Are modern streetcars the future?

Due to the small backlash to TransLink’s tax increases that were announced on Wednesday, the pro-LRT and pro-streetcar groups were out today promoting surface rail on CTV News as being cheaper and a fitting tribute to a past.Ai??Ai??

Are modern streetcars the future?

Vancouver’s interurban train system — the first in Canada — started in 1910, and went from the downtown core into south Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey and Langley.View Larger Image


Date: Friday Jul. 8, 2011 5:20 PM PT

With too many cars on the road and gas prices creeping higher, the streetcar system of years past may be the answer for Vancouver’s transportation future.

A UBC professor of landscape architecture thinks the time is now or never for Metro Vancouver to implement a low-cost, environmentally friendly and modern streetcar system.

“The problem for TransLink is they already have a 50-year commitment to the system of buses on the one hand and SkyTrain on the other, so I sympathize. It’s very difficult for them to insert a whole new technology, but I think if we don’t do it during this decade, we will never do it and we’ll miss an opportunity,” Patrick Condon told CTV News.

In the midst of a proposed two-cent gas tax increase to fund the high-priced Evergreen Line, Condon believes the streetcar system would be a better value as well.

“SkyTrain along the corridor here is $200 million per kilometre,” he said, “whereas the modern tram could be put in for $20 million per kilometre.”

At one time the streets of Vancouver were interlaced with streetcar lines, and even the outlying communities all the way out to Chilliwack were connected by passenger rail.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts wants streetcars to connect her community to decrease traffic congestion, and says more buses alone won’t do it.

“If all you’re going to do is add buses and continually add buses, which we’ve had in Surreyai??i??you’re congesting the roadways,” she said.

But TransLink says rapid transit is more of a priority than community rail these days.

“Everybody wants to go fast; it’s just a matter of how much you want to spend,” Condon said.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Lisa Rossington

Although I understand that there are places that can use LRT or streetcar, it’s also worth noting the tradeoffs between types that prevent their use elsewhere. For major corridors like Evergreen and Broadway, road space for LRT and streetcar tracks and stations is already limited without removing / narrowing critical road lanes and sidewalks and thereby causing traffic jams on nearby important roads; alternatively, property acquisition costs to widen these corridors may be prohibitively expensive. In addition, the surface running of trains can make them significantly more prone to disruption from traffic jams, accidents, bad car drivers and jaywalkers unless more protection is added at extra cost. Due to their interactions with the street, trains will also need drivers and cannot follow each other as closely, which reduces the frequency, speed, and resulting capacity at which the network can be run. As you can see, the story in the end is not as rosy: streetcars and LRT may look nice and be cheap to build on paper, but they offer few other compelling advantages that would recommend their use in more demanding situations. This is why Vancouver plans to only run its streetcars around downtown on side streets as a complement to the SkyTrain system. Again, I’m not completely against streetcars or LRT, but there are reasons why SkyTrain, despite being more expensive, has been built alongside many major corridors, and there are also reasons why TransLink and its advisers don’t easily bend to desires and instead have to look through all the options before recommending any system type for any given route.

The comments on the above Skyscraper forumAi??panel & the public responsesAi??in theAi??link to theAi??CTV article are pretty typical of theAi??illthought outAi??comments published by the retarded inhabitants of metro Vancouver.

  1. Ai??…he should take a look at the cost of the new West LRT Calgary is currently building. Almost the same cost at Skytrain….but with higher ongoing costs because it requires drivers.Yes, LRT is cheap if the rail is already there, and if you don’t need to build elevated or underground segments. However, that is not practical in a city unless it runs along highways that already intersect cities (ie….the efficient parts of Calgary’s LRT). The rest of the LRT in Calgary is a nightmare…..look at downtown.
  2. …the surface running of trains can make them significantly more prone to disruption from traffic jams, accidents, bad car drivers and jaywalkers unless more protection is added at extra cost. Due to their interactions with the street, trains will also need drivers and cannot follow each other as closely, which reduces the frequency, speed, and resulting capacity at which the network can be run.


9 Responses to “Are modern streetcars the future?”
  1. zweisystem says:

    A news item in Modern Tramway and Light Rail Transit.

    The city of Karlsruhe Germany is building a subway under its main tram line in the city centre because of the success of its regional tramtrain system, headways are 45 seconds on the route during peak hours.

    45 second headways = 90 trips per hour.

    1 Karlsruhe tramtrain has a capacity of 240 persons.

    During peak hours the tramtrains are run in two car sets.

    Hourly capacity 480 (2-car sets) x 90 (trips per hour) = a peak hour capacity of 43,200 persons per hour per direction.

    Maximum theoretical capacity of Skytrain 30,000 pphpd, based on 8 cars MK 1 trains, curently impossible to achieve as stations can only accomodate 6 car trains.

    Maximum speed of various light rail vehicles 90 kph. Maximum speed of a SkyTrain MK 1 vehicle -80km.

  2. Evil Eye says:

    Studies in the USA have found that light controlled light-rail/road intersections are about ten times safer than light controlled road/road intersections.

    It has been found in Southern US states where cities have installed new LRT lines, as much as 98% of car/tram accidents were caused by Mexican drivers who could not read English, nor understand the road code.Many drivers treated trams with the same disdain as other car and trucks on the road.

  3. Aaron says:

    The city of Kerlsruhe is having to build a subway, which you constantly argue is wrong, because the Tram line is so busy that above ground transportation is no longer practical. This is an argument to continue building grade separated lines such as a long Broadway.

    As well. If 98% of accidents in the southern states are caused by immigrants not understanding the language or driving codes, Why in the world would you put these systems in Vancouver where we have such a large Asian immigrant community who do not speak English. Seems like you’d be setting the region up for the same sort of disasters. Another argument for grade separated.

    No disagreements on Rail for the Valley, That place needs an LRT or TramTrain operating between Surrey, Langley and Whiterock at the least. But Vancouver needs grade separation. Otherwise in 10 years we’ll have to go back and put a subway underneath the Tram line that keeps running into traffic jams.

  4. zweisystem says:

    I must reply to this.

    If one can not follow the rules of the road, one should not be allowed to drive, simple. In Europe, car drivers must show a much higher standard of driving than in Canada and certainly the USA. A stop sign or red light means stop and if one can’t understand that basic concept, then they should not drive.

    Yes, the city of Karlsruhe is relocating the main tram line in a subway because that line was seeing a capacity of over 43,000 persons per hour per direction, due to the success of its regional tramtrain service which saw 45 second headways with two car train-sets. Quite right that the line is being relocated in a subway as it has met the criteria for building a subway.

    What you refuse to address is the huge cost of building grade separated transit lines and the more injuries due to car accidents on crowded roads cause by a lack of a transit alternative.

    LRT doesn’t run into traffic jams because the very nature of LRT is operating on a reserved rights-of-ways or a route “reserved” for the exclusive use of a tram. Thus your arguments for grade separation are moot.

  5. Aaron says:

    What you so seem to be unable to see is the huge cost of building things twice!

    Trams that operate in Traffic and share the road with Traffic do and will run into Traffic Jams. a reserved right of way through any congested and dense neighborhood would do 1 of 2 things.

    1. Require massive property acquisition that would inflate the cost past the prince point of a subway.
    2. Reduce road capacity.

    Vancouver can afford neither. Therefore Subway it is!

    The Fraser Valley has an extremely low density, plowing through it with a reserved right of way is extremely feasible.

    Your “should not be allowed to drive” is very optimistic. Easy to say, but I dare you to start trying to put it into Practice!

  6. the Ragnore brothers says:

    Why do Canuks continually feel that they have to make excuses for car drivers?
    Car drivers in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Ontario and Calgary, have to understand or they need to learn fast that they do not have exclusive access to the roads.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    Give me a single sentence that explains why Vancouver car drivers should be granted greater priority over other road users.

  8. zweisystem says:

    I am sorry, your reasoning is bizarre to say the least.

    A light rail line, (for example) down Broadway would cost a fraction of a subway and probably would not reach capacity at all. With the money saved building LRT, you could build an additional 3 or 4 light rail lines in Vancouver, which combined capacity would be at least four times greater than one subway line and offer a real alternative to a car. Density has nothing to do with it at all.

    Please let me repeat this, LRT does not run into traffic jams because it operates on a reserved rights-of-way or a route reserved for the exclusive use of the tram – no road traffic will block the tram.

    Building metro (SkyTrain) on transit routes that do not have the ridership to support it has cause our current financial fiasco.

    Your last statement is equally bizarre. If a car driver does not know the rules of the road and does not stop at red lights or stop signs, he should be banned from driving. This is a fact not optimistic musings.

  9. Evil Eye says:


    I have never seen a chap twist the facts to such an extent that a $250 million/km subway becomes preferable to a $25 million/km light rail. You fail to address the main obstacle for new subways in Vancouver, who is going to pay for this subway? How many more hospitals must close; how many schools will be omitted from seismic up grades; how much extra taxes can the regional taxpayer absorb?

    You simplistic subway rhetoric belies a general lack of understanding of transit issues, but hey, Vancouver thinks it is the centre of the universe and money grows on trees.

    Oh, by the way, for every kilometre of subway built, we can build 10 km of LRT. For the cost of 10 km of SkyTrain subway we can build 100 km of LRT, which would provide enough transit capacity to last at least 50 years.