TransLink’s Subway Fiscal Time Bomb

The SkyTrain/metro Lobby remain mute on the long term fiscal effects of operating subways, especially on routes that have low ridership, say less than 15,000 pphpd.

Building a subway is a very expensive proposition and many factors should be considered before embarking on such a costly investment. The first questionAi??any knowledgeable transit planner must ask is; “Is the traffic flow along the subway line enough to sustain it?”

Generally speaking, if average traffic flows are less than 15,000 pphpd, a subway is not needed , as a surface transit route would be more economic. If a subway is built on a route with low ridership, then the subway must be subsidized, with the lower the ridership, the higher the subsidy.

There are many other expensive problems associated with subways, but one that is seldom admitted to is the extremely high maintenance costs that come with a subway. Subways must be cleaned as the accumulated debris and dirt because the piston like action of every passing train acts like a sandblaster on signalling and power equipment. As a subway ages, the maintenance costs escalate. German cities that joined the subway mania in the 60’s and 70’s are now ruing the decision as onerous maintenance costs for the subways have all but bankrupted many transit companies.

It is sad that Vancouver City hall and TransLink are infected with the subway mania and our transit planning shows this as it is 40 to 50 years out of date!

The Broadway SkyTrain subway is a throwback to earlier days, where “mass transit” schemes were built to win votes, built at a time when money was thought ‘cheap’ to borrow and ; “hell anyways, it is just built for show as we must keep the road clear for cars.

In 2013, politicians lose elections due to bad transit decisions; money is not cheap; there are way too many cars on the road, so much so that gridlock is a daily occurrence, and the European light rail Renaissance has not yet reached Vancouver.


The following is from a transit specialist from Germany.

When some light rail subway systems over here (Koeln, Bochum) converted some lines built for high-floor cars in the 60/70s to low-floor cars, they simply filled the trackbed in the stations with enough ballast to lift the rails up.

The operating and maintenance cost for all those escalators, lighting and ventilation of the tunnel stations (not to mention cleaning) etc. might kill such a project, however. Over here, the electricity bill just for all that tunnel-specific equipment is already typically higher than that for traction energy of the rolling stock.

Decades ago, they wanted to put the streetcars on grade-free tracks in order to reduce cost by running them driver-less.

Today, all transit operators that have buried their streetcars face serious financial problems due to the operating and maintenance cost of the grade-free
infrastructure. It’s those operators that did not follow the “tunnel-mania” that have the lowest operating cost today. Burying streetcars turned out as a huge mistake.

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