From 2010 – Late Friday Night’s Musings For Saturday Reading

From July 2010

Late Friday Night’s Musings For Saturday Reading

Posted by on Saturday, July 3, 2010

Zwei, with a cup of tea in hand, has been reading the various transit blogs and answering emails from interested parties around the world, trying to get a read on what direction public transit is going in the near and not so near future. Sadly, I see a trend in North America towards supporting building hugely expensive heavy-rail subway metro systems, without any consideration for the cost of such a venture. This unrealistic view has tainted our transit planning on this side of the pond to such an extent, that tens of billions of dollars will be wasted on gold plated, over engineered transportation projects, when far cheaper and just as efficient transit solutions would have worked just as well.

The silliness I see from professionals supporting hugely expensive, to install and maintain, automatic train control signaling on new rapid transit (LRT is not rapid transit) lines, demonstrates a gross naivety on the subject of railway signaling. Has anyone who promotes or supports automatic train control (ATC) ever talked to a signaling engineer? I don’t thinks so by the endless cheer-leading for ATC.

Has anyone compared the operating costs of Vancouver’s SkyTrain with Calgary’s LRT? If they had, they would have found that just the SkyTrain Expo Line costs 60% more to operate (2006) than the Calgary’s C-Train LRT, yet the C-Train carried more customers!

Has anyone thumping the desk for ATC ever stopped and considered that transit systems which include ATC are seldom built and ATC is only used on the heaviest used metro lines where automatic (driverless) operation does save operating costs over older manually operated block signaling?

LRT’s Renaissance started in France in the mid 1980′s, when modern low-floor cars, operating on dedicated or Reserved Rights of Ways, were found to be cheaper to build and operate than France’s home grown automatic VAL mini-metro. In the 1970′s France only had a handful of elderly tram or streetcar systems, but in 2010, the country boasts 16 operating tram/LRT systems; 9 more under construction; and 5 in later stages of planning!

In the mid 1980′s, metro or subway construction was bankrupting scores of transportation authorities in many countries and at one time, there was over 100 km of uncompleted or semi-abandoned subway tunnels throughout Europe! The Chaleroi in Belgium being a good example. Though building subways on heavily used transit routes still continues and rightly so, European transit planners have reduced public transit,construction costs by building new LRT/tram systems. The Germans take top prize for cost efficient public transit with the very successful TramTrain concept.

TramTrain, where streetcars are so designed to track share with mainline railways, see total construction costs well under $10 million/km., a fraction the cost of subway or metro construction, where in some cases see construction costs exceed $500 million/km.!

Yet this is all lost by the many blogs and bloggist who support ATC and denounce LRT as some sort of 19th century folly. What is really sad, is that those supporting subways and ATC, seem completely removed from the real world of finance and financing expensive public, transit schemes. The fairy tale land of subway planning always include new and higher taxes, yet proponents of subways fail utterly to understand that there is precious little money to fund their ever costlier transit plans.

In the end, those supporting automatic metros and their kin, may see a line built, but with little chance of much needed expansion in the near or not so near future, while at the same time, much derided Portland keeps expanding its LRT network by about two lines every decade. In an age of peak oil, global warming, and massive urban congestion, it is completely foolish to keep advocating ‘pie in the sky’ metro projects that in the end, may build one or two line at most (three lines in Vancouver), financially exhausting the taxpayer and not providing a credible alternative to the car.

Those who spend hours condemning LRT with “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics“, fail to grasp historic lessons with light rail and have invented their own little world, where Tom Swift style $250 million/km. or more, driverless, elevated railways or subways, with all the whistles and bangs, are easy to come by and the taxpayer is only too happy to pay more tax to fund transit mega projects.


  1. The cost of the Expo line light-metro extension has now surpassed $200 million/km.

  2. France now has 29 tram systems in operation.

  3. There are now over 30 TramTrain systems in operation with over 30 more either under construction or in advanced (funded) stages of planning.

  4. The cost of the Broadway subway is now estimated at $488 million per kilometre to build.


One Response to “From 2010 – Late Friday Night’s Musings For Saturday Reading”
  1. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    I agree. However in Toronto they are doing both Heavy Rail and Light Rail. In Metro Vancouver we need to follow Toronto. Montreal also has two systems. Old guard want only one system since it is more photo Opp for the politicians. Driverless system are being installed all over the world and why not? Depending on the corridor
    Light Rail should be used most of the times. We really need three systems for large urban areas as HST High Speed Trains need to be used instead of Airplanes for distances less than 1000km.

    Zwei replies: Very dated views. First off Toronto has a population of 2.7 million for the City and a metro population of 6.4 million while Vancouver has city population of 631,000 and a metro population of 2.5 million. (please note the population of BC is only 5.1 million), Toronto has the transit routes that demand heavy rail metro/subway, Vancouver does not.

    Driverless transit systems have many problems including the inability to operate well in snow, they are also very expensive to operate and only used on the most heavily used transit routes.

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