A Post From Mr. Haveacow – Speedy Transit

The avatar, “Haveacow” is used by a very knowledgeable Canadian transportation specialist. He knows what he is talking about and Zwei greatly respects his input.

Since SkyTrain was first foisted on the taxpayer, one of the many false claims for building with it, was that it was fast.

There are problems with this claim, including:

1. The initial Expo Line had less than half the amount of station/stops than comparable LRT at the time, thus the Expo Line was indeed fast; but, if an “apples to apples” comparison was made, with both having the same amount of station/stops, LRT would have been slightly higher due to having less dwell time, as demanded for driverless transit systems.

2. Speed alone does not attract ridership but many factors that make transit user friendly, including user friendliness. If over all comute time was counted (including transfers, etc., travel time for SkyTrain is not superior to light rail.

The SkyTrain Lobby, ever promoting fast transit are also promoting a small transit network, higher taxes and fares, and a transit system that is only fast because it is not user friendly.


 From Mr. Haveacow!

I Understand People Want Speedy Transit.

Folks, Speedy Transit Has Huge Hidden Costs!

I remember the debate around the Sheppard Subway in Toronto, mainly because the house I grew up in was a 3 to 5 minute walk from Sheppard Ave. East in Scarborough. It didn’t matter to the supporters, including me at the time, how many passengers there should be, for a subway to exist. What was important wasn’t that the surface bus routes along Sheppard at the time moved about 6000 passengers/hour/direction or that the roughly 65 to 75 buses per hour at the time were mostly packed, even outside peak periods.

What was important was that even with express buses it took 20 to 30 minutes of traveling along Sheppard Ave. East, just to get to the Yonge Street Subway. I was spending, depending on the time of day, 1 hour, 10 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes to get home in Scarborough or go to downtown to school. If I took the other quickest route downtown to school, south on Warden Ave. to Warden Station, then the Bloor-Danforth Subway to the Yonge Line at Yonge and Bloor Station, then transferring to the Yonge Line to finish the trip to either Dundas or College Stations, opposite if I was going home, it still took me roughly the same time. (So passengers stuck on crowded express buses along Broadway, I UNDERSTAND AND GET IT ,THE TRIP ISN’T A FUN TIME!)

GO Transit’s Stouffvile Commuter Rail Line from Agincourt Station was considerably faster, around 40 to 45 minutes, but the GO Trains on that line only traveled during morning and afternoon rush hour. THANKFULLY TO THE GO RER
PROJECT, THIS WILL SOON CHANGE. The peak hour only line was nearly useless for a University student whom had 25+ hours a week of classes, labs and official architectural studio time which depending on the day, had classes that started as early as 8 a.m. or as late 1 p.m. Depending on the day, I could be in class until 10 p.m. on certain evenings (at least 2 times a week). Endless hours of group work just added to this dilemma.

My point is for most people, a train of some sort traveling through a tunnel is often the only way most non transit people (people who don’t work in the industry) can honestly visualize there being any time savings when dealing with the combination of heavy surface traffic and way too many car centric, traffic light controlled intersections.

Whereas people who do work in the industry know that, with good design, modern surface LRT routes and or modern surface mainline railway lines controlled by modern signaling can easily come close to or equal the travel times of below grade train tunnels. At a fraction of the cost.

ZWEI, what would be most helpful to the cause are multiple articles about how modern surface mainline railways and LRT signaling combined with good design can be almost or just as efficient with travel time savings as overly expensive tunnels.

My 2 Cents Worth.

Look folks, the concept of rail rapid transit tunnels going everywhere is just not affordable or helpful. An almost completely tunneled Skytrain route from V.C.C. to U.B.C. is desired by the public however, many other cheaper options were just never considered or effectively looked at by Translink. I read all your planning reports on the subject, many things that could have been done to better manage bus flows as well as other rapid transit operating technologies, scenarios and plans were never considered. Unfortunately Zwei, MAY have a point when he believes that the Broadway Line as currently designed, was a fix for developers right from the beginning.

Given the actual pre-Covid transit passenger numbers for Broadway (65,000-100,000 passengers a day depending on how wide a corridor you choose), a mostly tunneled Skytrain line 12 to 14 km long, costing anywhere from from $5.7 to $7.5 Billion (depending on length, number of stations and tunnel design), taking anywhere from 10 to 14 years to build both stages, is frankly, JUST NOT WORTH IT, FOR NOW. It is also a project that will tie up a huge amount of transit capital funding for a better part of a decade. There will be little money for anything else, especially extensions of the Canada Line or a rail transit line to North Vancouver.

Keep in mind as well, if you want significantly more passengers on the Expo Line, expensive repairs and upgrades must be done. An increase of 10 to 20 % in daily passengers is possible but anything more will require hugely expensive and time consuming work. The line is at its limit and it is getting older by the day, you can make the trains longer but little else is possible without big spending.

Citizens of Langley, by not implementing LRT and forcing an overly expensive above grade Skytrain line, you just guaranteed that, not only are you building fewer km’s of Skytrain compared to how many km’s of LRT you could have had (16 km of Skytrain vs. of 27 km of LRT). You have also made certain the fact that, no Skytrain or any rail rapid transit line will be going to the centre of Langley, until long after 2030. Considering the competition with other line extensions, once the Broadway Line to UBC is complete. It may be well into the 2040′s before construction of any rail line into Langley is finished. The moral of this story, tunnels cost not only a lot of money but time as well.


7 Responses to “A Post From Mr. Haveacow – Speedy Transit”
  1. Bill Burgess says:

    What else is expensive?

    Quality health care for all. Quality education for all. Addressing climate change induced in non-insignificant part by private cars.

    Why not give up on them too, and increase subsidies going to fossil fuel companies and the like?

    Zwei replies: So, you want to spend billions of dollars on 12.8 km of an obsolete light metro, that will not take a car off the road and let other, far more worthwhile projects starve for funding?

    $1.5 billion will buy you:
    – Over 130 km of a regional rail system, serving scores of cities, industrial parks and post secondary institutions.
    – A 7 km extension of the Expo Line to Fleetwood, serving nothing of importance.
    – Less than 3 km of a subway under Broadway, on a transit route where only 2-car trains are used due to lack of ridership!

  2. milan says:

    SkyTrain is still fast and userfriendly. Extending it in Vancouver and Langley is the best thing to happen. Current travel time on expo line from waterfront to Kong George is 35 mins. Driving the same distance takes almost 1 hour with light traffic. Sometimes it can take longer if traffic is heavy on highway 1.

    Same thing with Canada line. 25 mins from waterfront to Richmond. Takes longer to drive to Richmond.

  3. milan says:

    Is Haveacow a paid lobbyist for LRT companies. The skytrain is just a modified LRT.

    Zwei replies: Absolutely not, in fact it was being designed before the advent of modern light rail. It is an unconventional, thus proprietary railway. As for mr. Cow, he is a transportation specialist and definitely knows what he is talking about, you should listen.

  4. Haveacow says:

    @Bill Burgess,considering the Skytrain is essentially, a line haul railway and really other than being driverless, does nothing particularly more special than a thousand other urban rail lines, frankly it’s too expensive for what it does.

    A late, over-budget, beyond the original scope subway line extension in Toronto, ended up costing only $68 million more per km than the Broadway Extension currently does. This subway line extension, nearly all of it tunneled, using a 60 year old signaling system has easily twice the capacity of the Skytrain. The line in question is currently installing a new signaling system “a moving compressed block signaling system” that will increase the line’s overall capacity by 25%-35%.

    According to some friends of mine who still worked for Bombardier, the company had offered the linear induction drive as an option on nearly all its urban rail products for the last 12 years, the result, nothing, no sales. Why? Bombardier’s standard electric “Can Motors” are cheaper to buy, last just as long as the linear induction motors and are far, far easier to maintain and troubleshoot. As well as only requiring a single person to do the work whereas the LIM system on the Skytran requires 3 staff, 2 if you know Transport Canada isn’t looking.

    The Linear Induction Motors also require a forth rail, “the Induction Rail” to function, on every km of track you’ve got. No one else other than LIM equipped customers have to do this. All of the very cheap standard track measuring devices that can detect, track twisting, warping or “kinking” before it happens, can’t be mounted on the Skytran right of way because the induction rail is in the way. Only expensive non standard units that are mounted on the outside edge of the rail right of way can be used. Translink has to spend more on maintenance just because the induction rail is there. Many other “nice to have” products that modern railways use, can’t be installed for the same reason.

    Bombardier has or had (before the Alstom purchase anyway) a standard bogie/truck design that was to be common to all Bombardier rail products. The bogie/truck design had 5 or 6 sizes but all had common parts and design principles. This standardization of design was to lower the cost of manufacturing Bombardier rail products. The Skytrain couldn’t use this standardised bogie/truck product because of the uncommon Linear Induction Motors. Therefore, a separate manufacturer and design for just the Skytran’s bogies had to be used, greatly increasing the cost of manufacturing for Bombardier and the cost of purchasing new trains for Skytrain’s customers.

    Just before Bombardier Transportation’s purchase announcement happened, they announced that the Citiflo 650 Automation System that Bombardier sold with all Skytrain like designs was going to be replaced with a new product. They announced that they will no longer be providing upgrades to the system’s software and that at some future date (as yet undetermined) they will no longer support the product. This will mean not only new software but a whole host of new hardware was going to have to be purchased and installed. Unfortunately, Alstom has not announced what they are going to do about this. It is unclear if they will continue to develop the new product Bombardier was working on or just force one of there existing Automation Systems (they have several), on Skytrain’s existing customers.

    Zwei replies: Also remember that the trucks used on MALM are fully steerable and I do know they have been expensive to maintain. “Those damned linkages” was his quote. These trucks cannot be used using a standard motors. A retired TransLink maintenance chap told me that the SkyTrain trucks had to be maintained at twice the rate of a standard truck, three times if Transport Canada was looking.

  5. Haveacow says:


    I wish I was a paid lobbyist for an LRT manufacturer, they make a hell of a lot more than I do!

    I’m not saying the Skytran hasn’t done well here in Vancouver but it is very expensive for what you get. LRT operations including here in Ottawa, get a lot more track mileage for the same amount of money compared to the Skytrain. They can hold a huge range of passengers from the very small to very large passenger configurations. Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa have enormous LRT trainsets, each city runs multi-car trains that easily dwarfs Skytrain, even the planned larger 5 car, Skytrain trainsets are smaller. However, if those cities have a branch line that doesn’t need massive trainsets and requires just a single car, they can do that as well.

    Kitchener-Waterloo’s new Ion LRT only needs single car trains but can easily expand to 2-car trains and for much less than the Skytrain Network, expand existing stations to except 3 or 4 car trains, or get newer larger individual cars quickly from multiple off the shelf designs from other companies.

    Ottawa was having many teething problems with our Alstom Citadis LRV’s, and it appears they have solved most of them (cross your fingers). The Rideau Transit Group have stated that 15 trains have now been ready for every rush hour for 3 and a half weeks (a contract availability level that they were supposed to provide from the beginning). However, if the Alstom cars couldn’t do it, RTG had offers from 5 other LRT manufacturers with off the shelf reliable designs ready to go.

    This would never happen with Skytrain because only Bombardier has a ready to go LIM powered train design that will be compatible with your system. Other train manufacturers could do it eventually but prototypes would have to be designed and built as well as tested. Even other LIM manufacturers like Hiachi, would have to redesign their products because their LIM technology isn’t compatible with Bombardier’s. Bombardier did that purposely, by the way, they wanted to make it hard to copy, so you had to buy their trains. The testing and design process as weĺl as patient payments would make any new car easily more expensive than Bombardier’s. There is no guarantee Alstom will continue this product into the future, beyond its current orders.

    The basic LRT line infrastructure is generally much more robust yet simple, compared to the existing Skytrain Network. The track rights of way are non cluttered compared to Skytrain’s and like I said before, there simplicity and lack of a 4th rail, gives ample space for extra track devices, that enhance operations.

    Skytrain was designed from the ground up so that its small size and light infrastructure (including track infrastructure) would be made irrelevant because Skytrain was designed for high frequency operations. Unfortunately, the high frequency of Skytrain operations made the lighter infrastructure wear out faster. The Expo Line and its increasing number of breakdowns are evidence of this issue. Very expensive, time consuming and far ranging upgrades are needed to just maintain the current schedule, let alone increasing the frequency of operations. Bigger trains help but the system is wearing out.

  6. Milan says:

    Maybe the Skytrain should be converted to LRT and save in operation cost. Then the infrastructure is not a waste. Skytrain extension to arbutus is starting construction this month.

    Zwei replies: The Expo and Millennium Lines no; the Canada Line yes.

  7. Haveacow says:

    A former head of Translink’s maintenance operations suggested that, removal of the 4th rail and purchasing cheaper, and most likely larger LRV’s would save 40% – 45% in operating costs compared to Skytrain. Simply removing the 4th rail and switching to standard electric motors alone would save 25%. The LRV’s would have to be converted to 3rd rail power pick-ups but that’s not too difficult or expensive. Keep in mind he said this as he was retiring, so the big wigs couldn’t fire him.

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