TransLink Doubles Down on Rapid Transit

TransLink, is the study of dichotomy.

While the rest of the world has deemed light metro (including our SkyTrain light-metro system) obsolete because of cost and functionality, TransLink happily spends massive amounts of money planning and building more.

Hint: Only seven of the now called proprietary Movia Automatic Light Metro system (as used on the Expo and Millennium Lines) have been built in over fourty years and only three are seriously used for urban transport.

In the rest of the world, planners utilizing existing railway lines to affordably extend urban transport to areas otherwise too far away to service by building new railway lines.

The former BC Electric Interurban once traveled from Vancouver to Chilliwack and with current tracks still in use, the line can once again operate a passenger rail service at a starting cost of $800 million for a basic hourly service.

While TransLink is spending $4.6 billion to extend the MALM lines a mere 12.8 km, $800 million can provide 100 km of route, servicing sixteen communities and fourteen post secondary institutions. A 20 minute service would cost around $1.5 billion, still one third the cost of 12.8 km of
“rapid transit”.

TransLink claims they have studied the line, but so has the Rail for the Valley Group. Rail for the Valley engaged Leewood Projects (UK) to do a study of the old interurban route and found that such a service was viable.

Hint: The Leewood Study makes a mockery of TransLink’s studies.

The Leewood Study was done by a rail specialist and was vetted by engineers who did work in Canada and even has passed muster with Transport Canada.

TransLink’s studies are done by career bureaucrats wanting to continue their six figure annual salaries by pleasing politicians, who in turn want to please their political supporters.

Hint: Just look what happened to two of TransLink’s best planners, Tamin Raad and Brian Mills, who opined that there wasn’t the ridership on Broadway to justify a subway – they got fired within two weeks!

TransLink’s ossified planning is done strictly to please regional mayors and politicians in Victoria and has nothing to do with providing an affordable and user friendly regional transit service. Photo-ops and self congratulatory news releases are the order of the day.

Hint: Zwie has been told that TransLink’s great fear is that the Valley rail project will attract far more new customers to transit than TransLink’s and the Mayor’s council on Transit’s $4.6 billion, 12.8 km light metro extensions.

The paper pusher’s at TransLink know damn well that “rapid transit” cannot be affordably built in Surrey, nor in a subway under Broadway, but the CEO of TransLink does not have the moral fortitude to say so, as earning a very generous six figured salary is far more important.

As TransLink doubles down on “rapid transit” it maybe sowing the seeds of its own demise.


The real costs for "rapid transit" (subways and light-metro) are far higher than TransLink or the regional mayor's are telling the public and for good reason, because if the public knew the real cost of "rapid transit" they would revolt.


Interurban passenger rail not a solution, says TransLink

Sandor Gyarmati/ Delta OptimistJuly 2, 2020
interurban passenger rail

TransLink is throwing cold water on the proposal that would see interurban passenger rail on a 99-kilometre corridor that would run from the Pattullo Bridge to Chilliwack.
Photograph By Pixabay

Interurban passenger rail service is not rapid transit and is not the project the region needs today.

That’s according to TransLink, responding to former Delta councillor and Langley mayor Rick Green’s recent critical comments on the direction of the transit authority and Mayors’ Council.

In a letter to the current Delta council, Green poked holes in TransLink’s plan to move forward with a SkyTrain extension into Surrey, noting it’s not too late to go back to the original light rapid transit project.

Green, representing the South Fraser Community Rail Society, said it’s long past time the TransLink board of directors rethink and review their decisions and planning related to both SkyTrain, light rapid transit and the interurban south of the Fraser proposal.

His group is advocating interurban passenger rail by re-activating an old interurban line, a 99-kilometre corridor that would run all the way from the Pattullo Bridge to Chilliwack.

The proposed system would use hydrogen rail, a propulsion system that has a fuel cell device, converting the chemical energy contained within the hydrogen in order to generate electricity.

Ladner resident and former premier Bill Vander Zalm is also a member of the society and has been critical of the scrapping of a pervious light rail plan in favour of the SkyTrain extension.

In a previous interview, Vander Zalm noted that when the track rights were sold during his time in government, the freight rights were sold, the province ensured the right to have passenger service was reserved for the line.

However, TransLink in response is pointing to a “facts sheet” which outlines why the interurban rail idea wouldn’t work, stating the interurban corridor has been studied as a potential route for passenger rail service twice in the past ten years – first with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation’s strategic review of transit in the Fraser Valley in 2010 and then with TransLink’s Surrey Rapid Transit Study in 2012.

The results led to the interurban passenger service not being included on the list of regional priorities.

“However, our plans for the region identify the need to connect Surrey Centre and Langley with reliable, high capacity, high frequency transit. The Interurban community rail proposal is a different kind of project and meets a different set of goals and is not a comparable option to SkyTrain along Fraser Highway. TransLink is committed to exploring future options with municipalities and other partners,” TransLink states.

interurban rail

The South Fraser Community Rail Society said TransLink found it necessary to launch an attack on the interurban proposal by pulling out outdated and flawed reports

TransLink also notes, among other things, interurban passenger rail would provide less than 20 per cent of the capacity as SkyTrain, it does not connect key regional destinations like Surrey Central, thus reducing its potential ridership, and it would provide much slower travel times and much less frequency than rapid transit, and therefore attract much lower ridership than faster, more direct rapid transit along Fraser Highway.

The transit authority also notes Southern Railway holds the right-of-way for 85 per cent of the rail route, while CP holds the rights for 15 per cent, which means TransLink would have to negotiate with rail companies at a cost for any use of the line for passenger service.

TransLink also notes freight traffic is expected to increase and it will further increase once port expansion at Roberts Bank will be complete.

TransLink adds any viable passenger rail service would require the construction of at least one additional track at its expense

“There is no agreement allowing the provincial government passenger rail service rights for the entire line – this is simply false. Commercial agreements for passenger rail service would need to be negotiated and obtaining rights would come at a cost. A great deal of costly infrastructure would be required to run bi-directional service – much more than claimed by Interurban supporters. Higher capital costs and lower ridership would mean that the cost per ride would be 10 times higher than SkyTrain,” TransLink told the Optimist in a statement.

TransLink also noted switching Surrey Langley SkyTrain out for Interurban passenger rail will delay any rapid transit investment south of the Fraser for years at minimum.

“This project is not a part of the RTS or the Mayors’ Council’s 10-Year Vision, nor does it fit with the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy. A new investment plan and significant research would be required to conduct an independent study on the feasibility and business of this project. Pushing interurban as an alternative to SkyTrain, risks our ability to provide rapid transit for south of the Fraser. The argument that the Surrey Langley SkyTrain should not be built because it does not get to Langley fails to accept the fact that all of the existing SkyTrain lines have been built in phases.”

The South Fraser Community Rail Society has accused TransLink of flawed reports, assumptions, conclusions and misrepresentations.

The interurban corridor is not owned by CP Rail or Southern Rail, the group states, noting they only own the freight rights with significant restrictions, and that the corridor is owned by the people of B.C.

Passenger and freight service on the line legally must be shared equally, so if double tracking is required, CP Rail is legally bound to do so at their expense, the group contends.

“This is a positive community initiative which has unfortunately turned into a public fight against irresponsible governance by TransLink Staff over the past year. Our SFCR Group will not back down or be intimidated in the face of what we see as an out of control bureaucracy attacking a very legitimate option that should be properly considered and analyzed,” a letter to the Mayors’ Council and TransLink board stated.


3 Responses to “TransLink Doubles Down on Rapid Transit”
  1. Major Hoople says:

    Is it not interesting that both the most touted light metro systems, VAL and SkyTrain have been rejected by urban planners.

    Not well known on your side of the pond is that the French company MATRA (of Exocet fame) owned the rights of the VAL light metro in France and because of lack of sales, the then French government paid for the initial VAL line to be built in any city in France because they thought a lack of sales of the VAL light metro meant lack of confidence in French weaponry.

    It seems French city fathers were and still are more concerned with expenditures than their counterparts in your part of the world, because it was very clear that the costs to extend the light metro system was ruinous and opted for le tram instead.

    Then there was the case of the Mongy tram, which sent shock waves through out the industry and spelled the early demise of VAL.

    It is all too clear that history is repeating itself in Vancouver

  2. Haveacow says:

    This series of posts is interesting to me. Translink’s refusal of the Interurban/Commuter Rail service is based on the logic that the area they want to actually service is essentially the narrowly defined central highway corridor between Surrey’s downtown and central Langley and that, the existing track of the old interurban line can’t efficiently service corridor. Well they are right if you want to just service that particular corridor, never going further east beyond central Langley and or service anything located in Surrey and Langley located outside the confines of that narrowly defined corridor. So a Skytrain extension or originally an LRT line, that serves the dead centre of that corridor is going to win.

    Especially, if you are the agency that did the planning study. Translink set the scale of the study and the major study parameters. They determined what could and can’t be studied. Since their planning never seriously looked at any other area beyond that corridor, very little else but a line which travels the centre of that corridor would work. Translink casually mentions that in the future, when they again will most likely have to begin planning outside that corridor, assuming the extension to Langley happens, they will most likely reconsider the Interurban idea.

    This hyper focus on that narrowly defined corridor is really the point that the Interurban group should be focussing on and not getting into a transit operations technology debate with Translink. Specifically, the extreme high cost of serving such a small narrowly defined corridor compared to what the same amount of resources could actually provide. It’s easy to say no to another type of rail service, other than a Skytrain extension because the narrow focus on a small corridor perfectly suits the Skytrains catchment. Change the size of that corridor even a little suddenly the Interurban looks much better.

    Yes, the Interurban service as defined would have less capacity but it’s simple structure would make any capacity expansion far cheaper. The larger service area would also ultimately guarantee a greater supply of passengers. Lower capacity but always being close to full, depending on how well designed the Interurban line is. That means it will always be much closer to covering its operating costs than Skytrain. Due to the geographic scale, the Skytrain technology and this line extension in particular, will rarely come close to covering its operating costs, inside or outside of the daily peak periods.

    Doing something different like an Interurban /Commuter Rail Line, will require Translink to negotiate with the railways. Yes, it’s hard but if done honestly and openly, using information from the other Canadian transit agencies that have done the same thing an agreement is possible. If the railways involved are made to understand the value of the improvements this service will bring and because of legal and historical reasons, the government will have to pay for many of the upgrades, they the railways, get guaranteed money and mostly free upgrades. Remember, if the railway refuses to negotiate and blocks the passenger service or stops it from happening, they have to pay for any future freight line upgrades.

    Zwei replies: I was told, via a round about way, that TransLink is afraid that the interurban rail will attract more ridership to transit than the MALM extensions. Realization is setting in that the Broadway subway will not reduce congestion, only bus service on Broadway and in Surrey, all the Fleetwood extension will do is to give current customers (maybe) a faster overall trip. The covid 19 plunge in ridership has also caused some nasty funding problems, but the new control centre has been approved, but no mention of upgrading the power and signalling systems.

    There is also a myth being created that the there is no P-3 funding of the projects, which I believe is untrue due to the federal funding requirements. There is great angst in the Ivory towers in Sapperton.

  3. Haveacow says:

    1. If Translink keeps to narrowly defined geographically limited rail planning corridors, and continually offers nothing but a hugely expensive, built from scratch rail lines that, travels the dead centre of the corridor, then that’s all you ever get and anything else always looses when comparing against it.

    2. If the planning agency, in this case Translink, doesn’t do anything but this same approach you never get new ideas and all your rail planning and the lines you end up building will at some point suffer from the same basic flaw or series of flaws.

    3. Arguing that Translink should use a different type of train doesn’t change their limited focus when planning. It’s their focus in design and planning that really needs to change. Things like operatinal cost vs. service scale, the geographic scale of the service area and passenger catchment areas are just a few the many issues that the endless horizontal expansion of the current rail technology makes worse.

    4. A simple well designed rail system can make up for initially starting with a more limited capacity and operations by being more adaptable and cost effective. This is where Skytrain as a technology, isn’t anywhere as adaptable or cost effective compared to the planned operating technology for the Interurban Line, given the vast area it will operate in.

    5. Translink doesn’t seem to understand that unless new ways of planning and especially in their case, implementation processes are looked at, new solutions never happen. Yes, the Interurban Line would require negotiations with railways. I don’t think there really against the Interurban Line, they just don’t want to ever have to negotiate operations agreements. It’s so much easier to just own everything they operate, they set the rules. They just don’t get many new ideas this way.

    Zwei replies: Translink’s sole criteria for “rapid transit” is speed and capacity and they base LRT speeds on streetcar operation and capacity on SkyTrain as all seats filled and 8 persons standing per square metre!

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