Over to You Mr. Cow – The Vancouver Sun’s Recent “Puff” SkyTrain Story

This comment from Mr. Cow deserves a post of its own as there is so much information here, it deserves a wider audience.

As Mr. Cow is a Canadian Transit Engineer, his comments are well worth reading.

When SkyTrain ‘crapped-out’ in the Summer of 2014

there were no drivers or attendants to oversee the evacuation

Ai??of stalled trains, leaving it a free for all for transit customers.

This would not happen with an at-grade LRT with drivers.


The point of whether what is more efficient in a study of metros vs light metros is really irrelevant when you are comparing LRT to Light metros. The real problem here is that regardless of how efficient the system is theory or another country with an entirely different operating regime, in Canada there are some realities that canai??i??t be ignored. The people who run Skytrain at Translink and the BC rapid Transit Co. canai??i??t just unilaterally decide to run trains at a greater frequency. They already run at the limit their Safety and Operations Certificate allows them. They have to apply to Transport Canada if they want to change the conditions on that Certificate. Its not just a certificate although there is one issued, its really a whole series of reports and safety test that they actually get tested on.

The last one and I know because my ex neighbor (advantages of living in Ottawa) was one of the people who put your transit people through their paces to allow their current limit of 109 seconds, said that to increase frequency or reduce your headway further Translink would have to correct the safety faults and concerns they found in their last report. There were many small ones, there usually is however, a few main ones were as follows. The lack of electrical current capacity on all lines to run more trains. This requires significant electrical upgrades, which were planned but there is currently no money for to implement, especially on the Expo Line. All the signaling software and hardware is in need of attention and upgrade, the last major one was in the 1990ai???s. That program was temporarily sidelined to provide capital funding for Translinkai??i??s Evergreen Line. The system that monitors track intrusions and restarts the basic computer operating systems after shutdowns, needs urgent upgrade. This was not only identified by Transport Canada but by the report investigating the shutdown and stopages on the system in 2015. That work is only beginning now because only a portion of the $10+ Million for electrical panel upgrades, track/diode hardware replacement and connectors, as well as a whole whack of new computer software and hardware plus other minor administrative improvements have been provided. Again budget issues and a backlog of other deferred maintenance and upgrades partly due again, to needing money for the Evergreen Line project. The report also identified several upgrades/replacement for 3 double track crossovers and a multitude of conversions of slow speed turnouts into higher speed turnouts. That will require more capital funding but also a great deal of extra maintenance time (as in extended shutdowns of certain track sections during normal operating hours).

The biggest part of Transport Canadaai??i??s long term concerns was the insufficient resources being spent on operational costs. Remember to get enough money in the budget to run trains during peak period at frequencies of up to 109 seconds, Translink had to cut back evening and late night service on those same lines. The reports from Transport Canada will a require a Freedom of Information Request to Translink. that is one for each report to access them. The report used to be available here in Ottawa but cuts made by the Harper government to stored information at Transport Canadaai??i??s Library and Report Storage System was cut to the bone and may or may not exist anymore. The operational reality is really quite different from reports and studies.

Actually, here is Ottawaai??i??s main reason for not adopting the Skytrain technology and choosing LRT which is from the 2009 Rail System Selection Report Executive Summary. It is very similar to what zwei said:

ai???The choice of technology determines the future flexibility of a transportation network within Ottawa. By developing a Light Metro style system, the core will meet its capacity prediction targets and have sufficient margin for growth beyond the prediction; but the report finds that the potential although very high, ultimately however, capacity within the core may not warrant such a systemai???.


ai???The implementation of a high capacity light metro style system may divide Ottawaai??i??s transportation network into a set of fragmented, unconnected and disparate transportation modes, which will multiply staff costs, overheads, maintenance and spares and maintenance facilities. This fragmentation will also cause numerous onward transfers between transport modes for daily passengers moving into the core from the suburbs. The choice of a Light Metro system will effectively increase transportation costs due to the much higher costs of segregation for the outlying suburbs, which will result in lower efficiencies of running and potentially higher ticket costsai???.


Light Rail is recommended as the technology choice for deployment in Ottawa as it: ai??? Provides the necessary capacity for the ridership predictions in the main core, ai??? Can accommodate low passenger capacity in the extensions outside of the main core, ai??? Results in less fragmentation of the network, reducing the need for onward transfers, ai??? Has less impact on the urban fabric and allows the ability to build a non-segregated system in the Greenbelt, ai??? Has lower system capital costs with Light Metro, ai??? Has comparatively lower life time operating and maintenance costs with Light Metro, ai??? Allows better integration of technology for the Carling-Lincoln Fieldai??i??s corridor. ai??? Provides greater network flexibility and promotes development of the transportation network in the core, ai??? Is a proven design, and ai??? Is more suited for the climate in Ottawa.ai???


A final note from Zwei. There has never been a credible system analysis of light-metro (SkyTrain) and light rail in the region. All four light-metro lines were built by provincial diktat, by the then sitting premier.

  1. Expo Line – Premier Bennett (Social Credit)
  2. Millennium Line – Premier Clark (NDP)
  3. The Canada Line – Premier Campbell (BC Liberal Party)
  4. The unfinished portion of the Millennium Line, the Evergreen line – Premier Campbell/Premier ClarkAi?? (BC Liberal Party)

The often used quote; “You are going to get SkyTrain whether you like it or not.”


2 Responses to “Over to You Mr. Cow – The Vancouver Sun’s Recent “Puff” SkyTrain Story”
  1. Haveacow says:

    zwei, one small thing I’m a planner not an engineer.

  2. eric chris says:

    Someone pulled a full page advertisement this week in the “The Georgia Straight” on trams. It’s hard to make out what the retro-ad is trying to say until you look close and visit the site to read that it is an atypical advertisement for a book on trams and plea to bring back trams:


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