What Could Have Been – Should Have Been – Updated

One of the hardest transit plans to find in the Vancouver Metro Region is the 1978 Rapid Transit Preliminary Design, by the then GVRD. The reason why it is hard to find is that most of the copies were shredded and/or similarly destroyed on orders by the provincial government when they forced the SkyTrain mini-metro on the region instead of the originally planned for LRT. What scared the Social Credit government so, was that a full build implementation of the 1978 light rail plan, connecting downtown Vancouver to Richmond Centre; Whalley (to 104th Ave.); and to Lougheed Mall and beyond (to Como Lake Rd.) was $430 millionAi?? to $558 millionAi?? in 1978 dollars! ($1,419 million to $1,842 million in 2013 dollars)

Note from Zwei: I have updated this post with costs using the Bank of Canada inflation calculator. The time between 1980 and 1990 was an era of high inflation and costs should have been adjusted. With the inflation adjuster the real costs come to light in 2014, that the region could have had a deluxe Vancouver to Richmond/Whalley/Coquitlam LRT for just under $2 billion in 2013 dollars. Compare with the over $9 billion spent today (estimated by the UBC Sauder School of Business), building SkyTrain and the Canada Line light metro to the same locations!

The Vancouver to New Westminster SkyTrain line cost just under $900 million in 1986 dollars (just under $1,622 million in 2013 dollars). SkyTrain cost more to build, for about half the route mileage!


Also of note is that the annual operating costs of the ‘full build’ LRT system would have been almost $10 million in 1978 dollars, a far cry of from SkyTrain’s 1988/89 operating costs of almost $28 million dollars. No wonder TransLink finds itself in the finical predicament it is in today.

By building with SkyTrain,Ai?? the Vancouver metro region has now a mini-metro system, which present network costs over ten times more to build, with about double the operating costs than the original planned for LRT.

What is very sad, is that instead of debating the merits of a Broadway subway or three ill planned LRT lines in Surrey, for the same investment of our present mini-metro system, the Vancouver region could have the possibilityAi?? of having a LRT network extending from UBC to Chilliwack, with lines to White Rock; SFU; and possible the North Shore. The region, by building with LRT, could have provided the great transit philosopher’s stone of a LRT network that would have attracted the motorist from the car.

It wasn’t to be and the regional taxpayer has been paying for the mistake for over 30 years!


4 Responses to “What Could Have Been – Should Have Been – Updated”
  1. eric chris says:

    In Sydney, Australia, the future LRT line (20 stops over 12 km to replace all the buses) in downtown Sydney is only costing $1.4 billion (Cdn) to run about the same length as the proposed $3 billion subway to UBC. In Australia, the LRT line (tram really) will be constructed over five to six years to minimize the impact on businesses and to minimize the LRT costs. Here ST is schedule driven and built over a short time period to make SNCL building the ST line money, fast, at a premium cost to taxpayers.

    According to the “engineers” (I hate to use that term for them) at the COV, the LRT line to UBC is too costly and hard. I’d say LRT for the Sydney CBD with hundreds of years of history is more difficult and costly than the easy grass run on West 16th Avenue for LRT to UBC. Stooooooges pretending to be engineers at the COV have to be replaced with some real engineers, the sooner, the better.


  2. Haveacow says:

    Be very careful when you quote prices from the era of 1975-87. You must remember how high inflation was during that period. Remember the early 1980′s, the official inflation rates were near 20%. That means the real inflation rate, the one you and everyone else really experienced was considerably higher. Its astonishing when you see how much prices went up during that period.

    When you look at many transit projects that were planned during the late 1970′s they all show huge differences between the planned price and the actual paid during the early and mid 1980′s. A great percentage of that was due to inflation. The cost of the Scarborough RT doubled even before the province stepped in and forced the UTDC technology (Skytrain technology) on the TTC. After that the cost when up another 80%.

    The Transitway Program was originally budgeted at $100 million, for the whole starter network of 35 km. By the time the basic network was complete in 1995 the Regional government had paid out $430 million. The following investigation which I was a part of showed that, almost 92% of the increase was due to inflation. The other 8% was mostly traced to one or two major contractors, whom both had worked on the structures for bridges and the stations. One of them an American firm had already gone bankrupt. The differences in the Transitway stations before and after 1995 in design and material is quite telling. The second firm is still around so I can’t legally say who they are here on the internet (legal agreements).

    Zwei replies: Even if the full build LRT costs were to be doubled in the decade 1978 – 88, it still would have been a better deal as the LRT services a lot more of the region than the initial SkyTrain line. $9 billion later we have SkyTrain to Lougheed Mall, Whalley and Richmond. All i want to show was that we could have gotten a lot more bang with our buck building with LRT instead of SkyTrain.

  3. Haveacow says:

    What I can say about the second firm is that, they are a highly vindictive bunch who are very, very pissed off that the BRT Transitway has been effectively sidelined by LRT to a very much secondary status in the rapid transit program here in Ottawa. Even though they are one of the 18 companies of the Rideau Transit Group that won the design build and operate contract for the Confederation LRT Line. Their reduction to a relatively insignificant contractor from being one of the top, go to contractors, for transportation projects here in Ottawa, fills my heart with a hopeful feeling that says, sometimes the greedy and evil do get what they deserve.

  4. Sabre23t says:

    Did I get it right that the LRT you are referring to is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_rail_in_Canada#Fraser_Valley_from_Surrey_to_Chilliwack and that will be at grade with some shared lanes and some at grade crossings?

    Zwei replies: The Leewood study envisions a tramtrain service on the former BC Electric interurban route from Vancouver to Chilliwack. Yes, there will be grade crossings, but at this time there is no shared lanes with auto traffic. The Leewood study http://www.railforthevalley.com/studies/ is on the Rail for the Valley web site.