Subway Costs – Is History Repeating Itself In Vancouver?

Again, words from a professional in the Canadian transit and transportation industry and it is a must read. Not all is what it seems, financially.

Haveacow is a professional and uses the avatar because Canada is a small market and most transit schemes are political in nature and politicians can never be wrong and having a professional telling a politician is wrong may lead to “black balling” on projects.

I have been very concerned with subway costs as a German transportation professional told me some years ago, that in the 1960’s and 70’s, the German government offered sweet subsidies to transit operators to build subways, but offered no money for extra operational and maintenance costs. As the subways aged, the operational and maintenance costs became onerous and the rest of the transit system was cannibalized to funds to keep the subway in operation. Several operators went bankrupt, others sacrificed their more productive tram lines to keep the politically prestigious subways in operation.

Will trolleybus operation in Vancouver be sacrificed to keep the politically prestigious subway in operation?

Is history repeating itself in Vancouver?

Graph prepared by Metrolinx to inform the debate on choice of modes

Two things, the graph your using from Metrolinx is actually for a full scale Metro/Subway not a Light Metro. I have no doubt however that the Skytran under Broadway would definitely fit in the middle between the Subway and elevated LRT costs. In fact, based on the raw capital costs of the Broadway Line’s first stage, it is probably a little closer to the Subway costs than the elevated LRT costs.

Second point, one of Zwei’s long term points is that, any new Skytrain line project or existing Skytrain line extension project, must be funded to a certain percentage by local Translink funding and there are serious doubts that Translink can fund more than one major project at the same time. Though even I doubted Zwei was 100% right on this issue, it was actually confirmed to me yesterday.

Yesterday, after a meeting here in Ottawa with my current major client, I ran into a very interesting ex-Translink Senior Policy Analyst and we struck up a fascinating conversation. During that conversation, which was mainly about escalating construction and risk management costs in all types of infrastructure projects (not just rapid transit related ones), he unprompted brought up the fact that, unless truly massive financial support is brought in by both the Province of B.C. and the Federal Government, there is no way that stage 2 of the Broadway Line and any other rapid transit project can occur at the same time because of the lack of local Translink funding. He seriously doubts that both B.C. and the Fed’s have both the political desire and financial capacity to fund any one rapid transit project of that size (current estimates are between $3.9 and $4.3 Billion) to almost 90% of the total cost.

He also doubts anything more than 11% – 12% local funding is possible if the Arbutus to UBC Skytrain extension is done at the same time as the extension of the Expo line to Langley. The federal government usually insists on atleast 20% – 33% local funding, unless the province is willing to pay more, like here in Ontario.

As long as Broadway extension to UBC is in play, Translink’s financial hands are tied. There is just not enough local funding unless many long term infrastructure fixes and upgrades to both bus infrastructure and existing Expo and Millennium Lines are either abandoned or put off for another decade or two. I asked about Canada Line upgrades or extensions, “not in this decade, try sometime in the 2030′s”, was his answer. The only answer is to change Translink’s current funding model and get a lot more money locally, to which he stated with current tax payer attitudes, has a,”snow ball’s chance in hell” of actually happening.

Later, Mr. Cow added:

The moral of the story is that tunnels cost a lot. As long as the people of the lower mainland of B.C. want tunnels under Broadway all the way to UBC, something financially has to give. Temporally drop the line extension from Arbutus to UBC and many other things become possible.

I recently got piece of information from Freedom of Information Request I did for my current major client. This was part of an internal Metrolinx memo compiled from information gathered by many of the national and international companies bidding on rapid transit projects in on Ontario, Quebec and B.C. This memo showed tunneling costs in Canada are increasing in about 4.78% to 4.98% per year, based on the current national basic inflation rate of 2.75%.

That means based on current estimates, the second stage of the Millennium Line on Broadway will be increasing between $181.6 Million to $201 Million a year, every year beyond 2022 (The end point of guaranteed costs from the last estimate ). So final costs will have to be confirmed by bidding on Stage 2 by 2022 or face a minimum of $182 Million per year, total cost increase to the UBC Skytrain extension. The current estimate is between $3.8 – $4.2 Billion.

These Skytrain estimates don’t include vehicle costs, or a new and desperately needed maintenance and storage yard.

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