OK Mr. Horgan and Translink, Why not TramTrain?

In Germany, TramTrain operates on mainline railways with mixed passenger and freight service, with little problem.


It has now been 10 years since Rail for the Valley commissioned the Leewood Study on reestablishing a passenger rail service from Vancouver to Chilliwack and all the public got was invented excuses from all levels of government.

Light rail doesn’t work; no one will take it, too circuitous a route; etc., were the excuses of TransLink’s gold plated bureaucracy, most politicians and armchair experts.

Yet, TramTrain has become a powerful tool in affordably bringing rail transit to areas otherwise undeserved by public transport.

What is TramTrain?

TramTrain is part of the light rail family that modern streetcars have the ability to operate as a streetcar or tram on-street track;  as light rail transit on a reserved or dedicated rights-of-way; and on mainline railways.

First used in Karlsrhue, Germany, since 1992, TramTrain, due to its low cost, has become an essential tool in providing the all important “seamless journey” that has proven to attract the motorist from the car.

Consider the following:

  • Translink is spending $4.6 billion to extend the skyTrain light-metro 12.8 km.
  • The French city of Caen just opened a 16 km tramway for $373 million.
  • The region coulld spend under one billion to provide a 130 km.,  hourly Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain service, which would connect Vancouver directly to Cloverdale, Langley, Abbotsford, Sardis and Chilliwack.
To put this another way, the region could spend under $1.5 billion to build both LRT and a TramTrain that would provide a direct UBC  to Chilliwack service!
Sadly, affordable transit in not in the NDP’s, TransLink’s and the regional mayors lexicon.

The UK is on the verge of a radical tram-train revolution

The UK’s first hybrid tram-train has been operating for a year. Now Glasgow, Manchester and areas in Wales are looking to build their own versions


South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive


One piece of track part of the way between Meadowhall South, in Sheffield, and Rotherham Central is unique. As a tram makes the journey, it slides onto the special section of track that connects it to the main rail network. There, it switches from driver controls to rail signalling, acting not like a tram but a train.

This fusion of light and heavy rail infrastructure is the UK’s first tram-train – and if South Yorkshire’s trial continues to be as popular in the second year as the first, we could see more hybrid services across the country.

Trams are ideal for inner-city public transport: they are above ground for easy access, have clear routes that can’t be diverted like a bus, and most are electric powered for no emissions. But they aren’t great for linking together our cities, which are further apart and tend to be connected by higher speed rail networks.

To get the best of both worlds, you have to cram them together into a hybrid known as the tram-train, a vehicle that can run on tram networks as well as standard heavy rail, despite their different power, communications, signalling and safety regulations. “The benefit is that if you already have a good tram network in your city and a relatively unbusy mainline railway network around the city, you can provide direct services from the suburbs to the city centre without building too much infrastructure,” says Taku Fujiyama, a lecturer at University College London’s faculty of engineering science.

The tram-train trundling between Rochester and Sheffield city centre is the first of its kind in the UK, but the idea has long been used elsewhere, originating in the German city of Karlsruhe in 1992. (The UK does have trams that run on former train lines, but in those cases no standard train services operate as well, so they can continue to behave like trams throughout their journey.)

Britain’s first tram-train started operating on October 2018 in South Yorkshire after a six year delay and quadrupling of costs to £75 million – largely down to unrealistic costings and more work required than expected, according to the National Audit Office – but now the first half of a two-year trial is complete.

For the rest of the story please click here.



7 Responses to “OK Mr. Horgan and Translink, Why not TramTrain?”
  1. Haveacow says:

    You should have printed the whole article, this particular Tram-Train article was extremely informative. It shows some the reality and nuance required for people to truly understand this unique form of rail transit.

    Zwei replies: I did add links two times in the article.

  2. Haveacow says:

    I wanted to show you this earlier but I forgot the last time we were discussing Tram-Trains, so this time I included this article about Chemnitz Germany new Tram-Train Line. It’s very interesting because they did the opposite of Karlsruhe and brought the main-line passenger trains on to the tram/Light Rail Transit network. This has a lot of relevance to North American cities, where there is more of a likelihood that, there will be a lot of maineline railway lines leading to the creation of a new but smaller network of highly trafficked central area, LRT Lines (or any important specfic geographic area for that matter).


  3. fredinno says:

    Yes, Tramtrain is not a bad technology. But as always, the devil is in the details… Translink already made a rebuttal to the slow LRT-style Interurban revival idea- so perhaps a TramTrain would involve removing stations to make it operate fast on-ground? Considering the lack of suitable corridors to go slow on (at least ones that make logical sense), it would pretty much be commuter rail using light rail stock at that point, not Tramtrain.


    Also this is a problem:
    ” BC Hydro also granted CPR a statutory right-of-way to use this section of the corridor in perpetuity, but put agreements in place to retain *partial* running rights for passenger service, which were renewed in 2009. Operation of passenger service on this section would require an agreement with CPR. ”

    All of TransLink’s analyses of using railway ROW assume the railway companies don’t play ball. Which is consistent with their history.

    Zwei replies: TransLink rebuttal is full of holes, based on home grown man of straw arguments.

    TramTrain is nothing more than a light rail vehicle that can operate on mainline railway tracks and would be considered a regional railway and not a commuter railway (which has limited service.

    The master agreement pertaining to the CPR section purchased from BC Hydro stipulates that the corridor can allow up to 33% wheelage for passenger railways with the CPR paying for all infrastructure upgrades. Oh by the way, TramTrains can travel at a 100 kph, while the MALM light metro maximum speed is about 80 kph. Translink’s speed argument is based on bureaucratic ignorance.

  4. fredinno says:

    Commuter Railways are synonymous with Regional Railways in N. America, and I am using them in that context.

    Regional Railways need large stop spacing. Since the devil is in the details, giving people a concrete regional rail plan (rather than LRT) is critical (and something I would be interested in). There is no study you have that does that. Higher maximum speed does not matter if you have a stop every km.

    Interesting. Where did you get the information about the agreement with BC Hydro?

    None of your cited studies also go over 20 minutes frequency, which amounts to less than even WCE peak hour pphpd.

  5. zweisystem says:

    The Agreement comes from former Langley mayor Rick Green. I have seen it.

  6. fredinno says:

    Can you show it? Also, the rebuttal study seems to have been a response to Rick Green. So it’s basically their word against yours at this point.

    Anyways, let’s entertain the idea. The SFU Study (https://cb8de5fc-a-90652bf5-s-sites.googlegroups.com/a/nathanp.org/document-archive/Reports/FVLR_Alternative_to_Gateway.pdf?attachauth=ANoY7cqmxadzkEOYE8jlyRWNuTfQubRTxuRexjv-vDpC7hCN4OwQLv41JShqru8E9dMFFOd9Hub7Rtc4L7517t4gdp3uUkLBDypdTkjAn2k4wEqK0RoK-DPww_X82YPNSobA0_YQ413MHalK3NnwRVSEf3VayWnSvr1BKgb37mPUIHGu1In628zu1xOn6_I0iXh9LPpXN-UznmK_8tgnws-YohwooWQ6I_w9-mdDzpI1AsJO1wVXmrbcgjq8ELTts3HoNzxyOYf_&attredirects=0) says 20 minutes frequency. Considering the size of these trains (~82-85m Flexity Link trams), you get a maximum pphpd that’s not only less than Skytrain, but less than the WCE, and Broadway BRT and Bus+B-Line options! (~1611pphpd maximum for the interurban).


    This is why you need your own tracks, to get frequency down to minimum below 5-10 minutes. That, as acknowledged in the SFU study, would send the cost close to $2B.

  7. zweisystem says:

    Your ignorance of transit almost matches Translink. First, studies from SFU tend to be tainted due to a large influence of Bombardier and SNC Lavalin (oh those donations). it is obvious that you are a troll and i would suggest actually reading about light rail or tram train because your lack of knowledge on the subject is astounding. Read a book on the subject, then read a study.

    What is the ridership? Why spend $2 billion to Langley, when one can build a $1.5 billion rail service to Chilliwack, providing more transit to more people.

    And yes, SFU wiil support SkyTrain until TransLink builds that bloody gondola which will just add to operating costs.

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