A Comment Worthy of a Post.

Zwei has never met, nor even talked in person to chap who uses the name Haveacow, but I do know he is a professional planning consultant working on the the Ottawa light rail project and I have a great respect for his opinion. Like Cardinal Fang, who is also a transit professional, and they choose to use other than their real names to prevent unwarranted repercussions from their opinions.

I have communicated and had meetings with a great number of transit professional in the past 25 years and they have guided my opinions on our current transit malaise. Contrary to what a certain high school students says about SkyTrain, it is indeed a proprietary transit system and proprietary transit systems do have a shelf life. SkyTrain’s shelf-life is rapidly coming to a close and is probably the reason for the haste of Translink and the City of Vancouver wanting a SkyTrain subway under Broadway.

Here is another disturbing fact told to me by a then sitting Richmond MLA a decade ago. The chap told me in person that on orders from Gordon Campbell. no Liberal MLA was aloud to even discuss using the Arbutus corridor for transit (LRT) with any constituent, if the Premier were to be found out, the MLA would be ignored for any government perk , etc. available to other Liberal MLA’s; in effect the MLA would be sent to Coventry. (As an aside, when this diktat was issued from the Premier’s office Alstolm walked from the Canada Line bidding process; the very same bidding process that judge Pittfield called a charade!)

This says a lot about our transit planning in Metro Vancouver.

Gentlemen, as an independent planning consultant let me put forward a few points about Bombardier’s (UTDC’s really) Advanced Rapid Transit system. A few years ago (2010) Ottawa had a 3 day technical briefing and conference about rail technology and it’s merit. It was only open to the public on the last day. The first two days were for the city’s transit panning group and people like me who got to chat and pitch ideas to industry people with none of the pesky public and rail transit fan-boys allowed. I say pesky because you have to stop and explain every sentence if it contains too much technical information to most members of the general public. The fan-boy comment is there because we are not trying to prove how much we know and sound important like most fan-boys do and that if another expert has a different opinion than I do, it is OK and I want to hear what they have to say. What is nice is you get fresh unguarded, unedited info about new ideas and not constantly rehashing tired technology arguments like, LRT vs. BRT, LRT vs. Light Metro/Subway et al. Also, in about 1 out of every 4 conversations you get information that shakes you to your core about the realities of this industry, professional horror stories and other important info. Then when the show is over for the day, the really smart guys go to a near by pub/bar and then, the real talking starts. Again the comments are not meant to be mean but, as someone who actually has to deal in this arena of hell as way of life, it’s nice to bitch to someone who understands.


However, to the point of this story. During one of these pub info sessions I was sharing a very tiny table with a rep from Alstom, another from Siemens one from Bombardier, another from Colorado Rail-car (now he is at United Transit USA new American streetcar builder part of Skoda) and two other independent people like me both based in Toronto (my hometown). There had been a strong management led push by several Bombardier and Siemens sub groups to push for Light Metro in Ottawa because most of the R.O.W. is totally segregated physically and by grade by design. The Light Metro people had the lead which really burned the LRT guys I was talking to. That their own company would send those groups to try and push for these useless crap, as the LRT guys put it “nearly dead pieces of old tech useless crap”. The LIM centered Bombardier system and the Val centered Siemens acquired system. Both technology had been acquired by the parent companies because the original companies both government
owned were sold off and or privatized. Both companies got stuck with these monsters. Both have had very few transit versions built and both have moved into the amusement park and airport people mover markets.


It was clear though that both companies knew by the end of the second day of this conference that, Ottawa was going the LRT route. The Bombardier guy was telling us that Bombardier was getting tired of the LIM driverless system because no one in North America or Europe wants it (other than Vancouver and maybe Honolulu) as a transit system. The worry was that, Bombardier could be in the same place that Siemens was in a few years ago. They (Siemens) made too many products, in too many different industries and too many of them were not making money. Siemens had to cut many divisions and either sell them or kill them off all together. Bombardier’s Transit Vehicle Division was making too many products and many of them were competing with each other in the same markets. The
(Sky Train) LIM tech is on that list. In as early as 2014-15 there will be a massive cut of non competitive transit vehicle designs to free up production in company facilities world wide. I made the comment that Vancouver had heavily invested in this tech and he (Bombardier Guy) nodded “Yup, my bosses don’t give a s*** about Vancouver. By 2014 we will have the Flexity LRV design in as few as 5 cities or as many as 14 and that is not counting N. America. Real orders, real money is what they want. Not chances to pitch to people about something they might buy, maybe in a five years. Cold hard cash!” He continued, “after the crap that Ottawa pulled (cancelling a signed LRT contract with Siemens) and all these tight fisted sanctimonious Conservative politicians who could care less if people ride a bus or subway as long as their driver gets them the right type of latte in the morning, my bosses will only offer products we can for sure get multiple cities and multiple future orders for. The days of designer systems for each city are over. If the political winds change and that visonary Conservative turns back to the fiscal f***ing a****** maybe a bus is better than a full rail system kind of guy, we will either sue them or never talk to this city again till gets it’s better leadership”. The Siemens guy smiled and said “make a choice and stay with it”. Someone else (I don’t remember who anymore) commented that, “the lefties are the worst for that! They will champion anything unless someone with more backbone says no, which is everyone”.


Now alcohol was very apparent here in this conversation but the point is clear. Vehicle producers want serious people and are not going to keep endless production lines open hoping someone will buy it. Bombardier for example has, totally abandoned the Guided Electric Trolley Bus BRT products (Buses that look lime LRV’s) they use to pitch. This is another example of a company’s technology that they got stuck with when they purchased it.
It is not enough anymore for a single city to buy a product and have the builder keep the production line ready just in case they get around to order a next generation of vehicles or more of the same class for an existing line extension. The development costs are just too large to keep going on products that no one buys. Keeping in mind they warn cities and their government agencies now directly up front about this, so there are no misunderstandings. If no one else buys this we may shut down the product line, make your choice wisely. They both the Siemens and Bombardier guys pointed out to me that, most of the features available with Sky Train, including, down to the second computerized scheduling and remote fleet vehicle activation (the ability to turn on an immediately needed train from the yard put it into service and remove one or several trains at the same time from service without the need for any human intervention or knowledge of), can already be put into LRT vehicles
as long as they have a private R.O.W.’s. Driverless system technology has been available commercially for rail transit vehicles since 1969 when PATCO started the sucessful Lindenwood N.J. to Downtown Philly subway line. Even now, San Francisco’s streetcars and LRV’s operate on a driverless system when they operate in the central subway tunnel portion of the Muni’s LRT system. The need for having Sky Train’s expensive LIM tech is dropping away fast and they (Bombardier) know it. Some are saying that, in as little as 10 years we will reach the point of a totally driverless system regardless if the vehicle (Bus or Train) is on a private R.O.W. and when that happens, say goodbye to the bus driver forever. The choice of vehicle technology in rapid transit is a political decision it always has been, even in privately run systems. The choice is expensive and needs people who are willing to take big chances even if the choice seems easy to lay people. Today’s newest gadgetbahn system becomes tomorrow’s Seatle Monorail. LRT has survived because it is adaptable where system like Sky Train are fixed into a pre existing design category that it can never get out of. That predesigned market category, Light Metro technology (which needs fully segregated R.O.W.’s) has been surpassed by cheap add on technology to existing LRV’s already operating.


Lastly, street running LRT’s maybe slightly slower because of the need to control traffic signals when they go through intersections (they will always have private R.O.W.’s that cars can not access) but, Zwei is correct when he says they almost totally eliminate the need for buses in their corridor because with stops between 500-800 metres you do not need most local buses. For example, Toronto’s LRT surface lines are important because they will be faster than a bus almost as fast as a the subway and will immediately remove the need for 150 buses as well as ultimately remove the need for up to 400 buses from the TTC’s surface fleet. They have roughly a fleet of 1650-1800 depending on the year and have admitted that they cannot afford a larger fleet of them due to their high operating costs (a minimum of 2.5 drivers per bus) LRT will massively reduce the need for buses on these streets and increase the operating speed of the service. There will be a total 182 LRV’s in the fleet for the 3 new lines. At peak all three lines will be in either two or three car trains at most 61 trains operating total for all 3 lines, instead of 150 buses. The trains will also have extra capacity that the buses don’t currently have so again the TTC comes out way ahead. It’s the operating costs that the transit agency is trying to reduce. The problem with Sky Train is the high maintenance costs as well the need to hire attendants to get people out for trains when stuff breakdown. The lack of need for drivers is lost when you have to hire almost as many attendants as if you had a vehicle technology that required drivers and so is cost savings. Plus, the latest LRV’s are significantly larger than the Sky Train vehicles and thus by design have a big advantage when thinking about available capacity. Sky Train has to make up for this by running more frequency but that comes at a greater maintenance cost (less time to do maintenance because a greater percentage of your fleet needs to be active).


3 Responses to “A Comment Worthy of a Post.”
  1. eric chris says:

    It is surprising that Bombardier hasn’t scrapped sky train, yet. As someone who sits in on strategy meetings on billion dollar engineering decisions, I have an insight on how the decision makers think and can speculate that when Honolulu suffers the same financial melt down that Vancouver has with sky train, orders for sky train will evaporate and Bombardier will abandon sky train. Fundamentally, subways and sky train designed to move people long distances are flawed. They result in urban sprawl. Moreover, they lead to urban blight as old parts of the city are abandoned for cheaper development opportunities located far away from the old city undergoing decay (East Vancouver). This is know as the Marchetti effect:


    “Marchetti showed that Berlin’s expanse grew according to a simple rule of thumb: the distance reachable by current technologies in thirty minutes or less. As travel speeds increased, so too did the distance traversable and the size of the city.”

    So there you have the great paradox of subway and sky train transit: by expanding the city, both sky train transit in Vancouver and subway transit in Toronto have required more roads for buses to get people to the distant stations and the urban sprawl has resulted in more freeways and more drivers driving farther! Sky train transit in Vancouver and subway transit in Toronto have both ironically increased driving and road congestion. Good job, Ian Jarvis, Mr. $383,000 annual salary TransLink man!


    Sky train in Vancouver has created trunk lines concentrating transit users along narrow corridors. This has resulted in buses taking over the roads to transfer riders to the sky train at Burrard Street in Vancouver, for example, to create bottlenecks and severe road congestion! This would not be happening with trams and Toronto is on the right track with LRT rather than more subway construction – despite what Rob Ford says.

    The sky train corridors in Vancouver are destined to become future ghettos and condo slum dwellings of overseas immigrants pouring into Vancouver to fill the condos units being built by developers (with ties to organized crime). Developers are buying politicians to allow the developers to build high rise towers near sky train stations and the corrupt politicians are using the lame argument that sky train will take cars off the roads – therefore the roads can handle the increased housing density. The already inadequate roads can’t handle the increased drivers, wrong.

    Sky train? It is a social mistake by corrupt maggots profiting and turning Vancouver into a big city sewer to rival the one in Toronto. David Suzuki got it right on immigration and indirectly on transit for once even though certain two faced politicians won’t admit it:



  2. Justin says:

    You do not have an email, so I just posted this here. You dont have to approve the post.

    I figured you would find this article from a local Toronto paper interesting.

    A recap of how the Toronto ICTS system went to a technological wonder to a relic.


  3. eric chris says:

    Does Rob Ford think that subways under the roads are going to help alleviate road congestion in Toronto? What about all the buses clogging the roads to get people to the subways?


    Everyone seems to agree that building roads leads to more people driving. Unfortunately so does subway and sky train transit. In Toronto, U of T research by Duranton and Turner shows that transit freeing up road space has the same effect as building roads. This paradox has foiled attempts to reduce road congestion with fast transit operating above or below roads in Toronto and in Vancouver:


    Vancouver and Toronto with sky train and subways have the worst road congestion in Canada. Transit in these cities is in fact increasing road congestion.

    How clever is it to continue to spend billions of dollars on fast sky trains in Vancouver and fast subways in Toronto? Is it to keep everyone employed on the billion dollar sky train and subway make work projects?

    Is it for billion dollar budgets to support high priced buffoons making $383,000 annually at TransLink, for instance? Clowns who created the road congestion are never going to admit that they did it with their dumb fast transit. They are having too good of a time and making too much money to give it up for a real job paying their market value – about one-fifth their current salaries.

    Taxpayers and drivers don’t gain anything from paying $2 to $3 for every $1 paid by transit users taking subways and sky trains for transit to worsen road congestion for drivers. Let’s be smart about transit and go with what can be financed – trams without another penny in taxes.

    The next time that some transit “expert” opens his or her mouth to suggest another sky train or subway to end road congestion – fire him or her on the spot.