilt ALM, using one of their universal Innovia body-shells and renamed the proprietary light metro Advanced Rapid Transit (ART) and sold only four systems. The four, Kuala Lumpor (which has embroiled Bombardier and SNC Lavalin in massive corruption scandal); the New York Port Authority, financed by the Canadian (Liberal) government; Youngin Korea (which is suing Bombardier Inc. because it can only operate one car trains) and Beijing (where the Chinese built one to steal technical patents).
  4. Lack of sales caused Bombardier to fold ART into their line of Innovia proprietary transit systems.
  5. After a decade of no sales, the ART Innovia light metro was folded into the Movia metro range of product in 2018 and was renamed Movia Automatic Light Metro (MALM) with LIM’s a customer added option.

Published 1 day ago

Less transit for more money – it’s the Canadian way.

The opening instalment of what has become a movie franchise debuted in Toronto nearly a decade ago, when a plan to build light rail transit (LRT) in Scarborough was transformed into a shorter, more expensive subway, serving fewer people. Spoiler alert: nothing’s been built, and the bill is still rising.

Audiences drawn to transit tragicomedies will want to catch the sequel, “Skytrain to Nowhere,” set in the Metro Vancouver municipality of Surrey. A sprawling suburban city of more than half-a-million people, it covers about as large an area as Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby combined.

Surrey was designed for the car. Its population density is less than a third of that of Vancouver’s, but it’s growing fast. If most trips continue to be made by car, gridlock will ensue.

In a 2012 report on transit options, a dozen scenarios involving dedicated bus lanes, LRT and SkyTrain were proposed. The best plan – a cost-effective approach for covering ground, moving people and cutting emissions – appeared to be the bus system.

However, the regional mayors’ council for transit in 2014 endorsed an 11-kilometre LRT running south and east from Surrey Centre, where the SkyTrain line from Vancouver ends. At $1.6-billion, it wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was a good second choice. It gained provincial and federal financial backing, and construction was poised to begin.

Re-enter Doug McCallum. First elected Surrey’s mayor in 1995, he won two subsequent elections but lost in 2005. Last fall, he returned to office with a promise to ditch the LRT plan in favour of the worst option – extending a SkyTrain line through Surrey to Langley. Mr. McCallum claimed this could be done for $1.6-billion.

Spoiler alert: Not even close.

This came as a shock to no one, as the transit authority, TransLink, had said the SkyTrain would be almost double the cost. It turns out the existing $1.6-billion will build less than half of the SkyTrain line Mr. McCallum imagined. This truncated version will end in Surrey’s Fleetwood neighbourhood, where only 63,000 people live. The Vancouver region’s mayors, however, voted for this plan in late July. Never mind that the 2012 report said that, built in stages, a single SkyTrain line was the worst of all ideas.

To finish the SkyTrain, a lot more money is needed. The mayors’ council has already started asking the federal and provincial governments for another handout. If Ottawa and Victoria deliver, that would not be good news. SkyTrain will suck resources away from needed improvements to other transit routes within Surrey, covering areas where the majority of the city’s people live.

In this case, a SkyTrain line simply cements suburban sprawl. It’s an expensive half-measure. Among the opponents of the plan is the Surrey Board of Trade. It wants the LRT revived – it could have already been under construction – and calls SkyTrain, an elevated subway, “antiquated, noisy and expensive.”

The fact remains that the best vehicle for a sprawled suburb like Surrey is the bus, with increases to existing service and dedicated bus lanes. But between the LRT and Skytrain, the LRT plan is clearly superior, serving more people at lower cost.

LRT is the backbone of transit in Calgary, another sprawling city. Its CTrain network is about to be nearly doubled in length by the $4.9-billion, 46-kilometre Green Line, expected to begin construction in 2020. Montreal is building a huge new light-rail network. The $6.3-billion REM project will cover 67-kilometres with 26 stations; the first leg will open in 2021, with the entire system finished by 2023.

Extending regional transit deep into Montreal’s suburbs didn’t involve extending the city’s Metro system. That would have been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, and wasn’t justified by density.

Meanwhile in Toronto, transit has once again been upended, this time by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. His government has taken a giant eraser to a carefully drafted plan for a subway Relief Line and replaced it with a napkin sketch.

As for Surrey, it’s looking at the worst of all possible outcomes. Ottawa and Victoria should reject calls for additional funding. Instead, Vancouver-area mayors should take a hard look at their SkyTrain fantasy. This film’s plot doesn’t make sense. The script needs a rewrite.


One Response to “Less Transit For More Money – The Canadain Way”
  1. Haveacow says:

    A couple of days ago I read an article about pre-construction work starting on the Broadway Stage 1 corridor. They mentioned that a by-pass for the Trolley Bus network on Cambie, 12th Ave. & Macdonald Street had been set up. This intrigued me because at most pre-construction work is usually no more than 6-10 % of the project’s budget, anything more and you have a very odd duck project on your hand and or a prime candidate for a large cost overrun. This by-pass is roughly 4.5 km long. That means they were able to construct a new trolley bus line for no more than $150 million. My guess it was considerably less than that!

    The point being that, Translink was able to build a very affordable Trolley Bus line parallel to Broadway very easily for pennies compared to a subway. Therefore spending as little as $500 million, could build multiple parallel Trolley Bus-BRT rights rights of way, each with many more kilometers of service. Keep in mind, Trolley Bus wires are expensive. Properly implemented, each BRT right of way could easily handle the expected passenger levels on Broadway for many, many years. Delaying the need for a very expensive tunnel.

    Consider this as well, two parallel, 3-lane, one-way streets with one just painted Bus Lane each, daily for the last 35 years here in Ottawa, handled over 10,000 passengers per hour per direction, (up to 10,700 passengers/Hour/Direction in the busiest portion of the morning peak hour). This is just a painted bus lane, not a true, physically segregated, section of Bus Rapid Transit right of way. Only now is the Albert & Slater Street Corridor being replaced by a tunnel 1 block north, under Queen Street. That’s 185-200 buses per hour per direction or over 46 regular and express bus routes in each direction, each peak period Monday through Friday. This corridor handles 235,000 passengers a day! Officially, the corridor handles 180 buses per hour (O.C. Transpo estimates), which is an estimate that assumes a few too many things. When you actually physically count the number of buses each day over a period of a week, which I routinely did, the actual bus numbers can routine be 5-10% higher

    Broadway is just not that busy. Translink proved it can very cheaply build bus and BRT rights of way that can easily handle the expected passenger levels on Broadway. Compared to the huge amount per km ($488 Million per kilometer) , your Skytrain tunnel is costing, simple, robust BRT rights of way are a bargain. Translink just seems a little too interested in building tunnels at the expense of its entire network.

    One other thing, before everyone flames me saying that the Broadway Tunnel Report said that a BRT right of way wouldn’t move as many passengers as a Skytrain line, look at the absolutely feeble, BRT right of way Translink used as a comparison to a Skytrain line, in those reports. You will see why Skytrain won. Translink has a nasty habit of not using anywhere near the best or most up to date practices and designs for competing operating technology when comparing them to the capabilities of the Skytrain.

    The LRT comparison was as equally feeble. Especially when comparing passenger capacity, design and operational practices. They didn’t even put the LRT in a tunnel as a valid point of comparison to a Skytrain operating in a tunnel. Guess what, a surface LRT Line operating through signalled intersections was slower than a Skytrain line operating in a tunnel, image that!

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