A Tale of Three Letters

It seems there is much confusion with TransLink and metro cities regarding transit mode. It is the old shell game, practiced by BC Transit, TransLink, both the provincial Liberal Party and the NDP, regional Mayors and very sadly, both University of BC and Simon Fraser University.

Rapid transit refers to metro and not light rail, which is a stand alone transit mode and far more adaptable than rapid transit and very successful in application. LRT can be built as rapid transit, as we see in Ottawa and Seattle but it can also operate as true LRT or even a streetcar if need be.

Unlike rapid transit, LRT is extremely flexible in operation and not restricted by automatic train control, which demands a grade separated rights-of-way, either on a viaduct (very expensive) or in a subway (hugely expensive).

So why does the old shell game continue? Why to bureaucrats confuse both the public and politicians with non existent transit modes?

It is time for clarity in planning, which make many bureaucrats and politicians very, very nervous.

The first letter sent, Janurary 5, 2021 to Richmond mayor and council.

Mayor and council;
A recent article in the Richmond News makes me wonder if city staff understand the nuances of rail transit.
We currently operate light metro in the region, with Richmond being served with a pygmy heavy rail metro, operated as a light metro and lacks both capacity and affordability.
Rapid transit is a bureaucratic term that can mean anything, but the transit industry refers to rapid transit as a heavy rail metro.
Light Rail Transit or LRT is just a modern tram operating on a dedicated rights of way, which the former interurban route is a good example of.
Modern light rail can affordably cater to traffic flows from 2,000 persons per hour per direction to over 20,000 (pphpd), which is currently more than the maximum capacity of 15,000 pphpd for the Expo and Millennium Lines and around 9,000 pphpd with the Canada Line.
There is no need to densify the route for modern light rail, in fact the density issue is strictly a SkyTrain issue because there is no other credible reason for building the light metro in the Metro Vancouver region. The density issue was created to support the development of towers and high rise condos, which benefit land speculators and land developers, who tend to support politicians at election time.
What is needed for LRT to succeed is building a user-friendly service that takes customers from where they live to where they want to go; something most transit planners in Metro Vancouver tend to forget.

The cost of the SkyTrain light-metro is now over $200 mil/km to build. Richmond does not have the population to support such an investment.

The reply from a City of Richmond Engineer;

As you note, there certainly exists a range of rapid transit technologies available today. Although costs and infrastructure requirements vary by type, each feature high-capacity vehicles and provide priority over general traffic that goes beyond what is achieved with conventional transit.
Metro Vancouver’s rapid transit system currently includes the Rail Rapid Transit (RTT) Expo, Millennium and Canada Lines.  TransLIink, the authority responsible for providing public transit in the region, have also considered two other forms of rapid transit: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT).  There are five BRT lines currently in operation and a future BRT linking Richmond City Centre to the Expo Line is planned by TransLink.Given the higher cost of rail rapid transit relative to conventional bus service, ridership is a key consideration to ensure effective and productive service.
Transit Service Guidelines established by TransLink provide general thresholds to determine the type and provision of transit services. Typically, the type of transit service depends on a variety of factors including trip type, number of destinations and travel demand based on current and future land use on a corridor. For rapid transit service, TransLink relies on comprehensive and specialized studies to consider eligibility for investment in consideration of other regional priorities. Studies focus primarily on high performing frequent transit routes that already have significant established ridership that is anticipated to increase with densification in the future.

I have forwarded your comments to TransLink for consideration, given they are the authority that provides regional public transportation.


The Wuppertal Schwebebahn could be considered Rail Rapid Transit, simply because it is a true monorail and uses one rail, unlike straddle-beam monorails.

The reply, Janurary 12, 2021

Thank you for your email.
There is really no such thing as Rail Rapid Transit and generally it is a bureaucratic term to encompass all rail systems, which in the end does not really describe any mode.
Today we have metro, light-metro and light rail and their sub variants. Light-metro is largely obsolete, superseded by light rail and metro.
The Metro Vancouver region operates light metro, with the Expo and Millennium Lines operating a proprietary light metro system and the Canada Line which is a heavy-rail metro built as a light metro.
Light rail is a transit mode unto itself and comes in sub variants, such as streetcar or tram, light rail, which is a tram operating on a dedicated rights-of-way, tramtrain which is a tram that can operate on both tram or streetcar lines or on a mainline railway and now ultra light tram, which is said to be cheaper than BRT.
We do not have BRT in the lower mainland, rather we have express buses tarted up as BRT. To be called BRT a bus must operate on a dedicated rights-away and with greater land take and lower unit capacities, have costs approaching modern light rail!
BRT is not more efficient than LRT, especially as the number of passengers increases. Operationally, BRT becomes very inefficient compared to LRT at only moderate levels of passenger flows. The operating costs of having to operate greater and greater numbers of buses compared to the number of (Light Rail Vehicle), to move the same number of passengers, is why Ottawa started transforming the continent’s largest BRT network into an LRT network.
The problem in Richmond is that at over $200 million/km, it is impractical to extend the Canada Line and the best course of action is to build a stand alone LRT line and maybe convert the Canada Line to LRT at a later date. I have been advised that it would be the cheaper option to increase capacity.
TransLink, unfortunately, is decades behind the times and their studies reflect this. No one builds with light-metro and proprietary railways are losing favour due to their high costs, especially as they age.
I have been advised by both Canadian, American and European engineers about our local transit issues and their answers are blunt and to the point, Metro Vancouver operates a dated light-metro system that does not conform to modern public transport philosophy and by doing so is costing the taxpayer far more money that it should.  A great disservice has been done to the transit customer, by providing an inferior service, decades out of date.
The letter is a warning of financial ills to come and indeed financial ills will come.

The modern tram, can obtain much higher capacities than our light-metro system, but can be built at a fraction of the cost.


One Response to “A Tale of Three Letters”
  1. Major Hoople says:

    Professionals do not like correspondence from lay people, oh no, no. But really, rail rapid transit? He should do much better than that.

    Today it is Le Tram that is considered to be the most important means in reducing congestion and pollution and the rest of these gadgetbahnen are mere frills.

    When our team was in Vancouver in the early 2000’s we were taken aback by this quest for density. it was like a foreign language we had to learn. Politicians and your planners wanted density not a usable transit system.

    From what we could see, Vancouver had the density for trams right up to Hope, if one was so bold to say this.

    This mantra which still echoes in your part of the world is leading you to an unpleasant reality that you have a very expensive gadgetbahnen to operate and no money to make it usable in the future. We pointed this out at the time and were not so pleasantly told; “why our company sent amateurs to do a professional job.”

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