The Sum of Zwei’s Fears – Part 2

A fiasco is brewing  in Surrey, as the cost for LRT construction is now exceeding $165 million/km!

Is it by design, by TransLink, who wish to continue building with SkyTrain?

Is it by devious planning by other City of Surrey, piling on massive infrastructure costs on the light rail project?

Is it nothing more than a provincial make work project?

Is it a “St. Clair” type of transit project where the LRT is a sideshow to a massive road rebuilding scheme, paid for by funding new light rail?
Or, is it just plain incompetence of TransLink?
Take you pick because the Surrey LRT is fast becoming a poster boy for more SkyTrain!
It seems the City of Surrey is loading road projects (Hawthorn Park) and renewing underground utilities on the back of the LRT project.
The following shows the construction costs of various transit systems up to 1987.
I believe that these costs do not include vehicles, but rather are the raw construction costs for track and OHE.
It is not the cost I am looking at rather the ratio of construction costs.
SkyTrain cost 6.5 times more to build than San Diego; 3.2 times more than Portland; 2.65 times more than Nanetes (France); and 2.2 times more to build than Calgary, yet today, in Surrey, SkyTrain is mere 20% more expensive than Surrey’s new LRT, what gives?
Accounting for inflation, the construction cost in 2018 dollars:
  • San Diego – $8.58
  • Portland – $26.96 mil/km
  • Nantes – $21.05
  • Calgary – $25.34 mil/km
  • VAL – $47.37 mil/km
  • SkyTrain – 55.94 mil/km
The scope of the Surrey LRT should be comparable to Nantes at about $21.05 mil./km, plus cars and maintenance facility. The total cost should be around $35 million/km to $45 million/km.
As Light metro uses much more cement and rebar than LRT and it also has a very expensive reaction rail, needed for the LIM’s, for TransLink to say that LRT is about 20% less than Light metro is nothing but pure invention.
I would love to see what Alstom or Siemens would say!
Also please note, LRV’s are cheaper than SkyTrain becuase one needs three SkyTrain cars to match the capacity of a modern tram!
I am also puzzled why only 30 metre long trams are being used as today, trams can be bought a various lengths and capacity can be increased incrementally, as demand grows, by adding more modules in a modular car.
The following gives a primer on modular trams and how a small tram can have extra modules added, thus increasing capacity affordably without buying new cars.
30 metre long trams seem a tad small.
The following gives a good visual of Ottawa’s trams and SkyTrain. You need three Mk.2 SkyTrain cars to match the capacity of one modern tram that will be used in Ottawa.


What is happening in Surrey,  is anybody’s guess, but at $165 mil/km, for a basic tramway is worthy of an investigation.


Vaughn Palmer: Rapid escalation of light rail costs in Surrey are literally taxing

The rapid escalation means surface light rail in Surrey is now costing more to build than the Evergreen SkyTrain extension to the Tri-Cities, completed two years ago for $130 million per kilometre

Vaughn Palmer
September 19, 2018

VICTORIA — The transportation ministry has provided an explanation of sorts for the soaring price tag for light rail in Surrey, now budgeted at more than double the estimated cost per kilometre from just five years ago.

The recent request for qualified bidders on the project includes an estimate of $1.65 billion to construct the 10.5 kilometre-long first phase of an L-shaped line linking the Newton and Guildford town centres to Surrey Central.

As recently as 2013, Surrey sought funding of $1.8 billion to construct the first phase as well as a second 16.5 kilometre-long link to Langley. The then-to-now difference in cost per kilometre: about $65 million versus the current $157 million.

The rapid escalation means surface light rail in Surrey is now costing more to build than the Evergreen SkyTrain extension to the Tri-Cities, completed two years ago for $130 million per kilometre.

Rendering of Light Rail Transit at Newton Station in Surrey. Rendering provided by Light Rail Transit Surrey Newton Guildford. TransLink

Seeking an explanation, I put the question to the provincial transportation ministry and got back a few points via email.

“In order to compare the cost of the Evergreen Line with Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail, both projects should be considered on the same time basis,” it began. “Given current market conditions and cost pressures for commodities and labour, if Evergreen were built today, it would have faced these same considerations.”

Though the exploratory call for bids was issued earlier this month, the actual contract won’t be finalized until the winter of 2019 with the start of construction targeted for 2020.

“If Evergreen construction were to start in 2020, the costs would need to be inflated by seven years. On that basis the SNG LRT project is about 20 per cent less expensive than Evergreen.”

Almost one-quarter of the 11-kilometre Evergreen line was tunnelled. Construction entailed installation of the SkyTrain guideway and more elaborate stations. Shouldn’t street-level light rail be a lot less expensive?

“Surrey light rail has a number of other costs because it is a new, stand-alone at-grade system,” the ministry went on to explain. Those extras include a “full operations, maintenance and storage facility, which can service future extensions to the LRT system.”

The latter includes the still-on-the-drawing board extension to Langley, portrayed on the map that accompanied the request for qualifications. Though the extension is not part of the current procurement, would-be bidders are cautioned that “the project shall not preclude the ability to efficiently and cost effectively integrate operations of the two phases.”

At the current estimated cost per kilometre, with no allowance for inflation, the Langley extension would run to another $2.6 billion.

Other factors cited by the ministry to account for the price differential on Surrey include the acquisition of a fleet of 16 light rail vehicles, each 30 metres long.

Granted the switch to a completely different transit system entails additional costs in terms of purchasing rolling stock and establishing separate operations and maintenance facilities. But that’s one reason why critics argued for sticking with SkyTrain.

Other unique-to-light-rail factors cited by the ministry include:

“Various costs related to the at-grade nature of the system, including significant utility relocation costs (estimated to be in the order of 10 times the utility relocation costs on Evergreen) and significant requirements for traffic management during construction.”

Plus “extensive urban integration elements, including multi-use paths, bike paths, road relocations and landscaping, and related property costs, to support the urban redevelopment and livability objectives of the project.”

I was also advised to take note of the rising cost of acquiring land in Metro Vancouver. But doesn’t one of the supposed savings with light rail arise from the lines and boarding platforms being constructed on existing streets?

In any event, the ministry did not provide cost breakdowns for any of these factors, so it is not possible to gauge to what degree any of them contributed to the overall budget.

Nor does the ministry intend to provide any more detail until the contract award, with final breakdowns to be released only after construction is complete in 2024.

Perhaps a better explanation might be forthcoming during the current civic campaign in Surrey. Back in the summer of 2013, then-city councillor and chair of the transportation committee Tom Gill told the Surrey Now newspaper that light rail could be built at a cost of between $65 million and $85 million. Today, he is running for mayor on a platform touting light rail at twice the price.

Another thing that jumped out from a review of The Vancouver Sun files was a 2011 story where TransLink was claiming it could build light rail through Surrey at a cost of $27 million per kilometre.  Someone, somewhere has some explaining to do on this project.

Meanwhile I would note a telling tweak in the request for qualified bidders on Surrey light rail.

The initial posting on Sept. 5 stated the project would have to be “delivered in a matter consistent with the province’s objectives in the community benefits framework,” the NDP-authored scheme that mandates preferential hiring via selected unions.

A revised posting last week stood down that specific requirement in favour of a more general commitment to apprenticeships, training, local hires and opportunities for Indigenous people and other underrepresented groups.

No explanation for the switch. But perhaps the other partners on the project — the federal government, TransLink and Surrey itself — balked at being coopted into supporting the NDP hiring hall, with its preferential treatment for selected unions.


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