A DMU Service, Not Gondolas, Best Option to Link North Shore!

Gondolas are a niche transit system used for solving unique transit problems. While transit servicing SFU mayAi?? present niche transit problems, especially in winter, crossing Burrard inlet does not.

The SFU gondola has been reported in this blog several times; in May 2011; in June 2011; and in October 2011.It is now six years later, 2017 and no funding has been made available for this project.Sadly, the article is inaccurate about the capacity of the La Paz gondola as it can carry only 6,000 pphpd and not the 18,000 pphpd as reported in the article. In Bolivia, the gondolas solve unique transit problems in a city with steep hills and numerous slums as the gondolas just glides over problem areas.In October 2011, the cost for the proposed SFU gondola soared over 50% from $70 million to $120 million and I would assume the cost would be much higher for a gondola to the North Shore in 2017, especially with the weak Canadian dollar.

Gondolas also have unique problems, like emergency evacuations and vulnerable toAi?? high winds; not to mention neighbours would protest vehemently against and aerial tramway.

As I indicated in 2011, spending $1,000 on chains for buses is a lot cheaper and $120 million for a gondola.

The one solution, of course could be TramTrain or a light Diesel DMU service from the North Shore to Vancouver, using the existing 2nd Narrows Rail Bridge, which could be built and in operation within a year for under $200 million.

Simple solutions are often ignored.

The Ottawa "O" Train is legal to operate on existing railway lines and could provide service to the North Shore

Opinion: Gondola best option to link North Shore

Published on: March 14, 2017
NORTH VANCOUVER, BC  --  Mayor Darrell Mussatto announces a large donation to the new art gallery  in North Vancouver on November  24, 2014.  Trax #00033241A  and Trax #00033241B

North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto. Wayne Leidenfrost / PROVINCE PNG


City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto has started an interesting conversation about improving transportation to the North Shore, suggesting the region should consider running rapid transit through a tunnel under Burrard Inlet. But maybe thereai??i??s a better option.

A transit gondola would be a fraction of the cost, easier to build, cheaper to operate and have a lower environmental footprint, forever.

I anticipate that this idea may inspire a certain amount of eye-rolling, but thereai??i??s evidence that a gondola could be a practical and affordable option. Letai??i??s consider both obstacles and possibilities.

The first obstacle is distance: the SeaBus (which connects the two most obvious passenger transportation centres in Vancouver and North Vancouver) plies a 3.24-kilometre crossing. The Sun recently quoted University of B.C. engineering professor Erik Eberhardt, estimating that the cost of tunneling ai???a few kilometresai??? under the habour would be about $1 billion. And that, presumably, is just for the tunnel; never mind the expensive rail links, passenger infrastructure and rolling stock.

But the Peak2Peak gondola at Whistler, which runs 4.4 kilometres with a single span of 3.06 kilometres, cost just $51 million in 2008. It can be done.

What of capacity? The SeaBus daily ridership is around 17,000. Whereas, the $234-million, 11-kilometre Mi Teleferico transit gondola, which opened in 2014 in La Paz, Bolivia, can carry 18,000 passengers an hour.

A better example might be found in the 2011 why-isnai??i??t-that-built-yet business case for an SFU transit gondola, connecting from the Production Way SkyTrain station in Burnaby up to Simon Fraser University and the mountaintop community of UniverCity. In a study conducted for TransLink, the consulting firm CH2M estimated the cost for a 2.7-kilometre ai???cable-propelled transit systemai??? at $120 million. Cabins carrying 35 passengers each would depart every 34 seconds, covering the distance in seven minutes (less than half what it takes a diesel bus to grind up the mountain). That would deliver 3,341 persons per hour per direction, or 48,600 daily boardings. With such a system, you could park all the SeaBuses and triple service to the North Shore. And no waiting. Ever.

What about height? You canai??i??t have gondola cables hanging in front of cruise ships and (heaven save us) oil freighters. Okay, hereai??i??s where it gets tricky, and potentially a lot more expensive. On the plus side, the minimum required height would only be 61 metres, which is the clearance under the Lionai??i??s Gate Bridge, a permanent limiting factor for all Burrard Inlet shipping.Ai?? That doesnai??i??t seem so bad. One of the Peak2Peak towers is 65 metres and Doppelmayr is currently working on a 7.9-kilometre system to Hon Thom Island in Vietnam that has towers as high as 160 metres.

But thereai??i??s the wrinkle; gondola cables sag. And the longer the span, the greater the sag. The Peak2Peak, for example, sags 400 metres.


The Peak2Peak gondola.


So, now you have to start talking about dropping a very tall tower (or two) into Burrard Inlet, which is technically feasible (the inlet is only 45 metres at the deepest point), but unlikely to win any applause from the shippers, the Harbour Air pilots and the port authoritarians who would prefer to keep those waters clear. Still, everyone involved might ultimately find a couple of stationary obstacles easier to manage than having to navigate around an increasing number of SeaBuses running back and forth every 15 minutes.

The bottom line is that, relative to all the alternatives, gondolas are cheap to build and cheaper to run. Annual budget for the Burnaby Mountain version was estimated at between $3 million and $5 million. Compare that to the 2017 SeaBus budget of $11.6 million. CH2M also found that the all-electric, low-resistance gondola system would reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 7,000 tonnes, give or take.

So, imagine walking through the old train station on Cordova straight onto a gondola and landing, nine minutes later, on the roof of Lonsdale Quay, for a quick elevator ride down to the buses or a reduced climb up to your condo in Lower Lonsdale. Quick, clean, beautiful and reliable in all weather.

CH2M already identified the SFU gondola as a slam dunk. TransLink might hurry that one into service, and add this one to the list.

Richard Littlemore is a Vancouver writer, consultant and policy analyst.

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3 Responses to “A DMU Service, Not Gondolas, Best Option to Link North Shore!”
  1. CanAm says:

    The DMU is a great solution between NV and Whistler. It would service the North Shore and have commuter/tourist service beyond horseshoe bay as required. I have looked into it and even contacted DMU providers overseas.

    There are 2 issues. Most DMU, Budd excluded due to age, will not meet new rail crash standards. Two, the route over the second narrows ad a lot of extra time when traveling from downtown.

    If we could meet the crash issues, there are a lot of opportunities for DMU in this city

  2. Haveacow says:

    The picture of the DMU that Zwei used was the Bombardier BR643 Talent DMU used on the Trillium Line in Ottawa (The Original O-Train Line). Which operates as a diesel LRT operation with LRT station spacing and acceleration characteristics but is licensed as a Commuter Rail Line with Transport Canada because the line is connected to the National Rail System. The Commuter Rail operating license from Transport Canada is in the same class as your West Coast Express or Toronto’s GO Transit Trains. The Talent and its newer cousin, the Alstom Coradia Lint 41 DMU, have special permission to operate on Canadian Railroads, thank you Transport Canada. Yes, some temporal and signal separation is necessary when operating on lines with passenger DMU’s and freight trains but even standard mainline railway passenger equipment in Canada needs those same items to legally share track space with freight trains.

    (Below) The original Bombardier BR643 Talent DMU crossing the Rideau River Bridge just south of Carleton University


    (Below) 1 of 6 new Alstom Coradia Lint 41 DMU’s at the new north end passing track and future sight of the Stage 2 Gladstone Station.


    (Below) Trillium Line map of Stage 1 (in red) and stage 2 (in yellow) with new stage 2 new stations (in green).

    The running total of Stage 1 capital costs since opening (including initial construction of $21 Million) in 2001-2017 (2 new passing tracks, 6 new Alstom DMU’s, new signaling system and a lot of track, station, bridge and tunnel upgrade work along the way) is around $118 Million for 8 km of service.

    Trillium Line Stage 2 total cost is $ 543 for, 4-5 new (most likely) Alstom DMU’s, total replacement of existing Maintenance and Storage building in Walkley Yard. The current one now is far too small and far too old. After the city had to rebuild the floor to keep it from collapsing in 2010, many other parts have degraded to the point that its 51 years old structure may have to be condemned, CP left in really bad shape. An 8.5 km extension to the planned Bowesville station, a partial but separate1 km long lead and entry track for the joint NRC, Transport Canada static and dynamic Railway Testing facility. Transport Canada required, bridges at 2 major road crossings, Lester and
    Leitrim Roads. A 2.5 km spur line service to Ottawa’s Sir John A Macdonald International Airport. 7 new stations, 2 of which will be located on the stage 1 portion of the line at both Gladstone Ave. and Walkley Rd. which are also the locations of existing passing tracks. 1- possibly 2 new passing tracks on the new main line section south of South Keys and near or at the existing Leitrim Rd park and ride lot. Bridge upgrades and upgrades of existing stations is included as well. The line will close in 2019 and construction is expected to take 20 months and will reopen mid 2021.


  3. Haveacow says:

    There will also be a grade separation and room for future connection between the main VIA Rail Line & Trillium Line crossing just south of the existing Confederation Park Station

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