And Now – Here Is The Real Story

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With my long association with the LRTA, I have made many contacts with professionals in the transit industry, who have guided me and given me much information on modern public transport.

The following questions deserve an answer.

Is current regional transit planning viable in the post Covid world?

Is the current light-metro only planning viable in Metro Vancouver?

Has the current light-metro network provided an affordable and user-friendly alternative to the car?

Are politicians honest with public transit planning?

Important questions that must be answered before we invest another nickel in our regional light-metro system.

 

Overview

The region has today, a very serious problem with transit and the ill-informed actions four years ago by Surrey Council. Cancelling LRT and demanding light metro has set back regional transit for decades. The anti-LRT rhetoric, all too common in council chambers and the media, has no basis and reminded me of former American President Trump’s all too common tirades of fake news and alternative facts. The anti-LRT crowd would have us believe that no one builds with light rail, but the truth of the matter is the complete opposite.

The SkyTrain light-metro system is actually two very different railways. The Canada line, a conventional electric railway, operating electrical multiple units or EMU’s on a grade separated rights-of-way and the Expo and Millennium Lines, operates the proprietary and often rebranded proprietary light metro system which latest brand name is Movia Automatic Light Metro (MALM) system which now owned by French transportation conglomerate, Alstom, after they purchased Bombardier’s troubled rail division. The Canada line EMU’s and the Expo and Millennium Line cars are not compatible in operation. MALM cars can only operate with MALM vehicles.

Alstom is also the sole supplier of MALM vehicles, as no other company has an operable “off the shelf” model.

 

Do we need to rethink transit?

Do we need to rethink transit?

 

The Canada Line

The Canada Line was former Premier’s Gordon Campbell’s foray with a transit P-3’s and so unappealing was the Canada Line P-3, that the eventual winning consortium did not have to assume risk and obtained a very sweet maintenance contract. Assuming risk on a project is the hallmark of a P-3 project, transferring risk from government to the private sector.

The then Liberal government, through TransLink, signed a secret agreement with the SNC Lavalin lead consortium that all south of the Fraser bus routes must transfer their customers onto the Canada line to complete their trip to Vanvcouver, forcing an unwanted and user-unfriendly transfer, where pre Canada line, there was none. This agreement has come back to haunt TransLink, post covid, as many former transit customers have opted to abandon taking transit altogether!

This agreement has stalled any meaningful improvement to transit South of the Fraser.

TransLink now pays the SNC Lavalin lead consortium operating the Canada line P-3 around $110 million annually.

As the Canada Line is a P-3, it is very hard to get accurate figures as most are concealed under a confidentiality clause in the contract.

The Canada line can only operate 41 metre two car trains and has slightly more than half the capacity of the MALM Lines.

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To increase capacity, over $1.5 billion must be spent lengthening platforms, rationalizing track locations, and much more.

As the Canada line is a conventional railway, it has far more in common with modern LRT than it does with MALM.

The Movia Automatic Light Metro Lines

The Expo and Millennium lines use a Linear Induction Motor (LIM) powered proprietary railway, which has a history of marketing failures. First developed by the Ontario Crown Corporation, the Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC) , named Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS), in the early 1980’s. During the same period, modern LRT entered the urban rail market and potential customers soon found that ICTS cost more to build and operate and had less capacity than LRT, thus making ICTS more expensive to operate in the long term.

Like the Ford Edsel, ICTS was a marketing lemon.

The name was changed to Advanced Light Rail Transit (ALRT) to compete against LRT, which fooled no one except politicians in Victoria and Metro Vancouver, who forced the system onto Metro Vancouver after a politcal deal was done with the province of Ontario.

Lack of sales saw the dissolution of the UTDC and ALRT sold to Lavalin and the marketing name was changed to Automatic Light Metro (ALM). Lavalin went bankrupt during the time it was trying to sell ALM to Bangkok and the technical patents were sold to Bombardier inc. and the newly combined SNC Lavlain retained the engineering patents.

The name was again changed to Advanced Rapid Transit (ART), with Bombardier manufacturing a completely redesigned vehicle and included it in their Innovia Line of proprietary light metros, including monorail.

ART had a checkered and unhappy history and the brand was combined with the Innovia product line. Lack of sales later saw the Innova product line combined with the Movia heavy-rail metro line.

The real problem was light rail made ALRT obsolete by the mid 1980’s and there is clear evidence that BC Transit and the Social Credit government knew that, what is now called the Expo Line, was inferior to LRT, hiding the fact with a well oiled propaganda campaign that still exists today!

Only seven such systems have been built since the late 1970’s and only three are seriously used for urban transit. Toronto and Detroit will soon tear theirs down, with the remaining four, other than Vancouver and Kuala Lumpur, being airport or theme park people movers.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Yongin, Korea systems have embroiled Bombardier in corruption cases over “success fees” paid to senior bureaucrats and politicians.

There has not been a sale of MALM for over fifteen years and soon Alstom may cease production altogether as TransLink is the only remaining customer.

Compared with light rail, over two hundred new LRT systems have been built during the same period.

The reason for SkyTrain’s demise is simple as it costs up to ten times more than light rail to install; it costs more to operate and maintain than light rail (up to 60% more); has less capacity than light rail and lacks the inherent flexibility of light rail in operation!

Metro Vancouver taxpayers have easily paid up to three times more for light-metro than they should have, thus Metro Vancouver, for the money invested, has one third the “rail” network it would have had building with light rail!

The Worn out Expo Line

The Expo Line is now approaching 37 years in operation and because it operates small cars (which have to do two times the work as a regular metro car to carry the same amount of people) is wearing out a lot faster than comparative light rail lines and needs an extensive and extremely expensive rehab before any thought of increasing capacity can be entertained.

Transport Canada’s Operating Certificate for MALM, limits capacity to 15,000 persons per hour per direction. To increase capacity, around $3 billion dollars must be spent on a general rehab of the existing Expo Line and to a lesser extent, on the Millennium Line. This cost includes lengthening station platforms to 100 or 120 metres to permit longer trains; replacing and upgrading the electrical supply; replacing and upgrading the the automatic train control system (this includes about 10,000 km of re-wiring); replace at least one section of guideway; replace all switches with new switches to permit faster operation; and a lot more.

This is extremely important that this must be done before any thought of extending SkyTrain to Surrey and beyond to Langley.

You can extend SkyTrain, yes, but it will create massive overcrowding on the Expo line from New Westminster to downtown Vancouver as only a limited number of trains can be operated.

The mayor of Surrey’s ill founded belief that SkyTrain can be built for the same cost as LRT will cheat Surrey into having any “rapid transit” in the near future. Had he consulted with real experts at the time, he would find that the HATCH Study for SkyTrain to Langley cost $2.95.

Today’s bill for the Expo Line extension may top $4.95 billion!

SkyTrain construction consumes up to ten times more cement than light rail and the cost of of cement is increasing at two to three times the rate of inflation, thus the cost for SkyTrain to be built to Langley soon exceed $4 billion, with TransLink now hinting that the cost will be as high as $4.95 billion. The longer it takes to build SkyTrain, the more costly it will become when compared to light rail!

What is happening with Surrey’s council  is a grifter’s bamboozle, hiding the fact that no rapid transit will be built any time soon.

Premier Horgan has made a grave politcal mistake, promising the SkyTrain extension to Langley, with the project now well over $1 billion underfunded, again perpetuating the all too common politcal interference in local transit planning!

Surrey Council’s plan for SkyTrain, will not reduce congestion and will greatly limit Surrey’s ability to build “rail” transit in the future.

 

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The Broadway SkyTrain Subway

The Broadway SkyTrain subway is more questionable planning by TransLink and the Mayor’s Council on Transit.

In North America, the recommended traffic flows needed on a transit route that would require a subway is around 15,000 pphpd and in Europe the threshold for a subway construction, because of the ability of light rail to cater to high traffic flows, is in excess of 20,000 pphpd! TransLink has just recently announced that the maximum capacity of the Millennium line will be a mere 7,500 when the subway opens, half the capacity that would justify a subway!

Peak hour traffic flows on Broadway is around 4,000 pphpd. Checking the time table for the 99B, which sees a peak hour service of 3 minute headway’s 20 trips per hour per direction), giving a peak hour capacity of 2,000 pphpd.

The real cost of the Broadway subway will be $3.2 to $3.5 billion and for what, a badly designed subway that will not attract ridership due to large distances between stations and will not reduce congestion as it does not go anywhere.

For all the hype and hoopla about the Broadway subway, it will be a Pandora’s box of high costs and operational disappointments. Also, studies from Toronto show that subway’s sterilize businesses between stations, something that the city of Vancouver is going to find out very soon.

A Broadway subway will also increase TransLink’s operating costs by a minimum of $40 million annually.

There was no technical reason to build a subway under Broadway, only a political one!

Is cut and cover subway construction coming to Broadway?

Is cut and cover subway construction coming to Broadway?

 

The Coming Post Covid Transit Fiasco

It is clear that TransLink is now faced with a massive financial fiasco as its two showcase rapid transit projects are rapidly devolving into a financial and a transit train wreck.

Noted American transit engineer, Gerald Fox, in a 2009 review of the Evergreen Line’s Business Case and found major inaccuracies, stated:

But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.

The 1999 Greer report also found major issues with continued SkyTrain planning:

The main conclusion of this review is that the most relevant information advanced in support of the SkyTrain option was misleading, incomplete or unsubstantiated.

More specifically, the review found: cost comparisons appear to have been contrived to favour SkyTrain over LRT;

– no ridership (demand) analysis was reported to justify the high capacity system;

– air quality and transportation benefits are unsubstantiated;

– accelerated construction advantages of SkyTrain were clearly unrealistic;

– risks associated with the SkyTrain car manufacture have not been assessed.

The shock effect of fiscal reality of continued building with the unsustainable SkyTrain light-metro has yet to make its appearance, but it will and with a vengeance.

Then why is TransLink proposing transit solutions that they know that they cannot afford, such as the $5 billion plus subway completion to UBC and the $5 billion plus North Shore Rapid Transit proposal?

 

Parting words

One modern tram (which has the same maximum speed as SkyTrain) is as efficient as four MK.1 cars and three MK. 2/3 cars, thus making for much cheaper maintenance costs for light rail. Ottawa’s new LRT can carry more people at a much cheaper cost.

Contrary to the expected screams of “shock and disbelief” from the usual suspects; this is about being a ‘canary in the coal mine’, warning of a major, light metro lead transit fiasco in the near future. There is no moral fibre by regional politicians to challenge the misinformed Mayor of Surrey and his desire for the continued use of the proprietary MALM system and the increased costs that come with it.

Sadly, the anti-LRT lies and propaganda by the well established SkyTrain Lobby, which is entrenched in both major political parties; Ministry of Transportation; TransLink, universities, the media and regional bureaucracies, will ensure that there will be no affordable LRT solution in the foreseeable future.

The fear of the truth and the possibility of legal or professional action maintains the status quo and makes sure no one will rock the “SkyTrain” boat.

Today, by continuing to build with the obsolete MALM system, we are building a 1980’s transit system base on extremely dated 1960’s and 70’s transit philosophy, where rapid transit was designed to be out of the way of the car and recently modified for Vancouver to use SkyTrain as a driver for quick profits for land speculators, land developers, and more recently money launders.

In the 21st century, successful transit systems are user friendly, something that Metro Vancouver’s transit system is not!

Crop TTCThis is from a 1983 article in Modern Tramways and compare, TransLink promises that

the opening capacity of the $3 billion Broadway subway will be 7,500 pphpd!

An user-friendly transit system that has the inherent ability to attract the motorist from the car, thus a successful public transit system is seen as a product and if the product is good, customers willingly use it and if not, the customer will opt, if he or she can, for the car. This explains the success of light rail and the lack of success of SkyTrain and light-metro.

In Vancouver, transit customers are treated as cattle, crammed into buses and forcibly made to transfer to the SkyTrain system (over 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership, first take the bus) so TransLink can pretend it’s doing a good job. In Metro Vancouver, politicians pretend that SkyTrain is a “world class system”, yet internationally, the Canada Line is considered a classic white elephant and the LIM powered MALM is considered more of a historical curiosity, like the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, than anything else.

No one has copied Metro Vancouver’s transit planning, nor its exclusive use of light-metro and the Broadway subway may even be the next Charleroi (Belgium), where a metro was built but with no funds to buy cars or operate it, has remained derelict for over thirty years.

In a 2008 letter to a Victoria transit group, American transit expert Gerald Fox critiques the business case for the Evergreen Line has become a prediction of metro Vancouver’s light metro ills.

“I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too.”

And adding:

” It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.”

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