Montreal Light Metro Ills. Updated!

The current transit problem in Montreal is REM light metro problem.

REM is more of a financial tool for Quebec’s Caisse de Depot, who have gained much experience with Vancouver’s P-3 Canada Line light-metro, than a user-friendly transit system for Montreal.

Let us remember that the Canada Line, has only 40 metre long station platforms and can operate only 41 metre long 2-car coupled sets of EMU’s, is the only heavy rail metro in the world, built as a light metro, having less capacity than a simple streetcar or tram, costing a fraction to build.


Despite claims from the usual sources that the Canada Line is a great success, much important information is not readily available to the public, due to freedom of information concerns. F.O.I.’s pertaining to the Canada line hare heavily redacted.

The Caisse de depot has learned well from the Canada Line and REM is shrouded in secrecy. All major bus routes will feed REM, forcing unnecessary transfer on to customers and the REM route has been deliberately designed not to feed into the established metro system.

As well, local residents in Montreal are waking up to the fact that elevated railways are not a pretty sight and why they lost favour 100 years ago or so.

“It’s not a project for the people,” said Ronald Daigneault, who is with the Collectif en environnement Mercier-Est citizens’ group.

As it stands, he said, the project is looking less like public transit that serves the population and more like a business proposal aimed at turning a profit for deep-pocketed investors and real estate developers farther east.

 Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Update, please click


Artists rendering of REM in Montreal

Artists rendering of REM in Montreal

The promise

Rem_construction_guideway_Pointe-Saint-CharlesThe reality


Hanes: Public transit planning in Montreal has gone off track

The warnings of departing Société de transport de Montréal boss Luc Tremblay confirm what has lately become increasingly apparent: public transit in Greater Montreal is stuck and needs a major overhaul.


36 Responses to “Montreal Light Metro Ills. Updated!”
  1. Avery Johnson says:

    Pre-pandemic the Canada line had a greater ridership than the entire Portland MAX system. You might say “This is because they force a transfer with busses” but that’s irrelevant because:
    1. Those busses did not get 150k riders a day.
    2. Portlands bus network also forces transfers and has busses feed the LRT network (which is the case with basically every LRT system in north america). Honestly don’t understand why you seem to think that other places don’t also have bus to rail transfers. It makes no sense to run a parallel express bus service.

    Zwei replies: Two methods of ridership calculations. In the US generally and in Portland, ridership is the actual number of people using transit and in 2019, over 120,000 road MAX daily.

    TransLink uses boarding’s and the Canada line had around 120,000 boarding’s a day (pre covid)or roughly 50,000 actual persons using the system.

    Despite the local hype and Hoopla, the Canada Line is considered internationally as a bit of a white elephant. It’s peak hour capacity is around 6,500 pphpd at 3 minute headway’s, with a maximum capacity of around 9,000 pphpd.

    As the Canada line is a P-3 one cannot get accurate boarding counts form the operating consortium and F.O.I. requests have returned with ridership figures redacted.

    As no one has copied the Canada Line and the Caisse d’depot has only copied the P-3 aspect of the light metro, the concept of operating a a heavy rail metro as a light metro is a dud.

  2. Major Hoople says:

    When we worked in Vancouver, trying to win the bid for the Canada Line, we found that the provincial government and their agents freely allowed TransLink to greatly exaggerate ridership. The media were completely uninterested is any accurate reporting and our group fed them a few stories.

    Claims of phenomenally high ridership on the Canada Line is to be taken with a grain of salt as none seem to be fact checked. The small trains and the layout of service is just not conducive to high ridership.

    The real problem with the RAV/Canada Line is that capacity cannot be easily increased, especially in the subway section an oh those stub stations at the airport ans Richmond must be completely rebuilt.

    We told TransLink, its CEO and the Provincial Minister of Transportation that being driver-less meant that it would be far too costly to extend the Line in Richmond and why we commended using trams instead.

    It all fell on deaf ears I’m afraid and the Canada Line remains unique, under built and expensive to operate, over $4 billion over the 35 year P-3 term. And that is on top of the $2.4 billion it cost to build.

    And now Montreal is making the same mistake.

  3. Bill Burgess says:

    Average week day boardings on Canada Line in 2019 were 147,700 (

    TheTranslink ratio of journeys to boardings in 2019 was 60% ( Journeys are a complete trip composed of one or more boarding.

    If this ratio was also true for the Canada Line that would be 88,620 week day journeys. Zwei, I question that you have any serious basis for your 40% ratio.

    The only Portland ridership data I can readily find is *also expressed in boardings*, e.g., In Spring 2019 weekday boardings for 5 MAX lines were 121,980 (, i.e., less than the 2019 Canada LIne numbers.

    Zwei, if you can, please provide trip or journey numbers for MAX. Please don’t distract by inventing a “user” measure, i.e., individuals who often take more than one transit trip per day.

    Zwei replies: What i have learned in this business is that there many ways of calculating ridership; calculating capacity; that there is much confusion. The problem in Canada is that there is no other agency doing independent audits of our transit systems, unlike the USA, the UK and Europe. Translink can claim what ever they want, knowing no one is checking their numbers.

    A German chap, who occasionally comments here, last job before retirement was doing independent audits of operation on German rail systems. The penalties are quite stiff if numbers released do not match the independent audits, including heavy fines and jail time for managers.

  4. Bill Burgess says:

    Zwei, there is lots of evidence that you are wrong to claim that US transit agencies report linked trips (journeys in Translinkese)) rather than boardings (unlinked trips) as their key measure of ridership for comparative purposes.

    For example, from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics ( ):

    “The number of unlinked passenger trips is the measure used for the TSI.”

    “The U.S. Federal Transit Administration requires that annual unlinked passenger trips and passenger-miles data be collected or estimated by the predominantly large and medium-size transit agencies participating in its National Transit Database (NTD).”

    “All ridership data reported relate to trips, not to people, because that is how data are collected and reported. The use of passes, transfers, joint tickets, and cash by people transferring from one vehicle to another, one transit mode to another, and from one public transit agency to another makes it difficult to count people. Boardings [unlinked passenger trips] can be counted more accurately. At the largest public transit agencies, even boardings may be estimated for portions of the ridership.”

    “Once the data is submitted, it is subjected to review and analysis for data completeness and reasonableness. Additionally, transit properties may revise their data at any time during the calendar year reporting cycle, which lasts through March 1 of the subsequent year. These changes may be done unilaterally by the transit property, as the transit property collects additional data on its operations, and these changes will be reflected in subsequent release of the monthly data base.”

    “For small agencies, it is easy to report the actual ridership, for some large agencies, the number of boardings would be estimated for a portion of the ridership.”

    Or, from the the American Public Transit Association (APTA):

    “The Public Transportation Ridership Report is a quarterly report of transit passenger ridership for U.S. and Canadian transit agencies. The report includes quarterly and year-to-date estimated unlinked transit passenger trips for the current and previous year by transit mode.” [Note: “unliked trips”, i.e. boardings.]

    “The data items are reported as the number of unlinked passenger trips. Unlinked passenger trips are defined as the number of passengers who board public transportation vehicles. Passengers are counted each time they board vehicles no matter how many vehicles they use to travel from their origin to their destination.”

    So, as with Translink, 1) unlinked trips or boardings (***NOT linked trips or journeys***) are the key statistic used in the US for comparison purposes. 2) Note there is nothing about “independent audits” in the USA; rather there is a similar process as faced by transit agencies in Canada when they submit data to CUTA (Canadian Urban Transit Association).

    Zwei replies: blah, blah, blah.

    If Skytrain, both MALM and Canada line is so damn good, why has no one copied Vancouver? Why, after over 40 years of operation, no one copies us.

    With urban transport, success is widely copied, but not Vancouver, Why?

    I can tell you lots, but you will not believe me. TransLink is notorious for embellishing ridership, so much so, they are quietly ignored elsewhere.

    See, no one gives a damn, except the SkyTrain Lobby and local politicians.

    About a decade ago at a invite only meeting, reps from Portland, Seattle, Calgary and Vancouver, gave overviews of their transit systems and what was planned for the future. It was all rosy, as ongoing plans for expanding their rail systems to meet expected demand. Well almost rosy, when it came to TransLink, the only future they saw was a more streamline bus service and almost no mention of expanding the present system; no mention of a subway, no mention of expanding the Expo Line to Surrey, just a vague mention extending the Expo Line to Newton; “maybe, some day”.

    As well, you are not listening, there is no agency in Canada that ensures accurate reporting by TransLink, thus the public are not protected from nebulous claims, based more on making politicians happy, than anything else.

    I leave with Gerald Fox’s opening critique of the Evergreen line:

    “The Evergreen Line Report made me curious as to how TransLink could justify continuing to expand SkyTrain, when the rest of the world is building LRT. So I went back and read the alleged Business Case (BC) report in a little more detail. 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.”

  5. Avery Johnson says:

    “If Skytrain, both MALM and Canada line is so damn good, why has no one copied Vancouver? Why, after over 40 years of operation, no one copies us.”

    There’s lots of light metros and mini metros around the world:

    The reasons they are not used more often tend to be somewhat complex. First, if you already have and existing system you likely want to keep using it. So that means if you system has drivers you keep using drivers. In particular unions for the existing system will push pack on building any new automated lines.
    The second is “cost cutting”. I put this in quotes because often times you’re actually not saving money on a per rider basis but regardless many US systems have such incredibly high construction costs that they end up building at grade LRT at the cost of a grade separated new build metro in other countries. A lot of people end up trying to advocate for more of a cheaper and worse thing rather than trying to figure out how to make the high performance system cheaper. This means that many new build systems cut corners when they really should be planning for the future. A good example is Seattle which both has an expensive light metro-like system and a lot of weird design choices that make it worse than the Canada Line including :
    – Low floor trains that limit car capacity
    – Grade crossings that make automation impossible
    – Long platforms that increase stations costs but are not necessary for the amount of capacity the system serves
    This is the case for a lot of the US. Expensive systems to build and operate that get a fraction of the ridership of the Canada Line.

    Finally, it’s also the case the many cities build grade separated trains and metros except they are larger because they have bigger populations and more train riders:

    Zwei replies: you are so ill informed, that I think you just make it as you go along.

    Your quote:

    “Seattle which both has an expensive light metro-like system and a lot of weird design choices that make it worse than the Canada Line including :
    – Low floor trains that limit car capacity
    – Grade crossings that make automation impossible
    – Long platforms that increase stations costs but are not necessary for the amount of capacity the system serves”

    Sorry completely BS.

    Your points are just so silly one has to shake ones head. Read Book on the subject sunshine!

    Low-floor cars do not reduce capacity, on the contrary they permit shorter dwell times, which actually tends to increases capacity.
    Actually, autonomous trams are now being tried in Europe makes this statement rather dated. Anyway, driverless operation is very expensive and grade separated guide-ways are user unfriendly.
    Long platforms, allow longer trains, which have more capacity. Actually anything less than 80m long platforms restrict capacity as the Canada Line has proven.

    Automatic trains is a signalling issue, nothing more and automatic operation is not cost effective on transit routes with traffic flows less than 20,000 pphpd. One of the reasons why the SkyTrain light metro system cost more to operate than comparative LRT operations.

  6. Haveacow says:

    Zwei, has a point, in Europe, N.America and now unbelievably China (no more new Metro systems allowed unless the Central Committee says so), the full scale Metro, Subway, Heavy Rail category of rail rapid transit is largely tapped out. Are there going to be new lines, yes sometimes, will there be line extensions, yes but far fewer than you think.

    How many new or expanding Light Metro Systems are there in Europe and North America,? Very few. Vancouver, Montreal, Honolulu, Copenhagen, Lille, London , Milan and Rennes. Oh, there are many single line systems in other cities and some other, 1 shot feeder lines for full metros. Most are experiments that will never be replicated. This makes it a small market and that increases building costs dramatically. Especially, if you have multiple builders. More than a few are specialized rail lines built in the late 19th or early 20 th centuries.

    Vancouver’s Skytrain has roughly half (50%) the passenger capacity of Toronto’s Subway (Metro) system but costs between 75% to 85% (per km) of Toronto’s Subway to build.

    What makes the Skytrain even more dangerous for future operators is its unusual nonstandard propulsion system, which unfortunately, offers very few real advantages, if any, compared to standard “Can” multi-pole, electric railway vehicle motors. They are not cheaper to build or operate. Due to federal government regulations you still have to take them apart and do maintenance on them just as often as standard electric motors. Which makes LIM propulsion much more expensive to maintain than standard motors in and both resources and time, due to their design, placement and how they operate.

    I know all this because I use to help sell these vehicles as well as other products for Bombardier! It got so bad with the LIM propulsion system that, they had to offer it as an option, not a core part of the system. All in a vain attempt to drum up some sales. The new Bombardier North America (a division of Alstom) continued the “old Bombardier ‘s” practice of offered LIM propulsion, as a propulsion option for other rail vehicles. That still doesn’t work either.

    Depending on the definition, there are roughly 60 Light Metro operators worldwide. Roughly half of them have been built and began operations since the year 2000. That may sound impressive but consider this, only 10 of these operators with 1 more in the planning stages, operates more than 1 line and has plans to expand operations with more lines. This makes it an incredibly limited market and thus high cost in any respect.

    There have been 23 LRT systems begin operation since 2000 in just North America alone, with 10 in the funded and or building stages right now in North America. The European numbers are enormous given the same conditions. This gives a much lower cost product over a far greater number of builders.

  7. zweisystem says:

    Question: And how many of the new light-metros are indeed proprietary railways? This is certainly true of monorail systems.

    I call Ottawa’s and Seattle’s LRT light-metros ……. but they operate light rail vehicles and they have the option of operating as true LRT off the main route if need be. They also have the ability to operate other companies LRV’s.

    What everyone in the Metro Vancouver SkyTrain bubble likes to ignore is the flexibility of light rail. If you want to spend the extra money on light-metro, operate it with light rail vehicles!

  8. Haveacow says:

    Well for Ottawa yes, it’s LRT with a decidedly Light Metro bend to it. This was done because the Central Transitway was moving 240,000 passengers a day. With a peak hour passenger count of 10500, passengers/hour/direction. This meant officially, 180 buses/hour/direction or when planners actually counted the flow in person, 185 to 205 Buses/Hour/direction were traveling along the bus lanes of Albert and Slater Streets.

    That’s complete trips not boardings. Boardings as a measure is really only useful if you are looking at one line or an individual line in a network of lines, in isolation. The second you have multiple lines or a corridor filled with multiple transit lines, in this particular case, multiple Bus Transitways (BRT Busways Rights of Way) and passengers transferring between them, using boardings gives you double counts of the same passengers.

    American transit systems and the APTA, use boardings because it’s easier and cheaper to compile. Even many large American Transit Systems have very few staff or the time and in particular budget to spend the time to calculate complete trips instead of boardings. The American system of funding the operating budget for transit is heavily dependent on state governments, many of which are downright anti-transit. Denver’s RTA serves an area of over 4 million but has an operating budget significantly smaller than Translink’s, which serves an area of roughly 2.5 Million

    Anyway back to my original point, for 2 to 3 decades multiple provincial governments had promised a BRT Transitway bus tunnel for downtown Ottawa to make up for the fact that, full capacity surface bus Transitways can’t be built on the 140 to 160 year old 3 lane streets of downtown Ottawa but the cost, size and scope of the required bus tunnels always ending up killing the project.

    The problem with using any bus as a rapid transit vehicle is that, past a certain level of passengers the scale of BRT stations and the tunnel width required exceeds the size and scale to move the same number of passengers by rail rapid transit tunnel. Combined with the enormous bus fleet you need and the many upgrades, multiple Transitway stations would need, stations located outside of the core, to accept this ever increasing number of core bound buses, add in the forever-increasing daily operating costs, and the current situation had became too much to allow to continue. Zwei, can show pictures of the huge bus jams Ottawa had on Albert and Slater daily as well as bus backups at key Transitway stations. Hurdman Station being the worst.

    This was twice a day (morning and evening rush hours) everyday, Monday to Friday for decades. Bus and passenger numbers that make the Broadway Corridor a joke in comparison. That’s why I kept saying there was no need for a Skytrain tunnel on Broadway, proper bus management and a few km’s of actual BRT right of way, something you don’tcurrently have but you do have plenty of room for on Broadway. In fact, the bus and passenger numbers on Broadway were smaller than on Ottawa’s second bus sewer, the Wellington-Rideau Street corridor, which was not part of the Transitway Network but experienced daily and grand bus jams of its own. This corridor had 115 to 140 buses/ hour/direction and a peak hour passenger flow of 4500-5500 passengers/hour/direction.

    Since the LRT most of O.C. Transpo’s downtown bus routes were re located away from Wellington and Rideau streets to Queen Street. The STO buses (Societe de Transport d’Outaouis), the City of Gatineau’s transit system, which were the main problem on that corridor were removed to the new, King Edward,Albert/ Slater, Lyon loop and the Bank, Queen, Lyon and Wellington loops. All these loop routes have direct connection to multiple Confederation Line stations. All these loops have spaces for the STO buses to park extra or out of service buses and facilities so STO bus operators can begin and end their shifts there and not have to be shuttled back to Gatineau just to clock in or out. This is what bus operation and bus route management looks like. There was really no need for tunnel on Broadway yet, at some future point yes but certainly not with the relatively, tiny amounts of buses traveling .

  9. Haveacow says:

    To answer your original question, these are all conventional 2 track rail systems, I didn’t include Monorails. About 10 are either VAL or Bombardier based MALM systems. As for looking at each one to see if standard railway technologies were used no, I didn’t really look at that aspect of every system. It was enough that the market is so small compared to LRT or even just conventional full scale Metro/Heavy Rail/Subway class systems that it guarantees higher vehicle, construction and a spare parts costs.

    For example, Copenhagen’s Light Metro uses, automated, very lightweight and small but conventional rail rapid transit equipment like the Canada Line or the REM in Montreal, Honolulu and very possible similar to Toronto’s new Ontario Line but no one knows for sure yet. However, Copenhagen, Honolulu and Vancouver’s trains are 3rd rail powered whereas REM will use overhead wires. Nobody knows about the Ontario Line yet. Does the change in power feed make it proprietary no, but it does alter the interoperability of the various systems with each other. That in itself, adds cost if Vancouver wants to buy spare equipment for the Canada Line from a system that uses overhead wire instead of 3rd rail, a cost has to be paid to change that. Is it possible sure, relatively strait forward actually but it’s cost is not zero. All these systems use different automation software and support infrastructure but they can be converted and technically they are not proprietary but changing automation systems, is not cheap, in fact, it’s quite expensive.

    Throw in different propulsion system like linear induction motors on top of this, then yes, you have something highly proprietary and extremely limiting. So yes, from a certain point of view Skytrain isn’t proprietary, you can add these features to any 2 rail based rail vehicle but in reality it is proprietary because only one set of suppliers can be used and you are limited to certain product legal agreements, not to mention stuck with product, and spare part costs that are completely at the mercy of a single group of suppliers.

  10. Major Hoople says:

    We continue to be interested with your Skytrain wars and we keep asking ourselves, where is reasoned debate? Where are your engineers on the subject?

    Certainly Expo and Millennium Line trains were obsolete when the Canada Line was built because the Canada Line uses conventional subway cars and were cheaper all around to maintain and operate.

    Sadly, if the powers that be were truly forward thinking, they would opted for trams instead of subway cars, as we strongly recommended, and the Canada Line could have been extended at a far cheaper cost.

    We know Vancouver’s transit system has been studied many times, our company did as well, 20 years ago and even at that date we found skytrain’s operation questionable. Very expensive for what it does and from our observations, not very good in attracting ridership. We questioned ridership figures and after some study felt that ridership was overstated by 10% to 15%. since our product could carry more, we felt that it was a non debate.

    When it comes to your SkyTrain Schadenfreude is the order of the day.

  11. Avery Johnson says:

    The Expo and Millennium lines cost C$3.20 to run per car-km. I cannot find a cheaper system anywhere that reports this metric. It’s interesting you complain about translink but I have a much easier time finding data on the skytrian than the Portland MAX or Ctrain. The annual reports translink files are incredibly detailed with a dollar by dollar breakdown of capital expenses like rail replacement. In terms of ridership Skytrain carries more more people than all but the largest transit systems in North American which are located in much larger. In term of transit mode share for work commutes Vancouvers is the 2nd highest in north america.

    Zwei replies: TransLink’s numbers are highly suspect and meant for local consumption. Remember this, the figures do not show the hundreds of millions of dollars in hidden subsidies that Translink does not factor in their calculations, nor do they include the now over 300 attendants wages. Almost 1,000 people work on the Expo and millennium Lines,

    Sadly, much of what TransLink claims is horse pucky and no one believes them because no one has bought the system. You, and thousands of others have been grifted.

  12. zweisystem says:

    Just a note. Pre Covid, mode share for transit was dropping and one will see soon if there is a mass return to transit, as it seems a lot of people with U-Passes are back using transit, but the commuter, not as of yet.

  13. zweisystem says:

    Also please note. BC Transit made such claims until the GVRD released their “Cost of transporting people” study in 1993. It showed that just the Expo Line was subsidized to over $157 million annually, more than the combined diesel and trolley bus operation. today’s estimate of subsidy is near $400 million annually.

  14. Bill Burgess says:

    Measured by the 2016 Census of Canada – not Translink – Vancouver ranks third in Canada in transit use for commuting to work, and first in the increase in this rate relative to the previous census:

    “Among the three most populous CMAs, Toronto had the highest proportion of workers using public transit, followed by Montréal and Vancouver….Among the three largest CMAs, however, Vancouver had the largest growth in the proportion of public transit commuters from 1996 to 2016, increasing 6.1 percentage points to 20.4%. (

    Zwei’s claim that wages for station attendants are excluded from Translink reports is false. Tranklink reports are audited by professional accountants, and neither they nor CUTA would allow such a practice. Zwei has never provided any credible basis or source for this claim.

    Zwei mis-characterizes the 1993 report he refers to. Its use of the term “operating costs” is different than the convention one where these costs are distinguished from capital costs. The ‘subsidy’ number includes some of the latter, and is derived as a residual from total costs rather than being directly reported or estimated. This is probably one reason that the GVRD included a disclaimer at the front of the report dissasociating themselves from elements of the report. In any case Zwei has no credible basis for projecting an increase to $400K today. No such ‘subsidy’ number is found in audited statements where we do, however, find analogous numbers like the annual payments to the Operators of the Canada Line.

    Zwei replies: Wow, big news, the third largest city in Canada records the third largest use of transit in Canada.

    Let’s see now. In 2019 TransLink saw a decline in mode share for transit, which pre Covid was at 14%.

    How much of the ridership comes from the $1 a day U-pass ridership? Are we subsidizing the U-pass.

    TransLink has used a cunning method of hiding subsidies from the public. Until 1997, BC Transit would have us think that the Expo line was making a profit, NOT.

    Again, you fool nobody but yourself. if this system was so good, why hasn’t there been a stampede to buy the bloody thing.


    Because those who were interested in SkyTrain, did their due diligence and found the system badly wanting.

    Half of TransLink massive bureaucracy is concerned with sanitizing and making the book look good for local consumption.

    I would love to see an independent audit by an agency outside Canada to do the books, because they would find ample questionable figures.

  15. zweisystem says:

    Oh by the way, If SkyTrain is so good why did Bombardier and SNC bribe official in Korea and Malaysia to build the damn thing?

    Why did the Canadian overseas Development Bank fund the JFK AirTrain? Because the port authority knew the system was so bad that they could not get federal financing!

  16. Bill Burgess says:

    Let’s turn the question around. If the system is as bad as you say, why do you need to deny the best metrics that are available? They should be enough to make your case. Why do you have to invent facts?

    Note I never said Skytrain is good. But as the rates of transit use demonstrate, despite its well-known downsides (notable capital cost) Vancouver transit rates are where one would expect given Metro Vancouver’s relative size. If Skytrain was as bad as you say this would not be possible after 35 years of operation.

    Zwei, the world is not your black and white, Skytrain wonderful, Skytrain the devil’s spawn. It is grey. The serious discussion is what shade of grey, where, and especially how to get the most out of our grey.

    Zwei replies: you don’t get it do you, you just do not get it.

    For every km of Skytrain built, we could easily have 3 km of light rail. Do the math, 100 km of Skytrain = 300 km of LRT. More LRT, to more destinations provides the network that will attract people from their cars, which important in the age of Global Warming.

    SkyTrain is built strictly for politcal purposes and that is land development, affordable housing is lost, land assembled, high raise condo’s and towers are built along the route, with rents that are unnaffordable, thus those who had affordable housing go to areas with cheaper rent which also happens to lack transit and those people drive cars because there is no other option.

    It has been often repeated by transportation experts who reside outside of metro Vancouver; to paraphrase – “The transportation ills in your city stem from your SkyTrain”.

  17. Avery Johnson says:

    “For every km of Skytrain built, we could easily have 3 km of light rail. Do the math, 100 km of Skytrain = 300 km of LRT.”
    You could take this argument event further. Instead of 300 km of LRT you could 1000 KM of BRT. Who’s destroying the climate now?
    When it comes down to it here are two facts I’ve found after doing research in this area:
    – When it comes to capital costs of completely grade separated rapid transit the Skytrain is generally one of the cheapest in north America. In Canada, Montreal and Toronto’s subways cost a lot more by comparison. In terms of rolling stock the most recent order is actually very similar in price-per-meter to what Calgary pays for it’s Seimens LRVs.
    – When it comes to maintenance and operating costs on a per car-KM basis the Skytrain is cheaper than any rapid transit system on which I was able to find data. The car-KM bit is important, because this shows the actual advantage of the system: marginal new capacity via running more trains is extremely cheap which means they can run at 3-5 minute off peak headways that are quite rare in north american rail systems.

    So on the specifics the Skytrain is not worse than any other subway or metro system in North America when it comes to cost. So then what is your problem? The issue you have seems to be building metros in general, so why frame this as a Skytrain thing? It’s really odd.

    The actual debate comes down to “Should new transit lines be built with substantial grade separation”. This question really depends on if your system already had a grade separated rail network. Many cities in Europe do, many cities in north america do not. Increasingly cities like Seattle are realizing this and essentially have their LRT system double as a grade separated rail backbone, which causes costs to rise similar levels to Sktrain. Even Karlsruhe is now building a tunnel (though it already had the benefit of excellent grade separate mainline railroads).

    When it comes to rail lines with low levels of grade separations, like the proposed Surrey LRT the actual result ends up being the these systems don’t offer substantial speed improvements so in effect it just cannibalizes bus ridership. See this great piece by Jarrett walker:

    Zwei replies: So much wrong with your post it is hard to deal with it. but………….

    Real BRT is only slightly cheaper to build than LRT, so your analogy is quite wrong.

    SkyTrain is not cheaper to run and in fact costs about 45% more to operate than conventional rail systems, either LRT or light-metro.

    Actually, the small cars on Skytrain must be maintained more often than LRT or a standard metro because they have to do twice the work to carry the same traffic loads.

    As for headway’s, actually the simple tram can obtain the closest headway’s in operation. Seattle’s current maximum headway is 4 minutes because that what the signalling is set up for. if traffic demand more trains the Seattle LRT/metro can be redesigned for closer headways, which is the plan for its mid life rehab in about 25 years time. why pay for extra kit when it is not needed.

    Again, i come back to the same question, if SkyTrain is so good, why hasn’t anyone bought it? The system is now over 40 years old, only seven sold, has been rebranded 6 times, it now has had 4 owners, and only 3 are seriously used as urban transport.

    SkyTrain is one of the most heavily studied transit system in the world and internationally, it has been found wanting. All your claims of cheap operation just does not add up.

  18. zweisystem says:

    I do not follow itinerant planners such as Walker, rather I prefer to correspond with real experts who work in the field.

    It has been the help from many generous transportation engineers and planners who work in the industry that has helped me with the understanding of modern public transit practice and operation. It is very hard to distill a lifetimes work into coherent sentences so the layman can understand, but I thank them for it.

    These gentlemen know that metro Vancouver builds with a very expensive, yet badly dated proprietary light metro system, and if i could only print, what is off the record, I can tell you jaws would drop.

  19. Haveacow says:

    The Skytrain is nowhere near as good or efficient as either Montreal’s Metro or Toronto’s Subway.

    The Skytrain has half the capacity of both Montreal’s Metro and Toronto’s Subway, soon even less than half because both are implementing some form of CBTC control systems allowing the much larger and longer trains to operate with considerably increased frequency.

    Unfortunately, the Skytrain doesn’t cost half as much to build but significantly higher than half of both Montreal’s and Toronto’s heavy rail systems. In the case of the Millenium Line Extension to Arbutus and it’s expensive tunnel, the per km cost of the Broadway tunnel is about 90% of the per km cost of last subway extension to Vaughn (the TYSSE). A project, thanks to politically induced scope creep was both late and overbudget.

    Both heavy rail systems have also been doing structural upgrades that Translink has been avoiding due to cost. Thus both eastern systems will be increasing operating capacity and reducing operating costs. To be fair, both Montreal and Toronto’s have been forced to do this due to age of the lines themselves. But they are doing it. Where Vancouver is avoiding doing the real work. Vancouver did plan some upgrades however, due to Covid-19 and the massive reduction of current and future local funding, Translink’s new 10 year spending plan due later this year, will probably include far fewer upgrade projects. The exact reduced number of capital works and upgrade projects will depend on how much Translink wants it’s to keep the Expo Line extension to Langley. Add in the extension of the Broadway Line to UBC, there will not be enough funding, even with federal and provincial help, to do both rail expansion projects plus the huge amount of upgrades the original Expo and soon the original Millennium Line will desperately need. Something will have to give.

  20. zweisystem says:

    Yes thank you!

    There cold be some bad news about the Langley extension sometime in the next few weeks, rumour has it the opening will be delayed until 2032.

  21. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr. Havacow and Mr. Johnson: Your claims about Skytrain capital and operating costs are very different. Can you each cite your sources and explain your metrics?

  22. zweisystem says:

    As Translink’s accounting is highly questionable, because there is no independent audit, thus no confirmation that Translink’s accounting is accurate.

    That no one wants the damn thing is ignored.

    Vancouver’s skyTrain light-metro system has been one of the most studied new build transit systems in the world and today no one wants it. Why? The SkyTrain Lobby always side steps that issue.

  23. Avery Johnson says:

    Here’s my two sources on operating costs:

    US data
    To get a comparable figure I divide the operating cost by Vehicle Revenue Miles and covert the USD to CAD and miles to KM. One sanity check for this is to do the same with the WCE express with other commuter rail system and after comparing they do seem to have similar costs. Under this analysis I find Portland costs 4x more to operate per car-km then the Expo and Millennium lines.

    Now when comparing capital expenses even Haveacow is forced to concede the the Skytrain is cheaper than other metro systems in Canada. Though to me I think it’s a little unfair to cherry pick the Broadway Subway where tunneling takes up a huge portion of the cost and it’s far more expensive than the rest of the network. If you average out the cost per KM Vancouver comes out on top according to the transit costs project.

    Then there is the argument that these lines are a bad deal because of capacity. I think capacity is something the really only matters under capacity constraints. Building 150 meter platforms for a line that only gets 15k peak riders per hour is not actually a good investment. A transit line is a transit line so judging is by how well it can achieve a theoretical peak ridership that may never materialize is foolish. And if the day comes when it does have capacity issues 50 years down the line, that is when you can start investing in relief lines that serve more neighborhoods and areas. Considering that the Expo line can still accommodate and additional 10k PPDPH simply by using Mk.V trains and running them a 75 second headways that tells that 82 meters was a pretty reasonable choice. One reason why it might be better to make the tradeoff of running more trains rather than running one longer train is that you get better frequency for passengers which in turn increases ridership and decreases transfer penalties.

  24. Avery Johnson says:

    Also here’s a peer comparison report:
    On page 9 you can see the comparison data. It’s the cheapest in terms of operations and maintenance of any peer system!
    Of you’re fallback so “bah humbug it’s all lies!!!” then I’m afraid you’ve lost the argument.

    Zwei replies: This is another Translink politcal document, masquerading as a technical document and it is definitely not a PEER REVIEW.

    A PEER REVIEW is an independent study, determining that planning, claims and assumptions are indeed correct. This TransLink just used their unaudited numbers against some very questionable numbers in the document.

    One big mistake i see is that Translink claims Skytrain is light rail, which it is definitely not, as it is a light-metro the graphs used are without context or date and I see a classic TransLink mistake with Calgary’s LRT ridership numbers (86,846 a day) when this is the ridership through the city centre and not on the system as a whole. In the early 2000’s I forced Translink to apologize for this deliberate bit of misinformation.

    The trouble with TransLink, it is all garbage in, garbage out.

    This is a real peer review!

  25. Haveacow says:

    @ Bill Burgess My sources are based from Translink planning and financial documents (both their data and personal interviews with current and former staff), planning ad financial data from Metrolinx, the TTC, ARTM and the STM.

    Other accumulated operational data, experience and knowledge comes from doing transportation related construction and maintenance/repair work on roads, mainline railway yard track, electric transit right of way/OPS catenary systems and volunteering, to rebuilding historical equipment and track at 2 railway museums as well as being manager of a railway Museum gift shop. Professionally, doing work with/for Bombardier selling rapid transit vehicles and planning potential transit designs, bylaw development, urban policy planning, environmental planning, historical preservation planning and transport/transit planning, on my own and with 3 planning firms for the last 30 years. Yes, even serving in the Royal Canadian Navy and Naval Reserves of the Canadian Armed Forces.

  26. zweisystem says:

    Mr. J, just show me an independent study and not one with TransLink stamped all over it.

  27. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr. Zwei, the Calgary LRT 2013 ridership number of 86,846 in the ‘Peer Review’ is not the daily ridership. While poorly labled in the report this number is listed as being in thousands, and is obviously the annual ridership, i.e., 86.8 million.

    Again, the labeling is poor but the report indicates the source of this number is CUTA, not Translink, as you suggest. Also it is obviously not only for the downtown portion.

    My quick search did not yeild a source for C-Train ridership in 2013, but ACTA reports (using CUTA data) that in 2019 it was 91 million (see ). 86.8 million in 2013 seems consistent with 91 million in 2019. (For comparison it reports the “Automated guideway” [Skytrain] ridership in Vancouver in 2019 was 165 million).

    The ‘Peer Report’ cites “statistics from the US Federal Transportation Administration” for its comparison of Skytrain’s operations and maintenance costs with US rail systems – it fails to provide a specific publication source and page number so readers can evaluate the claims. I agree this means that, at least on this point the report lacks credibility.

    Zwei replies: CUTA only reports ridership figures that is given to them, they do not do an independent audit of ridership.

    But Mr Havacow, while I don’t question your professional experience, I am disappointed that you also fail to cite specific sources for your claims regarding operations and maintenance costs, etc.

  28. Avery Johnson says:

    I’m having trouble posting comment on this site somethings. It seems they get caught in spam filter if it add too many links.
    Regardless here’s a second source(s):

    If you you compare operating costs per vehicle-KM (after doing currency and unit conversion for US data) you’ll see that the Skytrain is the cheapest system to operate and maintain out of those listed. To make sure that these comparisons are fair I compared the WCE to other commuter rail and found the costs to be pretty similar. Comparing with Canada is harder as many systems to to publish this level of detail. I dare you to find the operating costs and and vehicle KM for the C-Train.

  29. zweisystem says:

    Over the 40 years I have been involved with local transit issues, I have had a large correspondence with transportation engineers, experts in the field of public transport and more. Not one of these persons have had anything positive to say about our transit planning, especially our reliance on light metro.

    There are, what I call, itinerant transit planners, who have nifty blogs and are good wordsmiths but then if they are so good, why are they not working for a large transit concern?

    The one thing I have learned is that throwing money a public transit seldom has the results the public want, but the transit authority will do everything in its power to satisfy politicians who provide the funding. It’s a rocky road because TransLink’s two top planners were fired because they opined that there wasn’t the ridership on Broadway to support a subway.

    BC Transit and TransLink have long cleansed themselves from anyone who supports light rail as a transit alternative and those almost 1,000 bureaucrats at TransLink, earning six figured salaries are doing their best to please politicians and to keep their lucrative jobs.

    The result, as we are seeing today is a a very slow return of pre covid ridership and I think many will not return to public transit. Who can beat a 40 minute trip in your Tesla, compared to the previous 90 minute , 3 transfer trip on transit.

    The Broadway subway will only increase transfers and by doing so loose potential customers. TransLink will continue to be very generous with ridership numbers because no one checks them. They have created a vicious little circle of deceit.

  30. Haveacow says:

    @Bill Burgess: This entire debate is not new to me. Do you sight a math text if someone asks you what 3+3 is. No, because it’s common knowledge that comes with training and experience. It’s the same for me when I see the comments across the screen. I appreciate the academic rigger you show when you want sources but in this industry there will hardly ever be public sources for a lot of this material. That is done purposely by the people in the field to protect the information you seek or make you pay real money for it. When you spend 4 years learning at school to become an Urban Planner and another, 30 working around the field, you figure out just how little you did actually learn in those 4 years about how things really work. That is the disturbing thing.

    Call it what you want, every transit agency including Translink, is afraid that if you had access to even half of their actual vital information, all the time, operating a functional transit agency would become impossible. A point I actually agree with. Not because the transit agency is really trying to hide dark secrets from the public but the public often doesn’t have the knowledge to ask the right questions. Too many cooks having access to a kitchen is often very bad for a kitchen.

    What irritates me as a planning professional is that I know for example that when people like @Avery Johnson quotes a cost of $3.20 car-km for the Expo and Millennium Lines, I know its maybe technically correct but the stat itself is inaccurate because much detail has been left out of that statistic, by design. I know this because I know the basic regulatory environment that Translink must operate in and if they had actually included all costs it couldn’t be that low. It would take too long to explain why I know this. Some details are missing from that cost. I have no idea what is missing and I don’t have the information to calculate the actual cost but I know Translink left a few things out. What irritates me is that number (which I have seen quoted publicly before) is being implied that it includes all costs. Translink can state anything they want to but they know someone like Avery Johnson will quote it and present it as the whole cost, he has no idea that its missing items. Many Canadian transit agencies have done this before, I’m not just picking on Translink.

    Groups like the C.U.T.A. have had to actually ask their own questions, based on their own definitions, formula’s and calculations so that, transit agencies don’t cook up too many facts. Due to the fact they have limited time and budget and because they are not perfect and the C.U.T.A. has been duped before and for long periods of time. The problem is thatnow transit agencies respond by purposely not answering all of CUTA’s questions.

    Here is an example, for years, starting in 1982, lasting for at the least, a decade and a half (around 1996 -19997), O.C. Transpo would quote a very impressive statistic about the cost of operating the Transitway Network (Ottawa’s BRT busway and bus lane network). It was technically correct but it didn’t include all of the operating costs because O.C. Transpo wasn’t in charge of doing much of the Transitway’s operational maintenance. The regional government’s road department was. So they weren’t lying, technically.

    The cost of snow plowing, asphalt and lane maintenance, cleaning/dust control, transitway bridges & over/underpass inspection and maintenance, inspection and maintenance of the Transitway’s many large retaining walls as well as the inspection and operation of the Transitway’s CC camera’s system was hidden inside the regional road budget.

    Bus and Transitway station maintenance, cleaning and their safety/security patrol (now O.C Transpo’s Special Constable based, Transit Police) were under O.C. Transpo’s budget but nothing else.

    O.C. Transpo and the Regional Government of Ottawa-Carleton (now just the City of Ottawa) were aware of this but made people think that all of the Transitway’s costs were under the transit agency’s budget. If you pushed them yes, they would admit certain costs are actually not included but would force you to get a freedom of information request if you wanted to get details and even then, it was difficult and it would take months, if not over a year, to fully process your information request. This was because “The Region”, O.C. Transpo an the consulting firm McCormick-Rankin (now MMM Consulting) the firm that helped design the Transitway, were doing their collective best to sell their version of BRT all over the world. Brisbane’s Busways are one of their direct success stories, Cleveland’s Health Line is also a somewhat related success of theirs.

    This is exactly what I think Vancouver’s Skytrain network is to Translink’s senior people and Bombardier North America (a division of Alstom). I think they are doing the same thing regarding the Skytrain. Can I prove it, nope, but sure smells the same.

  31. Haveacow says:

    Now none of this is illegal but Translink and Bombardier North America, like O.C. Transpo and MMM Consulting before, used this technique to purposely stall any rapid transit development that wasn’t their desired product. Even when there is plenty of operational evidence that Skytrain isn’t necessarily better or cheaper to build and or operate than LRT or real BRT. Not what Translink calls BRT which are, express buses operating in a few km’s of painted bus lanes with no physical segregation from traffic but otherwise, mostly operating openly in mixed traffic, with expensive bus stops.

    However, Translink is stubbornly continuing to promote a product that is extremely expensive to both build and operate in a political environment where funding both operational and capital is decreasing and will continue to decrease for a considerable amount of time.

  32. Bill Burgess says:

    And the winner is….Mr. Johnson!

    He has provided authoritative sources to compare Skytrain operating costs to US rail systems.

    Mr Havacow is, of course, correct that such statistics invariably leave out/add a lot, and intentionally so.

    But ‘official’ numbers are the starting point. They are the best facts we have without difficult, detailed adjustments performed by competent analysts, and which are transparent so they can be examined by others.

    Absent the latter, Mr. Zwei and Mr. Havacow have only *suspicions*, not *evidence* for their pronouncements about Skytrain’s relatively high operating costs.

    Just for a giggle I looked at the 23 US “light rail” systems in the source provided by Mr. Johnson ( ). Their average total operating cost per unlinked passenger trip in 2018 was US$5.52. The number for the lowest cost system (San Diego) was US$2.44. Portland’s was US$3.87.

    Skytrain’s total operating cost per boarding in 2018 was Cdn$2.40, according to the source provided by Mr. Johnson ( ).

    (Skytrain operating costs include “salaries, contracted services, maintenance and materials, fuel and other resources. It excludes amortization and interest.” Without getting too deep into the weeds this coverage seems similar to that for the US data.)

    Again, these numbers are not pristine. But also again, the burden of proof is on those who assert the *opposite* of their basic point.

    Nathan Pachal’s used CUTA data to report that Translink’s operating cost/passenger trip in 2015 was the second highest of the six Metros in his report (see CUTA presumably also compiles data for their transit rail operations alone.

    Does anyone have access to CUTA to provide the evidence needed by Mr. Zwei and Mr. Havacow?

    Zwei replies: You do not read, don’t you. You want the statistics, you pay for them, everything else is questionable.

  33. zweisystem says:

    If SkyTrain is so cheap to operate, by doesn’t anyone buy it? You never answer that one.

  34. Avery Johnson says:

    “If SkyTrain is so cheap to operate, by doesn’t anyone buy it? You never answer that one.”

    Um, the topmost post here is about how Montreal is building an automated light metro. The rolling stock might be different but the principles are the same. I’d say the main reasons are:
    – New metro systems are pretty rare, most cities that can support one already have one so use whatever existing technology they already have. Many new build metro systems and line are increasingly using automation and fully grade separated rights of way like HART, Singapore MRT, gulf country metros, Copenhagen.
    – The benefits of LIM tend to be smaller tunnel sizes or easier reuse of existing train tunnels like in Vancouver. There’s many lines in Japan and China that use them but many cities don’t have the same density of underground tunnels and structures that pushed Japan to start using LIMs so for them there’s less benefit. As well Japan and China mostly build their own rolling stock so it’s unlikely they would have bought a Bombardier system anyways. Japan and China also have low labor costs so that decreases the benefits of automation. Even then, Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line is both highly automated and has LIM trains.

    A lot of your argument comes down to “If trucks are so great, why does everybody have the 2017 Ford F-150″. The reason is because you can get similar benefits without copying 100% of the specifics. That you can build a very effect metro system without 1 for 1 copying the Skytrain does not mean that Skytrain is not efficient. It’s just bad logic.

    Zwei replies: so much deliberate misinformation.

    The only benefit of a LIM are transit systems with a lot of steep gradients. You smaller tunnel sizes is an old argument, based on ICTS/ALRT cars, the Inovia body-shell is a standard size transit vehicle.

    The Dunsmuir tunnel had to have the floor reduced by 1 metre to allow stacking of the MK.! SkyTrain, the original LRT plan was to have the floor excavated by 2 metres. Slightly more expensive overall.

    I see you do not have a clues on the why’s and where’s of automatic operation. In reality, automatic (driverless) operation tends to be only cost effective with transit routes with traffic flows in excess of 20,000 pphpd. What we have in Vancouver is politcal puffery.

    The fact is, SkyTrain has never been efficient in operation. It does as other transit systems do, daily, but at a much higher cost.

    And in Japan, LIMs are used on several proprietary railways including monorails. This is the result of well funded research, combined with very little space to build stand alone transit lines. It is the conventional “bullet Train” technology that is being exported, not LIM powered transit.

    For you information, Honolulu’s HART is billions of dollars over budget and there are still serious issues plaguing the system; Singapore is a small city state, run by a near dictatorship and fancy gadgetbahnen help keeps the population happy; Copenhagen, due to hi cost of light metro is noe planning a tram network for the city. But these are all man of straw arguments as you well know to divert attention away from the main issue… “If Skytrain is so good, why has it not found an international market?

    I know the answer, Mr. cow knows the answer and most knowledgeable planners around the world know the answer, yet you continue to defend the undefendable!.

  35. Major Hoople says:

    We find it strange that your Skytrain debate still continues, especially with so much evidence demonstrating that the transit system is a very poor investment.

    The UTDC inked a deal with Milan for a light metro but upon further investigation, it was found that the cars were somewhat dangerous and did not adhere to the EU’s safety directives. Today, Milan is building with U-Bahn a far more satisfactory metro, but the city still relies on trams which are extremely popular with customers. with 51 km of tram routes, it is the best mode for urban transit.

    Never discount the power of the tram in moving people.

    Vancouver’s Skytrain is more of a historical or museum railway, which, when one does do analysis, is very poor return on dollars spent. We came, we studied and we built differently.

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