Light Rail Is Not A Panacea

In Canada transit authorities, unlike their European counterparts, tend not to do maintenance until it is absolutely necessary to do so. This means customer affecting break downs do occur and when they do, the transit customer is ill served.

Older trams need a robust maintenance routine, to prevent breakdowns and I would wager that the delays on Calgary’s C-Train is more of a management problem, rather than a tram problem.

The issue of cars running red lights and crashing into trams has a simple solution; any driver who runs a red light and crashes into a tram, will have his or hers license suspended for one year. Red lights means stop and even our Premier in BC has difficulty with this simple rule of the road. Imagine the carnage on our roads if everyone thought stopping at red lights was optional?

Cars running red lights and causing accidents is not a light rail problem (LRT is a victim) it is a driving problem and it is high time the politicians stop catering to bad drivers.

For the subway lobby, if Calgary’s LRT had to be built in a subway, there would not have been any rail transit at all in the city. Added engineering comes at a cost; a smaller transit line. The more one spends on a transit line here, means someone will not get improved transit there.

The subway lobby in Vancouver are hopping that the Metro region will pay for Vancouver’s subway and if Metro mayors sleep through that, they should be treated as electoral lepers.

If car drivers insist in running red lights, unhappy consequences happen.

“Growing number of delays on Calgary’s LRT system leave C-Train passengers steamed

Ai??By Michael Platt ,Calgary Sun First posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An electric rail system full of steamed passengers.

Itai??i??s hardly surprising when delays are a daily occurrence aboard a cityai??i??s commuter rail system, and being late or stranded is the rule rather than the exception.

ai???Easily itai??i??s the worst part of my day,ai??? said Justine Thurlow, one of 259,000 passengers who rely on Calgaryai??i??s C-Train each day ai??i?? though ai???relyai??? is increasingly a misnomer aboard the aging LRT fleet.

In the past month, starting on October 20th, Calgary Transit has officially reported 57 delays affecting the cityai??i??s 53-km (32.9 mile) long Light Rail Transit system, ranging from breakdowns to medical emergencies.

That includes at least a dozen major delays, many forcing the complete closure of LRT lines and the use of shuttle buses to ferry passengers around the mishap.

As well, the long list of stalls and slowdowns, tweeted by @calgarytransit, include 24 delays directly attributed to mechanical breakdowns.

Those train-stalling snafus have ranged from C-Train doors jamming open to track switches freezing shut or failing ai??i?? and occasionally, entire trains breaking down mid-transit.

And then thereai??i??s bad luck, including medical issues with passengers and cars stalling on tracks ai??i?? all of it adding up to trains running behind.

ai???None of that surprises me a bit,ai??? said Thurlow, who rides from Anderson Station to downtown and back every day.

For people in a rush, meaning all commuters, frequent foul-ups lead to missed meetings, irritated bosses and frustration.

Even short delays cause misery down the line.

ai???The worst part is when trains are delayed, they get even more crowded ai??i?? itai??i??s bad, and itai??i??s getting to the point where you canai??i??t even move anymore, and people still shove their way on,ai??? said Thurlow.

It seems little has improved on the LRT system since October 2011, when the Sun last added up the number of breakdowns aboard the C-Train system, and found near-daily trouble.

Then, it was 18 serious setbacks over 30 working days ai??i?? and in 2013, it seems the word ai???delayai??? is even more common, as transit officials issue public statements apologizing and explaining the stalls.

ai???The older trains are obviously at the end of their lives, and weai??i??re looking forward to retiring them once the new trains start to arrive,ai??? said Calgary Transit spokesman Ron Collins.

And thatai??i??s long been the issue for Calgaryai??i??s transit system, where a population explosion has meant maintaining 40-year-old equipment that should have been put to pasture long ago.

Said to be ai???three to four timesai??? more reliable than the crusty old U2 cars, 60 new S200 light rail vehicles worth $3.2 million each are expected to start arriving in Calgary by 2015.

But that will only solve the mechanical headache: the above ground, road-level design of Calgaryai??i??s LRT system means some delays will continue, regardless of the equipment used.

At the start of November, police and transit officials were forced to issue a plea for motorists to stop crashing into C-Trains, after three such collisions in a matter of days.

ai???Itai??i??s a stupid thing to do ai??i?? red light, donai??i??t go through it ai??i?? itai??i??s as simple as that,ai??? police traffic Sgt. Colin Foster told the Sun.

And in each case, it meant long delays along the entire LRT system, where the loss of a single track spells disaster.

At least the antique train system has high-tech social media to keep passengers informed ai??i?? and the moment a delay is noted, explanations are sent out via social media.

Of course, that gives upset riders a chance to answer back, and terse and sarcastic tweets have actually become a source of entertainment for regular riders.

ai???Gotta love waiting 40 minutes outside in -30 weather. @calgarytransit I canai??i??t feel my legs,ai??? tweeted @albertagirl03, during one of Tuesdayai??i??s many delays.

All fun aside, regular train rider Heather Laird says @calgarytransit has become her warning beacon for when to ride and when to drive to her job downtown.

ai???I keep a close eye on Twitter in the morning ai??i?? delays have become so common weai??i??re used to it,ai??? said Laird.

ai???Iai??i??d like to say itai??i??s a reliable service, but itai??i??s


5 Responses to “Light Rail Is Not A Panacea”
  1. Keith says:

    I beg to differ on your comment about management and preventive maintenance . . . if you understand anything about mechanical and electrical parts you would know that 40 year old equipment is subject to random breakdown. (I am an Electrical Engineering Tech with several courses and experience with regards to PM). And while you can routinely replace parts as part of a scheduled PM program you cannot predict a sort of symbiotic or synergistic effect of one old part on another. The real management problem was that planners put of yesterdays problem of buying replacement vehicles which on average have a 30 year life span and are running them an extra 10 years. We have similar issues in Toronto. Finally, you can’t put off the inevitable. Toronto has regular issues with paper fires . . . people are careless about what they do with theirs. People have become self-centred and don’t think about treating public property as though they owned it for themselves. We are the real owners and need to take some “pride” of ownership in what we use.

    As for the other problem increasingly in our society we are more a more self-centred and distracted people. And personal car drivers do run the risk of conflicting their priorities with those of LRT. There are no excuses.

    Calgary and Edmonton LRT have proven themselves over the years as a viable and good technology. Having used Calgary LRT on a number of occasions I always appreciated their foresight. It has so much potential with the new low floor Bombardier technology in the lower mainland. Forget vancouver let them have their “subway” but build the LRT and transit ways elsewhere . .. they will wake up fast.

  2. Keith says:

    I neglected to mention that Toronto has been working around the delays also by adding more crossover tracks so that trains can be short turned or possibly bypass problem sections. That is something that has been added to planning in LRT. But these solutions cost millions after the fact.

  3. Haveacow says:

    The double crossovers turnouts unfortunately have a serious flaw, they break and or wear out very quickly at the crossover and are the most expensive type of turnouts to maintain. I prefer single crossovers turnouts staggered one in front of the other. It takes more room but costs less than half compared to a double crossover.

  4. zweisystem says:

    I have checked with some tram specialists overseas and yes older equipment is prone to breakdown, but European transit operations tend to maintain their equipment to a higher degree (failure is not an option) than on this side of the pond. Parts that are prone to breakdown are replaced fleet wide.

    It is all about money and how much one wants to spend to maintain ones transit fleet, whether it be SkyTrain, trams or buses.

  5. Haveacow says:

    It doesn’t matter how old it is, its how many times the flanges (wheels and wheel rims) run over them. Each time a wheel goes over the rail joint deforms and or starts to crack a tiny bit. In fact, the European rails break earlier than ours because they are made with softer weaker steel. This is one of the real reasons European LRV designers produced vehicles especially for the north american market. Every time one of their vehicles comes over all the running gear usually has to be changed to handle our heavier and much harder steel rails. Its not just our more robust crash worthiness standards which produce heavier vehicles. This has developed historically because north american track has to handle a much harder climate and a higher temperature differential than standard european track. Believe me the europeans are becoming just as lax as us when track maintenance issues come up. The higher standards they have are driving their railways into a sea of red ink. The difference is now they are finally beginning to admit that they have been cutting back on maintenance for at least the last decade and a half simply because, europeans have had enough of their high taxes and governments cannot afford to keep massively subsidizing non performing rail lines anymore.