Why TransLink Can’t Be Honest

Why can’t TransLink be honest with its customers and the taxpayer?

Like B.C. Transit before, honesty is not in TransLink’s lexicon, why and why can’t TransLink be honest about SkyTrain?

The answer lies with he fact each SkyTrain Line has been a political decision, with the final decision made by the Premier of the day. Thus SkyTrain has become a political transit system and not a customer oriented transit system.

This continues today with SkyTrain being built to the needs of the government’s friends, including concrete manufacturers, land developers and land speculators.

The federal government loves ALRT/ART SkyTrain because it financially helps two political friends, Bombardier Inc. and the SNC Lavalin as they hold the patents to the proprietary ART system.

By being a political transit system, it is imperative that the public sees it as good investment, as the SkyTrain Lobby tries to do with “man of straw” arguments, “alternate facts”, and pure “fake” news.

Funny then, no one builds with ART (ALRT has been made redundant) and only seven ICTS; ALRT; ALM; ART proprietary light metro’s have been built, with one, the Toronto ICTS Line to be soon torn down because it is “life expired”.

Mr. Haveavow, who is a transportation professional from Ottawa, has been upfront and honest  commenting on our transit scene. We may not see eye to eye on some subjects, he he is a professional and deserves to be listened to.

SkyTrain has some very expensive issues to rectify before it can increase its capacity, something that TransLink is keeping very quiet about. So much so, that I call it dishonest because what renovations needs to be done to the ALRT/ART system, needs to be done before a Broadway SkyTrain subway is built!

As TransLink’s utterly dishonest planning process continues, abetted by Vision Vancouver and the SkyTrain Lobby, the truth is leaking out and it is very bad news for the taxpayer, which in turn, is very bad news for the sitting Premier.

From Mr. Haveacow, with some slight editing.

This cartoon is from 1988 and in 20 years, nothing has changed!

I hate to be the s*** disturber here but many of the needed upgrades are just not going to happen for the Skytrain Network. Currently according to Translink the Expo Line maxes out at around 15,000 passengers/hour/direction. A 75 Second headway is possible but Transport Canada would have to sign off on quite a few improvements before that can happen. The report you mentioned, although sounds exhaustive, is really meant for public or political consumption. Its not a real professional upgrade plan in any serious form. I know after talking with the head of operations during our little tour of the SkyTrain a few years ago, he outlined possibly hundreds of individual upgrades that would be needed. The reality he argued is that, the people who run TransLink really don’t want to implement these upgrades unless a massive wholesale tear-out and tear down from the bottom up is approved and considering the state of transit funding in BC right now, its not likely to occur. Here is a few things off the top of my head that Transport Canada said must be done before any service improvements occur on the Skytrain network from their current operating regime of 109 second headway’s.

1. Translink has to upgrade the electrical carrying capacity of the system, by either adding many new electrical transformers and or improving the others that are already there dramatically. The current handling capacity of the system is the prime limiter right now in regards to increasing passenger capacity. The cost is around $500-800 million, that also includes upgrading the existing 3rd rail power cable connections and adding new ones. Major upgrades are needed to the electrical panel control system in many stations and work is only slowly occurring on this front. At current rate work is progressing, it will take 12-15 years before they are complete. There also has to be a major master electrical panel upgrade so that it can be accessed in many places, right now there is only 2 master panel access points. By the way, it was the short circuiting of the master electrical access panel located at the commercial drive station by a worker using a non insulated screw driver when doing work for connecting the Evergreen Extension in the summer of 2015, that caused one of the large system wide, day long service interruptions on the Expo and Millennium Lines.

2. The Expo Line’s signaling system needs upgrading and many km’s of cabling needs replacement and or wholesale upgrades. Much of this cabling is 30+ years old and is desperate need of replacement. Many of the signal units are not working up to specs anymore. They are safe, but they need to be replaced entirely before a 75 second headway is possible.

3. Many of the turnouts (switches) on the main parts of the Expo Line need to be replaced with high speed models not the low to medium speed turnouts that are presently there. The turnout control units will also most likely be needing replacement as well before higher service frequencies are possible. The replacement costs can be excessive if they are not done in a pre planned way. Each turnout conversion can take 3-6 hours per turnout per crew. It is also required to switch out the existing turnout tower and control unit. Keep in mind just one double crossover track area has 4 turnouts. Then the double crossover track centre module (the place where all the tracks cross) will need replacement as well. These can take 5-6 hours by themselves and are very expensive and tricky to switch out. One of the reasons many new LRT and Rail rapid transit systems are reluctant to use double crossovers is the high cost of maintenance and their sensitivity to damage when heavily used.

4. As per an earlier post, the track grinding regime at Translink needs to improve especially on high traffic parts of the system. Translink used to have an asymmetrical grinding profile needed to stop the excessive wheel damage and squeal that is common with the Skytrain system. It was abandoned because it was too troublesome to maintain and continue implementing. Your maintenance staff didn’t like the extra work and Translink’s management didn’t like the bother of having to schedule and pay for the time consuming work. However, when you stopped doing it your maintenance costs went up and stayed there. I know this because the company that created the rail grinding regime is staffed by some school friends of mine and they were going to sue Translink at one point over this issue. They decided not to due to cost but if frequency of service is going to increase something better be done or maintenance costs will get even higher.

5. Many platform and station capacity upgrades are needed because the existing system just doesn’t have enough capacity, especially at certain key stations. There is very little money for this work but they appeared to be ready to start on one or two stations. They were the last time I was there anyway. I don’t believe any of this work has started yet though. (Zwei replies: Evidently a few stations, including Main Street and Metrotown have been renovated or are being renovated with longer platforms and more entrance/exits)

6. The last Transport Canada Report that was issued when Translink was allowed to operate at 109 second frequency of service, noted that, Translink did not have enough operating funding to increase peak hour service without having to cut weekend and late evening service. This was a great concern to them. They were essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul. They also noted that without an overall increase in maintenance and operational spending as well as other non sexy operational upgrades, any future service upgrades would not be possible to be considered. The age of the Expo Line was also concerning in that, the line could as it ages, suffer from “block-obsolescence” in many operational areas and operating components, unless major funding increases for maintenance and equipment upgrades was allowed.

7. As Zwei mentioned before there is no budget to upgrade the Skytrain’s aging concrete above grade right of way between the stations. The current track network configuration is really outmoded and needs upgrades, which is also expensive and extremely time consuming. This will require weekend and or weekday closures for extended periods of time to implement these improvements.

In fact, many of these upgrades I mentioned will require large portions of their respective lines to be temporarily closed during weekday or weekend regular operating hours.

Comments

One Response to “Why TransLink Can’t Be Honest”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Its good to see some of the electrical upgrades have stared as well as a few station and platform upgrades but there is a lot more to do. To be fair the tour was more than a few years ago (6 years maybe, wow time went fast) and I would not say that Translink staff doesn’t want to do the upgrades. They have complied a pretty big list so, doing it in a piecemeal way would not be very efficient. That being said, a big tear-out and tear-down type of upgrade maybe more efficient but its messy, time consuming and very expensive. That is what the financial masters are really reluctant about! Would they do it if they had the money, sure. I have no doubt but getting that money and not using it for sexy but equally expensive new rapid transit lines and line extensions (Surrey LRT, Broadway Extension, possible Expo Line extensions) is a very difficult and political decision that must be made and stuck with, all the way through to completion. Its about setting priorities and I don’t see a lot of that happening in the lower mainland.

    The City of Toronto for example, has a problem of its city politicians trying to revisit decisions because city councilors know once the decision is done unlike in the past, there is actually money for these projects that is going to be spent on it. Any project once started along the procurement process is now out of bounds politically and can’t be messed with. So the political process is their last chance to influence the decision they have. Once Toronto starts the serious engineering and procurement processes, the political games generally stop and Toronto generally gets down to the serious job of building transit. Plus the bitching and moaning of the construction process.

    The Greater Vancouver Area as I see it has NO MONEY to seriously deal with maintenance and or expand the rapid transit. Unfortunately its existing plan is a more of a politically based rapid transit plan than a good operational one (to be fair, all transit plans are political to some extent). So extensions get talked about but no one is mentioning the upkeep on the existing system, this never seem to enter the discussion.

    An extension to the Millennium Line in a tunnel under Broadway that will be extremely expensive, using a vehicle technology that can move fewer people per hour than not only Ottawa’s new LRT line but many new LRT lines around North America including, Seattle’s LRT Line (the one Zwei says is more of a light metro line). The only limiting factor to these lines is their operating budgets, which operationally limits there capacity compared to Skytrain. The other big issue with the Broadway Line is that the number of people its expected to move over the majority of its length by 2041 is very low. In fact the smaller planned extension to Arbutus (not the full line to UBC) will see passenger capacities above 8000 p/h/d during peak hours only in the extreme eastern sections of the line. Those are very low passenger numbers if your are going to pay $300 Million+ per KM for tunnels. I have said this before, the over budget and late Spadina Subway extension currently under construction in Toronto will move considerably more people on opening day, will have more than twice the capacity using the old Subway signaling system and will move 20% more on top of that on the whole line, once the new signaling system is turned on in late 2018- early 2019, for only $20-$30 million more per KM compared to the new Broadway Extension.

    I like LRT but the LRT line in Surrey as designed only feeds the Skytrain and doesn’t take advantage of other rail rights of way that could have taken it towards downtown Vancouver fairly cheaply. Using existing rail rights of way can limit capacity by having to negotiate running rights and times with railways but it sure makes construction a lot cheaper. See construction costs of the Trillium Line (The original O-Train) in Ottawa or the Sprinter in suburban San Diego and what they paid for 22km of LRT like service, albeit at very low operating frequencies due to a very tight operating budget. The Surrey LRT Line only serves Surrey and doesn’t serve anyone else or have any serious planning going towards ever serving other south of the Fraser communities. This singular lack of geographical scale in the planning or lack of serious thought at all about operational scale of this LRT line and or lines guarantees that, this line will eventually be an orphaned system based in only one community and it will be very expensive to expand those lines towards other south of Fraser communities. The same lack of consideration to geographic and operational scale is what will also seriously limit any southerly Skytrain extension.

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