It Is Essential That LRT Is Designed By Consultants With Expertise In Modern LRT!

TransLink has absolutely zero expertise with modern light rail, yet continually plans for grossly inferior light rail lines which under scrutiny shows so many flaws that their plans become laughable.

The latest was then Surrey LRT, which was so over engineered and so gold-plated, it became unafordable and was easily pushed aside by the SkyTrain Lobby.

The same is true in Vancouver, where the Vancouver Engineering Department, abetted by TransLink, have made and continue to make erroneous claims about LRT and trams, despite ample examples around the world contradicted their claims.

What has been absent from our planning process is real light rail plans designed by consultants with expertise with modern light rail.

Of course this has been done on purpose because if real light rail plans, done by real light rail experts were to be offered, it would show everyone, what the world already knew in 1986, Advanced Light Rail Transit (ALRT), now called Movia Automatic Light Metro (MALM) and mistakenly called SkyTrain is obsolete, made obsolete by light rail!


Caen's newly opened, 16 km tram system cost $373 million.

 Please note, TransLink is spending a minimum of $4.6 billion to build 12.8 km of the now called Movia Automatic Light Metro, yet in Caen France, the new 16 km tram/LRT line cost $373 million.


A modern tram, built to modern standards in Caen, France.



It is salutary to compare the new transport system’s performance with that of the original Sydney trams between Circular Quay and Randwick. The CBD and South East Light Rail, or CSELR, is taking on average 50 minutes to cover the distance compared with 26 minutes for the Sydney trams in the 1950s.

This comparison is even more jarring when we consider the light rail has 14 stops and the trams had at least 18 stops between Circular Quay and Randwick. It should also be born in mind that the CSELR has modern, more powerful trams and a greater proportion of exclusive rights of ways to avoid traffic congestion.

So what has gone wrong? Basically the state government has been badly let down by Transport for NSW. In the early days of the project Transport for NSW engaged a consultant “shadow operator” to set the parameters for the new operation. This British-based consultancy’s expertise was basically the provision of heavy rail intercity services (equivalent to services between Sydney-Canberra or Sydney-Goulburn). In addition Transport for NSW turned to heavy rail and/or road traffic consultants for engineering “expertise”.

The result is the acceptance and development of operating procedures which do not make appropriate use of the modern tram and light rail infrastructure now available in Sydney.

Consider dwell times for trams at stops. Based on overseas experience these should be approximately 20 seconds, a figure that is part of the normal tramway operations in Canberra and the Gold Coast. Obviously there is considerable room for improvement here.

Priority for trams at signalled intersections is at best rudimentary. Fifteen years ago I was given a tour of the Gothenburg Tramways by senior management. They had tram priority and they demonstrated this by bringing out a vintage four-wheel tram fitted with a transponder ie the black box which signals the approaching tram to the signal control circuitry. As the tram approached the intersection, a special light signal authorised the driver to proceed at full speed up to the red traffic light, which would operate in his favour as the tram approached the intersection. In contrast, many of the CSELR procedures require the driver to slow to a walking pace or even stop before the priority light operates. Time lost, $6 million dollars of tram and 415 passengers have less priority than a handful of cars, each with an average of 1.1 occupants.

Transport for NSW senior management tells us that light rail vehicles cannot stop quickly. This is nonsense and reflects an ingrained heavy rail mentality. Anyone who has experience of an emergency-stop situation in cities such as Zurich, Brussels and even Melbourne is well aware that a tram, with three braking systems, will pull up much faster than any bus.

Operational speed limits are also a major fail. Restrictions on speed pulling into a stop and mandated slowing well before the stop are fine for heavy rail but not necessary for trams. They are not applied to buses in Sydney and are contrary to well established and regular operations across Europe where they operate professional and well-run tram systems as a matter of routine.

Any concerns the government may have about the safety of pedestrians and passengers if these procedures and restrictions are changed could be allayed by getting in experts from Europe to advise on running a system that is both safe and efficient.

It’s time we cut the PR spin and got down to doing some real system tweaking to deliver what should be a first class, modern tram system.

Greg Sutherland is an engineer with extensive experience in transport and logistics.
He was the senior transport adviser to the NSW minister when the Inner West Light Rail was inaugurated in Sydney.


7 Responses to “It Is Essential That LRT Is Designed By Consultants With Expertise In Modern LRT!”
  1. Rico says:

    Seems to me the Sydney system will get better over time. A lot of the problems are fixable and others are just figuring it out like the Ottawa system. That said you may want to look at the cost of the system relative to what it delivers.
    If you want to claim Caen’s LRT costs are representative of what LRT could cost in Vancouver I want to claim Barcelona’s metro costs for Broadway costs. Unfortunately we all know the many reasons that is not realistic.

    Zwei replies: don’t like the answer change the subject. The comparison is good, especially for the ridership involved. Just to refresh you on costs.

    Construction Started
    Expected Completion
    Estimated Investment
    €6.5bn (USD $8.4bn)

    Barcelona Metro 9

    Barcelona Metro Line 9 is set to become the longest automated metro line in Europe when construction work concludes in 2014.

    With an overall length of 47.8km and comprising 50 stations, Line 9 will connect various integral parts of Barcelona, such as the El Prat Airport, the ports district, medical and educational institutions, trade fairs and other popular destinations connecting the northern and southern suburbs.

    The new metro line is estimated to cost €6.5bn (USD $8.4bn), of which €1.3bn (USD$1.67bn) is being financed by The European Investment Bank. Construction started in 2002, with the first three sections of the line commissioned in December 2009, April 2010 and June 2010 respectively. Full line uncompleted.

  2. Rico says:

    Speaking of changing the subject because you don’t like the answer you are aware that Caen is 100,000 people in a Metro area of 400,000 and the LRT was a conversion of the exsisting guided bus system…so no property acquisition costs either with an existing right of way…which I assume has no services that need moving and that traffic signalling work (the traffic light/signal priority) is still good and does not need redoing. I also assume most of the planning/design/environmental assessment stuff on converting guided bus to rail would be minimal. The guided buses also had overhead electric power but I don’t know if it needed replacing (I assume so)…but I wonder if parts of it were repurposed. Oh and it has 23 vehicles for a daily capacity of 64,000…and of course the vehicles are a different contract as well (not included in the cost, an extra 52million pounds). Still think it is a good comparison?
    Also Line 9 in Barcelona is super deep (up to 80m), very complex geology, 50 stations, almost all underground, 20 underground transfer stations. Building stations 60m deep to connect with existing stations ain’t cheap.

    Zwei replies: The population of Caen has nothing to do with it sunshine because modern LRT has a greater hourly capacity than our current SkyTrain light metro system. What is important, LRT can be built much cheaper than light metro and can grow affordably with demand. By the way, the guided bus was replaced because 19 It was proprietary and expensive to maintain; 2) It failed to attract ridership. Caen’s new LRT system is carrying over 20,000 more passengers a day than the guided bus it replaces.

    So again Rico, why doesn’t anyone buy MALM?

  3. Haveacow says:

    As I have told Zwei before you have to be careful about Europe and their relative costs because they have a rapid transit infrastructure building system which lets a select list of transit construction suppliers (SNC Lavlin is on this list) to receive grants and out right price supports that, dramatically lower the public on the book capital costs for these projects. It seems like a great system until you realize, the companies who received these subjectivity selective and secretive grants (whether they have a current rapid transit building project or not) from national governments and or the European Union’s numerous Rapid Transit building funds would be facing instant corruption related court cases here in North America, if the same programs were used. Politicians would be in the news constantly and not for good reasons. Unfortunately, a fair and publicly open competition based system for choosing public transit and infrastructure building contracts is what helps significantly drive up our capital costs.

    Spain and their national subway building spree about 600km of subway tunnel built in several cities (including Barcelona) at a very low public on the book costs was possible because of a national system of price supports for materials like concrete and steel, standardised tunnel designs and the federal government picking up the tab for all the massive cost overruns that did occur. Through creative but legal accounting practices, these cost overruns were not included in the final price. Again a great system if you were the spanish engineering and tunneling giant, C.P. Dragados and the Spanish transit vehicle provider C.A.F. (who do make good trains by the way), if your company did the same kind of work and you wanted in on the contracts, you were S.O.L.

  4. fredinno says:

    “Surrey LRT was gold-plated”

    >Not a single section was built off-grade
    >Initial plans were to reduce 104 to 2 lanes to fit LRT

    What kind of Gold-plating are you talking about? The use of Electric Trams?

    Zwei replies: The bloody cost of it you fool!

  5. fredinno says:

    OK, yeah, their numbers and the numbers that contractors made for it are too high, therefore they must be false and gold-plated.

    Zwei replies: Translink, with no expertise in building with LRT engaged engineers with no expertise in modern LRT. So dismal was the so called planners they they did not know what an articulation was, nor did they understand that tracks did not have to meet heavy rail standards. such incompetence must have been planned.

    And Wikipedia entries for Vancouver are updated by pro SkyTrain types and not vetted.

  6. fredinno says:

    I… can’t. Just open the Wikipedia link. Trust me, it’s not what you think.

    Zwei replies: I have tried, through professionals, to correct several major mistakes with Translink’s entries, but to no avail.

    Please note this, I consult with professionals, not students or bureaucrats, but with people with hands on knowledge about transit, and I think you should too.

  7. Rico says:

    I can’t seem to comment under Peanut gallery.

    Haveacow, could you post a link to the CUTA info because I can’t find it and it conflicts with the published 2018 Performance Review and other news references. Maybe you are looking at 2017 data posted in 2018?

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