The North Shore’s “Hobson’s Choice”.

The following was sent to all North Shore mayor and councils.
1 RftV
From: Rail for the Valley
For the past 14 years, Rail for the Valley has advocated for the “return of the interurban” for the former Vancouver to Chilliwack BC Electric interurban line that still connects Vancouver to Chilliwack, via Surrey/Cloverdale; Langley; Abbotsford and Vedder/Sardis. Rail for the Valley, do to the soundness of the plan, secured Leewood Projects (UK) to do a study on the viability of such a service, with the result, the Leewood Study done for Rail for the Valley, released in 2010.
The Leewood Study is unique, in that it is a fully independent study, free of political and bureaucratic meddling.
Rail for the Valley, through its blog, tries to present viable and affordable transportation options-and being advised by real transportation experts and engineers who have “hands on experience” with transit projects, not only in Canada, but the USA, the UK and Europe. Having professionals who live outside the Metro Vancouver bubble advising on transit issues, gives a more realistic look at Metro Vancouver’s transit and transportation issues.
In 2010, the Leewood Study concluded that a full build, 138 km electric rail service, using modern articulated railcars, from Vancouver to Chilliwack would cost $998,519,424.00 or $7,235,648.00 per km. Accounting for inflation and updated to 2021 dollars, this would amount to $1.221 billion or $8.85 million/km to install.
In comparison, the current cost of the proposed Expo Line extension to Langley is now over $250 million per km. and the Broadway Subway is now said to surpas $500 million/km. The cost of the combined Expo Line extension and the Broadway subway is now over $7 billion for a mere 21.8 km of light metro and does not include a further $5 billion to complete the Broadway Subway to UBC, nor the much needed $3 billion rehab of the Expo and Millennium Lines, nor the yet unsourced $1 billion still needed to fund the Expo Line extension to Langley
A short recap.
Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain light-metro system operates two very different railways: the Canada Line which is a conventional railway, built as a light metro and the Expo and Millennium Lines which operate the proprietary and now called Movia Automatic Light Metro (MALM) system, the sixth rebranding of this obsolete mini-metro. Only seven MALM systems have been built in over 40 years, with Alstom now being the fourth owner of the proprietary railway. Previous owners were Bombardier, Lavalin and the Urban Transportation Development Corporation.
Canada Line operation is incompatible with the Expo and Millennium Lines and vice versa.
Only Vancouver continues to build with MALM.
Today, MALM is considered obsolete as it lacks capacity, costs more to operate and maintain than comparative light rail systems and lacks flexibility which is very important in the 21st century.
The $2.4 billion Canada line was the BC Liberals foray into transportation Private Public Partnership or P-3. The Canada Line a capacity-constrained heavy rail metro, built as a light-metro, costing much more to build than a modern tram, with less capacity. Internationally, the Canada line is considered a classic transit “White Elephant”.
The cost to have the Canada Line rehabbed to match the present maximum legal capacity of 15,000 persons per hour per direction (as stated in Transport Canada’s Operating Certificate) for the Expo and Millennium Lines, is now between $1.5 to $2 billion dollars.
This must be done before any extension to the Canada Line can be considered.
BC Transit Rail
A big problem for TransLink is rumblings from Alstom indicate that production of MALM cars may cease when the last production orders have been filled in 2025, which also marks the end of service for the Detroit and Toronto MALM systems. No sales for the past 15 years may speed up the decision to abandon the proprietary railway, which would both drive up the cost of new vehicles as no other company makes MALM compatible cars and the cost of replacement parts.
The cost for light metro, especially MALM extensions, is rapidly increasing, quickly making such extensions not cost effective.
There may be no further extension to the MALM Lines after the completed Broadway subway to Arbutus! Talk of extending rapid transit to the North Shore is nothing more than political posturing, for photo-ops and sound bytes at election time.

The problem with TransLink is that you can never believe what it says; TransLink never produces a report based on the same set of assumptions.”

Former West Vancouver Clr. Victor Durman, Chair of the GVRD (now METRO) Finance Committee.


There has been a  change in scope for the Expo Line Extension Project to Langley, from 2 stages into a single stage project due to escalating costs.

The cost to go 7 km to Fleetwood was around $1.69 Billion to $1.72 Billion, exceeding the $1.63 Billion budget and why it is now combined into a single stage project.  According to the second stage of Translink’s 10 year funding plan and the Rapid Transit Funding Agreement for the Surrey LRT Line, roughly $165 Million of that $1.63 Billion was coming from some past but mostly future tax and fee revenues (2018-2028 period).

Translink’s local fuel taxes, development charges, parking fees, property tax increases as well as targeted amounts of Translink’s own passenger revenues were to help fund roughly 8.6% of the $7.3 Billion Second Stage of the 10 year funding plan, roughly $627.8 Million in total. This plan included the Broadway Millennium Line Extension to Arbutus, the Surrey LRT Line and many, many other smaller capital programs.So far, the Translink funding for the Broadway extension is unaffected. However, because of the pandemic, Translink is short $78.8 Million in planned revenues from 2019 and 2020 (their figures not mine), 2021 is not done yet and it may take years for Translink revenues to return to pre-pandemic levels. So it’s not $1.63 Billion in existing rapid transit funding, it’s actually around $1.55 Billion and dropping.

A new business case and a new funding plan is needed for the Expo Line extension and it will take 2 to 3 years to redo this process: No business case, no funding plan. Translink isn’t even involved in the project management anymore, as it is now a provincially run project. Translink may not be capable of being a full financial partner in this project or any other large capital project for some time, due to its current budget issues. This is not good news for the Surrey Extension and even worse news for the North Shore.

A dark financial cloud on the horizon is beginning to appear larger. Translink had to begin serious final planning and engineering on the second stage of the Broadway Millennium Line extension from Arbutus to UBC by 2024, if construction is to begin in 2026.

They estimate this extension project to cost between $4.98 to $5.12 Billion for the planned 7.3 km long tunnel and above grade structure into UBC, that’s right now, 2021.

The actual date of final bidding and procurement will determine its actual final cost, when that is complete the final total will be known. The cost of the Broadway Millennium Line extension from Arbutus to UBC is predicted to be between $4.98 and $5.12 Billion and the cost is growing between $158 to $164 Million every year due to the current estimate of inflation. August’s inflation rate was 4.1% and recent news reports have this figure climbing higher.

This does not include inflationary costs of construction materials, which is usually considerably higher than the basic inflation rate. Structural concrete prices increases alone, could add anywhere from $36 Million to $55 Million per year on top of just the basic inflation.

The question for TransLink and the province is whether they pay $2.65 Billion for the Langley project or wait and fund $3.77 Billion for UBC extension, both will not be funded at the same time.

Unless something drastically changes soon, the current Langley Skytrain extension project in its present form is dying and may be put off, well into the next decade.

This bodes ill for any SkyTrain light metro connection to the North Shore.


It is widely accepted that only a rail solution will attract the motorist from the car; buses have proven disappointing in operation, as they get stuck in traffic and true Bus Rapid Transit costs only a little less to build than LRT with none of the operating or capacity benefits. Only politicians think buses can be rapid transit, yet sadly for the transit customer, a bus is a bus, is a bus.

Rail for the Valley’s Leewood Study provides an affordable alternative, operating a regional passenger service using existing railways. As there is a railway connection from Vancouver to the North Shore, Squamish and beyond to Whistler, a passenger rail service must be considered.

Modern articulated rail cars can travel at higher speeds on curving track, giving realistic travel times and properly signalled with passing loops (double track), trains could operate up to three times an hour per direction.

This is not fanciful thinking, rather it’s what is currently happening in Europe where the huge cost of new metro and highway construction has forced planners to use existing railways for a regional rail service that people will use! In Europe and now even in the USA, disused railways are being refurbished and abandoned railways are being rebuilt as a much cheaper alternative than stand alone metro lines or new highways.

The modern articulated railcar, powered by clean diesel or electricity from by fuel cell or by overhead wires, can obtain commercial speeds acceptable by customers on even the most difficult routes. The modern articulated railcar can contain amenities such as a WC and or a ‘bistro’ offering light refreshments for the longer trips. The modern articulated railcar can also operate in multiple units, thus capacity can be increased when needed.



The modern articulated railcar can also increase vehicle capacity by adding additional modules at a much cheaper cost than buying a new vehicle.
Based on the Leewood Study and taking into consideration that the track is in excellent condition, the cost for the approximately 80km Vancouver to Squamish regional passenger railway, using the Canadian National Railway and the former BC Railway right-of-way, with a maximum of three trains per hour per direction would be in the neighbourhood of $1 billion.
The new regional railway would have stations at the Squamish, Britannia Beach, Lions Bay, Horseshoe Bay, Caulfield, West Bay, Ambleside, Capilano, Lonsdale, Lynn Creek, and Vancouver, Pacific Central Station.
The province and region are now in a climate emergency, combined with worsening regional traffic congestion. The current transit planning based on light metro and the hub and spoke philosophy of transit (where buses bring customers to transit hubs) is failing as pre covid, regional mode share for transit is dropping. Planning and building more SkyTrain light metro lines is akin to doing the same thing over and over again ever hoping for different results.
Mode share 2017
Metro Vancouver must plan cheaper, user-friendly transit options in order to attract the motorist from the car, as the present light metro system has failed to do so and despite an over $15 billion taxpayer investment.
For less than the cost of a now $3 billion, 5.8 km Broadway subway or just over half the cost of the over $4 billion, 16 km Expo Line extension to Langley, we could build two regional railways, connecting Vancouver to Chilliwack and Vancouver to Squamish, with a possibility of a 210 km regional rail service, with through service from Squamish to Chilliwack, via Vancouver.
There are many obstacles to overcome and all levels of government must be on board but….. the time has come to stop transit planning for politically prestigious projects and plan for the region’s future and the future is an affordable and user friendly transportation network, which the present transit system is definitely not.
North Shore Connects faces a Hobson’s Choice for transit planning, either advocate for what could be affordably built or advocate for ‘pie in the sky’ rapid transit solutions that will not be built.


4 Responses to “The North Shore’s “Hobson’s Choice”.”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Kenneth Chan has finally noticed and or admitted in his latest Skytrain expansion opinion article, that the BC Provincial government, along with Feds and Translink have a limited ability financial capacity as well as political desire to build Skytrain lines;
    “But there is another problem. Historically, Metro Vancouver has built one SkyTrain extension roughly every
    decade. This sluggish pace of expansion can no longer continue, if we are to address the region’s most pressing

    At the least, I lived long enough to read that breath of fresh air. What he then does is say both Quebec and Ontario have huge transit expansion plans so BC should as well.

    The reason that Ontario can spend $11.2 Billion is that Federal Government kicked in $16 Billion. The reason, Toronto traffic costs the Canadian Federal Government over $6.5 Billion in lost taxes per year! 1 of the 5 planned expansions, the Ontario Line (formerly the Downtown Relief Line) is a light metro line because its half the cost of a full metro/subway line and the province couldn’t afford it as a full capacity Metro/Subway Line. Fully 2 of the 5 line expansions are LRT lines not subway extensions.

    Quebec’s rapid transit expansion in Montreal, the 67 km Light Metro Network REM (it isn’t an LRT line folks) is partly paid by a semi-private pension investor that now has all the real estate rights along the line and has controlling option where the City of Montreal can build its next Metro Line, it can’t interfere with the real estate development side of their future REM lines. The proposed and still not paid for, REM de Est is the semi-private CDPQ Infra pension provider’s statement that Montreal, The STM and the province of Quebec isn’t going to be allowed to build the planned Pink Line Metro that the current Mayor won her election on. It also severely screws up the Pie IX BRT project as well, which will finish next year. Even CDPQ Infra admitted that full scale Metro technology, like the upcoming Metro Blue Line extension to Anjou is far too expensive for them. I still think the average Montrealer is going to be seriously disappointed once he or she sees the tiny REM trains and stations compared to their beloved Rubber Tired Metro System.

  2. zweisystem says:

    I rarely mention the Hive, as it has become TransLink’s mouthpiece. His knowledge of transit is limited and he is held in somewhat high odor by established journalists.

  3. Major Hoople says:

    When we were in Vancouver working on bids for the now called Canada Line, we stressed the need that Translink use modern trams instead of proprietary rail cars. it was to no avail as the Premier and the Minister responsible for Canada line could not comprehend the difference.

    The lady in charge, which we named “Bird Brain” was so incompetent that we avoided her where possible, and dealt with other government minions, as many as they were.

    We predicted that the GVRD must build with modern tram because light metro construction could not match population growth. Our predictions have come true and your TransLink is faced with a dilemma.

    Of course we were chased from the bidding process because the government wanted Bombardier to win, but there would be no other bidders and the P-3 process would be exposed as a sham. SNC came to the rescue with their heavy rail alternative and because it was much simpler to install they won the bid but at a cost.

    As pointed out many times by this blog, the Canada line has less capacity than a modern tram at 5 times the cost.

    Transit planning has become much more expensive and the cost will rise dramatically with each new light metro line built.

    It is laughable and sad at the same time, that your experts are not experts at all but conjurors at the town market, using illusion to cheat gullible landvolk.

    When will it stop.

  4. Haveacow says:

    I meant to ask, why do you think that all of a sudden is Kenneth Chan so suddenly and completely concerned about the cost and spending of money on expanding the Skytrain network? Why now? Does he know something we don’t? He usually just does his version of reporting on the subject of the day and moves on. This was a full blown, outright begging, opinion piece about why building more Skytrain is so important for Vancouver’s future and I think, I could sense a little desperation, just maybe? What does everyone else think? This seems really out of character for him.

    Zwei replies: The GVRD knew in the early 90’s that the Expo Line was just too expensive for what it does and planned for LRT This was overturned by the NDP government who were induced to build the ART Millennium Line.

    The Evergreen Line had to be MALM because it was the uncompleted section of the Broadway Lougheed rapid transit project.

    The BC Liberals understood. I had several meetings with Liberal MLA and Finance critic Fred Gingell on light metro versus LRT and was swayed by the financial argument to build with LRT. It was present Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon, then premier Gordon Campbell and his sidekick and TransLink CEO ken Dobell who were induced by SNC Lavalin and the Caisse for a light metro P-3 (which was a mere practice round for Montreal’s REM).

    The current $7 billion ($10 billion including rehab) 21.8 km extension to the E & M Lines is two thirds the cost of the money invested in the entire system since the early 80’s!!!

    Translink cannot go on and again someone in the bureaucracy is tapping Chan on the shoulder that the days of SkyTrain are gone and cheaper transit option will be built. This means 40 years of rah, rah, SkyTrain will be shown for what it is a transit form of the “Edsel”.

Leave A Comment