Memo to the M.O.T. – Time to Reread The Leewood Study

Now ten years old, the Leewood Study, done by Leewood Projects (UK), to access the viability of reinstating a passenger rail service from downtown Vancouver to Chilliwack via the former BC Electric R.R. route, is worth a revisit.

Leewood Study

The Leewood Study brought a fresh set of ideas to the planning table, something the establishment did not like, because the establishment plans for failure.

The Leewood Study brought the word TramTrain into the local lexicon, but the genius of TramTrain has been lost on politicians and bureaucrats who still want to plan for ruinously expensive, get glitzy light metro in Metro Vancouver.

A modern European diesel TramTrain in operation on a country branch line

This brings us to this weeks release of the Vancouver Island Corridor Study, which gave a sobering cost of renewing the railway, but woefully deficient on providing a sound basis for any sort of passenger rail.

Time wasted on “commuter rail” is almost laughable if it were not so sad as commuter rail is only viable in major conurbations.

To be successful, a new and fresh look must be taken at proven methods of offering an affordable passenger rail service, as the establishment does not want any sort of rail transit, preferring buses and new highways.

In BC, politicians do as lobbyists want!

Vancouver Island Corridor Study

The Vancouver Island Corridor Study is a voluminous tome that lacks a coherent objective.

The study pinpoints the costs of rehabbing the line, but a 50% contingency, points to the fact those doing the study did not do a lot of homework.

The failing of the study lies in the fact it is using 19th century passenger rail solutions to solve 21st century problems.

It won’t work.

Creative thinking was desperately needed, but was absent, as the those doing the study reverted to old methods, tarted up as new.

TramTrain is a solution ready made for the E&N, yet not even a hint of this modern evolution of the interurban, which  saw service in Victoria, years ago. Interurban Road in North Victoria/Saanich is a reminder of trams long past.

A tram-train is a light-rail public transport system where trams run through from an urban tramway network to main-line railway lines which are shared with conventional trains. This combines the tram’s flexibility and accessibility with a train’s greater speed, and bridges the distance between main railway stations and a city centre.

Direct (no transfer) service has dramatically proven to attract ridership.

The ability of TramTrain to bring customers direct to the city centre has been a proven winner where used. The bonus is that TramTrain has proven to attract the all important motorist from the car.

New Jersey's River line's TramTrain operation using diesel light rail cars.

A TramTrain service linking downtown Victoria to Langford, through the extremely congested Malahat, to Duncan, Chemainus, Ladysmith and Nanaimo, with on street running in Nanaimo (possibly to Departure Bay) would be a winner.

Future operation would extend to Courtney and Port Alberni!

Using TramTrain would leave plenty of pathways for freight and tourist services.

It would be best that BC’s Ministry of Transport, dust off the Leewood Study and reread it as it gives affordable answers that their overly complicated, yet extremely dated study does not.


6 Responses to “Memo to the M.O.T. – Time to Reread The Leewood Study”
  1. Evil Eye says:

    But it seems, all what is wanted on the Island is a decrepit Budd Car trundling up and down the Island. No politician will ever fund any money for that!

    BC is such a strange land, billions and billions of dollars for rapid transit that does not really go anywhere, yet planners ignore real transit solutions.

  2. Bill Burgess says:

    The study includes other options than Budd cars, including modern DMUs like those on Ottawa’s Trillium Line, and other LRT options.

    Zwei, you pose a tram train as the alternative for the E&N but can you clarify how that would differ from the general line of the report? Pardon my ignorance but in general terms it seems similar to the Leewood study except that it was more complete, especially in that it includes demand/ridership projections (which at first glance seemed underwhelming).

    Zwei replies: First of all TramTrain is not legal to operate in Canada for one reason, no one has asked Transport Canada about it. I have been informed that if a TramTrain type service were to operate, they would probably approve depending on the type of vehicle it uses.

    A TramTrain, of course, operates on main line railway and on-street tram tracks thus its name.

    TramTrain are somewhat lighter and smaller than the majority of DMU’s now on the market.

    Now, the reason I offered the suggestion of TramTrain is that it would give a direct to downtown service for Victoria and a possible connection to the Ferry’s at Departure Bay. The inherent flexibility of TramTrain means a customer focused service could be planned for and to make the service successful.

    Because the johnson St. Bridge was rebuilt without a rail component, there is a possibility and I stress possibility (I have been informed that there are both UK and dutch companies that specialize in laying tram tracks across bridges) that by using TramTrain it would provide a more than convenient service to downtown Victoria. This is something the plan did not include.

  3. Haveacow says:

    Sorry, new Chromebook issue, it saved the wrong version of what I was writing. If you could just erase the earlier post

    First of all, Budd cars are not “decrepit”, they are old vehicles yes but they are the prototype North American DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit). Literally, these rail vehicles are the most adaptable, simple self propelled passenger cars ever made. This is why VIA Rail, Amtrak and several brand new Commuter Rail Operators throughout the continent continue to use them in day to day operation. North Dallas’s Cotton Belt Line and Norfolk Virginia’s Commute Service are new Commuter Rail lines who use this vehicle and are examples of this simple issue.

    They are the only D.M.U.’s available that can easily/cheaply change the diesel power plant for more modern or revolutionary clean technology. Their interiors are large in area and again, can be simply/cheaply modified, especially compared to more modern vehicles.

    The next reason is mainly regulatory, they are already cleared to operate on all our mainline railroads, where as many new D.M.U.’s chosen by North American Operators have to spend anywhere from 8 months to 1.5 years just to pass all the testing the US Department of Transport or Transport Canada require to make them safe for even “Restricted Operations”. Any new Tram-Train operation will have to clear a huge number of operational and regulatory hurdles just to operate, a brand new untested rail vehicle will just add to any particular project’s list of things to do.

  4. Haveacow says:

    As Zwei pointed out, Tram-Trains and their operating concept is technically illegal in Canada. The reason for this that these operations force mainline railways that are generally the train part, in Tram-Trains are forced to follow their own posted scheduling. If there isn’t anything but their trains they have operational flexibility. Many Class 1 railroads have successfully argued that, being forced to keep to overly rigid operating schedules that Tram-Train operations cause, can be a safety issue that may lead to accidents and loss of life, as well as extra costs and lost profits.

    Zwei replies: Forgetting the main point that a TramTrain service would bring enhanced signalling to the railway used, leading to safer operation all around.

  5. Haveacow says:

    Good ponit Zwei! Even CN and CP sometimes conveniently forgot that sharing many of their tracks around Toronto with G.O. Transit and G.O. Transit’s cash payments (before they sold most of their rights of way to G.O. Transit and the province of Ontario), which helped pay for many improvements that both railways made, enabling vast improvements to their remaining Toronto area freight services and making them a lot more efficient and reliable.

  6. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    A-Train service from Victoria to Nanaimo would be successful if it can be faster than the 90mins travel time by car.
    In the meantime, an Express BRT bus service should be provided as requested by RDN

    Commuter Train service from Langford would be successful if more density is approved by the various cities in the CRD, otherwise, an express bus BRT service would be good for many years

    Zwei replies: The speed issue is very dated. People will take transit and accept longer travel times, if the system is user friendly, including, comfortable seating; scheduled service; realistic destinations, clean and safe stations or stops; and several other items.

    The trouble with express buses or BRT is that they are poor in attracting ridership.

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