Earth to “Rail For Valley”

The “Rail For Valley” group has recently suggested to build a “light-rail line” from Chilliwack to Vancouver. Light rail is in quotations since their plan is more of a commuter rail line than an actual light-rail line.

Much of the route of this “light-rail” line duplicates existing rapid transit investments, which makes very little sense (The Millennium Line has been built, it makes no sense…why are they ignoring the Millennium Line? It’s delusional. Get over it: SkyTrain was built.)

This light-rail supporters also assumes that such a line would be able to use the existing right-of-way (ROW) rail corridor. The thing is, Translink must negotiate with the different rail operators to be able run such a line. Depending on the situation, transit service schedules must be planned around the schedule of the rail operators, which isn’t as easy a task as it sounds, especially for busy rail corridors like the ones used by Vancouver’s Amtrak and Via Rail. In recent years, the City of Vancouver and CP Rail have gone to court, fighting over the Arbutus ROW’s usage. (Keep mind that there will be more rail freight service as Vancouver grows as an Asian-Pacific Gateway, making it more difficult for transit planning).

The plan also assumes that Broadway is a wide boulevard that can handle centre medians when light-rail is built (thus, the absurd low estimates on the construction costs they have for LRT). Unfortunately, that is not the case, which is what UBC SkyTrain Group has been stating all along. Broadway will be restricted to one to two general lanes of traffic per direction, with kilometres of parking restrictions. Referring to previous engineering plans conducted in the 1999 technical study, there will be little room for centre median stations and almost no room for station expansions.

Service frequencies for such a line will also be low and will be more akin to a commuter rail line rather than a proper frequent light-rail line.

Rapid transit has many modes, and light-rail is just one of many modes: it is not the solution for every corridor and to every situation. It’s about time that light-rail supporters grasp that concept and figure out what they really want.


The Irony

One finds it interesting how the SkyTrain lobby warps the truth to suit it’s own ends. What the SkyTrain lobby is really saying is that; “We completely discount over one hundred and fifty years of rail/light rail/metro development, to support a unconventional, proprietary railway.” That only seven such systems have been built (actually there are two types of SkyTrain systems, the old UTDC ICTS/ALRT system and Bombardier’s updated ART system), with two of the systems, Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Toronto’s Scarborough Line, being forced upon the operating authority by senior governments, is testament of the non-popularity of the light metro. The SkyTrain version that has managed a few sales is Bombardier’s ART light-metro system, which has been sold as a “prestigious” airport people movers or fun-fair transit system and only Kuala Lumpur operates a ART system as a regional metro system, along side both conventional light-metro and monorail.

The UBC SkyTrain boys and girls take umbrage with RFV posting of a letter sent to various news papers, so let’s have a look what they say.

As mentioned previously, there are only seven cities that have built with the SkyTrain ICTS/ALRT/ART system, over a 30 year span.

SkyTrain can cost up to ten times more to install (TTC ARTS Study) than light rail. When compared to other North American Light Rail systems, SkyTrain cost 2 to 5 times more to install and operating costs for ALRT/ART are higher than comparable LRT systems.

This is Honolulu’s second attempt to build with SkyTrain as the first attempt collapsed due to massive cost of the light-metro. One doubts that SkyTrain will be built in Honolulu, especially when politicians have just found that the costs quoted in Vancouver for SkyTrain were direct costs only, not total costs which is the norm in the USA. The same issue sunk the Seattle Monorail project. It also must be remembered that Honolulu’s planners want an elevated system, yet their projected ridership numbers do not warrant such an expense.

It is true that SkyTrain, or ART, is more expensive, but one must not compare ART with LRT.  ART is a fully segregated system and most LRT’s built today are not fully segregated.  Of course LRT costs less if it can be built integrated with traffic.  However, if LRT was built using similar construction methods as ART, the costs will be quite close (as shown with the Evergreen Line, requiring similar amounts of tunneling and elevated guideways as the SkyTrain option).  

Due to the heavy congestion on Honolulu’s Interstate and artery roads, planners and politicians are a greater need for rapid transit.  In fact, it was those same politicians that have voted for a higher capacity, faster fully segregated metro system.  Projected ridership numbers are higher than that of the Canada Line, at 116 000 passengers per day.  At bare minimum, forecast numbers show 90 000 passengers per day.

The projected ridership for the Canada line is pure ‘pixie dust’, as it assumes that almost three times more people from Richmond, South Delta & Surrey will use transit to Vancouver than presently do and is not based on scientific assessment, rather it is a political guesstimate.

Using 2007 numbers, which are much lower than the ridership on the 98 B-Line today, the 98 B-Line moved over 27 500 passengers.  This number is over 30 000 passengers.  Adding that to the ridership on Suburban buses, plus local buses such as the 10-Granville and 15-Cambie,  this number is well over one third of the projected ridership of the Canada Line.

In addition, many developments are just about to be complete around Richmond-Brighouse Stn.  Richmond plans to fully develop around the Canada Line, expecting 80 000 more residents.  Of special mention, Pinnacle and Concord Pacific owns a plot of land at the future Capstan Way Stn, expected to be developed over the next few years.  Furthermore, the City of Vancouver council is supporting a rezoning application by a development off of Marine Drive Stn by PCI and Busby Perkins+Will.   The City of Vancouver has also transformed Cambie between Olympic Village Stn and Broadway-City Hall Stn, with a mix of big-box retail, dense residential, and office complexes.  The Vancouver Airport Authority also has plans in building offices around Templeton Station.

Yet when the 98-B Line bus was instituted in Richmond, ridership dropped from what the old 403, 402, and 401 bus routes with direct services to Vancouver, carried. Again the SkyTrain lobby ignores the singular fact that forced transfers deters ridership.

This is quite a different comparison.  In addition to cutting off the Vancouver portion, TransLink also reduced services for the 401, 402, and 403 buses.  In our case right now, the frequency of  thee buses  increase.  It is also different because the 98 B-Line was not faster than the original bus service as opposed to the Canada Line, which is at least 20 minutes faster than the current bus service.

More importantly, above all, it was the four-month transit strike that really affected the ridership for these routes (and for that matter, all bus routes in the region). The strike occurred before the implementation of the 98 B-Line, and a deep service cut occurred one month after.

This comment is absolutely silly, if the author took time to investigate; in North America, rapid transit systems that connect to the airport, including Chicago and San Fransisco, see little ridership.

Tell that to London and the DLR and Hong Kong’s Airport Express.  Daily ridership on the entire BART is also 346 504 passengers; I can’t see how that is “little ridership.”  It is also important to note that BART also has a fare surcharge of $5.00 to the airport from downtown, more than the $2.50 AddFare TransLink is proposing.

Again, the author discounts the great cost differences for LRT and SkyTrain. Sorry, taking the car will be faster and more convenient as studies have shown that for residents in South Delta and South Surrey, being forced to take RAV will increase average journey time, especially off-peak, which is hardly a good selling point. Again, I must remind the SkyTrain lobby it is not the speed of the ‘rapid transit’ that attracts customers but the speed and ease of the entire journey; RAV. with forced transfers which will not be an attractive alternative.

Unless buses feeding RAV run on the same frequencies as RAV, they will not be competitive with the car. Your numbers are misleading as your 5 minute transfer time is not realistic. Most car drivers would spend another 15 minutes in their car rather than take a bus, transfer to RAV and transfer again to another bus. RAV is just not a competitive alternative to the car.

Clearly, one hasn’t read any of the explanations the UBC SkyTrain Group has mentioned in the last post.   A 5 minute transfer time is in no way unrealistic: the transfer is from the bus up two escalators to the platform.   In fact, a normal commuter will take less than that.  This isn’t a transfer from Bridgeport Street and Oak Street Bridge to Bridgeport Station, this is a transfer from a bus loop directly under Station, to the platform.  It is also important to note that there is a Park & Ride that will attracting potential Canada Line commuters that do not want to be stuck in traffic on Oak Street Bridge and beyond.  Park and Rides are pretty much what makes LRT systems successful in North America.

It is ironic that one is lecturing us about a transfer.  Zweisystem wants LRT to be built for the Broadway Corridor even though it creates an extra transfer at Commercial Drive Station.  The UBC SkyTrain Group, on the other hand, wants an extension of the Millennium Line SkyTrain to reduce a transfer.  Oh the irony…

The UBC SKyTrain Group supports a transfer at Bridgeport Station because it saves time for commuters using transit.  While it does create a little bit of a hassle, the benefits such as the time savings and increase of frequency to the suburban buses are worth the transfer.  TransLink has said that the buses will come at least every 15 minutes, upgrading buses to Frequent Transit Network requirements.

Actually it’s not false but very accurate that a subway needs 400,000 to 500,000 passengers a day to justify the investment. The figure comes from UBC Professor Condon but it is also illustrated by the fact that subways are avoided at all costs due to high costs. You can build a subway with less ridership potential, but be expected to pay higher subsidies to support it. Finally your comment is illogical, for if a subway was viable for ridership flows of 100,000 a day, more cities would be burrowing underground.

The Expo Line today has paid off its construction costs and is also fully recovering its operational expenses from fares.  Ridership of 100,000/day is the magic number for breaking even on Canada Line operational expenses, and that number is quite realistic in the very near future as evident with the numbers we’ve seen these past few days.

And if we had built with LRT instead, we could have had it in operation two years ago, your argument is without foundation.

Yes, but the Arbutus corridor was a slower route and would’ve provided only marginally faster travel times to Richmond Centre than the current 98 B-Line.  More importantly, employment and residential densities around Arbutus are simply insufficient to support such a line.

Passengers in subways do not see surface stores and restaurants and do not get off trains to patronize them. The opposite is true for light rail, where merchants adjacent to the LRT line see about a 10% increase in business once the line opens. Your comments are disingenuous.

Businesses benefit because passengers are provided with a fast connection to the key business areas, and these areas see growth.  At the end of the day, the transportation element is the most vital part: it is not a stop-and-go taxi that brings businesses right to their door.

In fact, with that logic, we should be building streetcars so that passengers get a slower view at the stores.

The point of building SkyTrain and Metros is to first build regional transportation infrastructure and then have light rail and streetcars act as a regional connection and feeder system from the higher capacity systems.  This is what is done in Europe: the London Light Rail systems feed off of the London Underground.  Hong Kong’s Light Rail in New Territories feed off of the MTR.  San Francisco’s MUNI is located above the BART system acting as a feeder to San Francisco communities as well as acting as the higher capacity system.

The costs soared because the costs for subway construction were deliberately misleading from the start! The switch from SkyTrain to a generic metro was done to save the cost of over 40 km. of the expensive reaction rail needed for the Linear Induction Motors.

No, there wasn’t a switch from SkyTrain to Conventional Rail.  There were three bids made on the Canada Line project: one from Bombardier proposing ART of course, one from SNC-Lavalin and ROTEM proposing conventional rail, and others from a collaboration of companies including the MTRC proposing conventional rail.   In the end, SNC-Lavalin’s bid won.  There was no switch from the beginning.  Clearly, there is a lack of knowledge of the Canada Line project on your part.

Actually the capacity of a Canada Line car is 163 passengers, using the industry standard of all seat occupied and standees @ 4 persons per m/2; the figure of 200 per car is derived at crush loading, all seats occupied and standees @ 6 persons m/2. Do the math, even with the third car, the RAV Line barely match LRT’s capacity of over 20,000 persons per hour per direction.

Yes, but the travel times are much shorter using the conventional rail over LRT.  The LRT option did not meet Transport Canada minimum time requirements for funding.

You are dead wrong here. Light rail can operate at 30 second headways, and do it day in and day out on scores of LRT operations around the world. Actually LRT can operate at a faster commercial speed than metro if it is designed to. RAV faster commercial speeds come from sacrificing stations along the line. By your logic, having no intermediate stations and an extremely fast metro line would attract hundreds of thousands of riders – NOT! Obviously you haven’t done any research on transit and your lack of knowledge on the subject is telling.

If LRT was designed to do that, it means it is fully segregated or built to light metro standards, making it much more expensive.  That obviously won’t be the case for Broadway, nor is there a pre-existing right of way we could use. Light rail cannot reach a frequency of every 30-secs on a street like Broadway, with all the traffic, traffic lights, intersections, and pedestrian crossings. Trains will simply bunch up, as they do with the 99 B-Line buses during peak hours. This has been debunked thoroughly by UBC SkyTrain in previous articles and posts in our blog.

You overstate the employment centres as hospitals, with nurses and staff working odd shifts and 12 hour days are not good transit revenue generators. The real question about employment centre is how many people working at those employment centre, live near RAV to use it?

The Arbutus route had the higher density and the many shops spread along it’s route would have also been good revenue generators, a fact ignored by RAVCo. & Co. Again you confuse commercial speed with journey speed; a slightly longer trip, serving more destinations, may have attracted more customers.

Like mentioned earlier, the City of Richmond already has plans for increasing density around the Canada Line stations, expecting 80 000 more to live around the No. 3 Rd corridor and Olympic Oval area in the decades to come.

The Arbutus route has density in just one main area: Kerrisdale. And maybe at Central Broadway, although it is only the western tip of it.

Actually the HST has a lot to do with the RAV and Evergreen Lines as the provincial government needs the extra revenue to pay for their hugely expensive transportation projects, your ignorance of this is nothing short than appalling.

HST puts BC in a competitive economic position.  Eventually, provinces will move to the HST model and that is known: the question is when.  The Province has finally decided to heavily invest in public transit infrastructure, ones that were needed a decade ago.   All of these transit plans we’re seeing were previously proposed in the 1996 Greater Vancouver Regional District Livability Plan.

What foolish nonsense which smacks of ‘penis envy’. Vancouver doesn’t have the population as Tokyo, hong Kong and San Fransisco to support a metro, let alone a metro connection to the airport. did you know that BART line to San Francisco’s airport carries a mere 10,000 a day?

Vancouver doesn’t, but will no doubt be home to many more people in the future.  Investing in rail infrastructure requires long term planning.  We need a public transit system that is able to carry more people and investing in faster, higher capacity systems is the way to go to attract general commuters to transit instead off driving.

I’ve no desire to get drawn into the Vancouver transit wars, and, anyway, most of the rest of the world has moved on. To be fair, there are clear advantages in keeping with one kind of rail technology, and in through-routing service at Lougheed. But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.

It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.”

It is true that Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors.  This is a fact.  This is why, for instance, LRT was built in Hong Kong for the New Territories.  But the problem is the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver corridor is a major corridor, along with the Broadway corridor. Both corridors require competent and quick transit modes.

To clarify again, the UBC SkyTrain group only supports SkyTrain in particular cases.  We do not choose a technology for a route without prior research and local experience for that particular corridor.  In fact, we believe it is necessary for LRT to be built in the South of Fraser areas, particularly along King George Hwy, and in the Fraser Valley. SkyTrain is simply the region’s backbone transit connector.  Like with all rail infrastructure projects we’ve seen in the past in this region, BRT should be introduced to guarantee ridership before investing into LRT/ART.

LRT Accident in San Francisco

An accident involving two light rail trains in San Francisco has injured over 40 people, causing delays for the entire six line light rail system.  This accident happened at West Portal Station, which serves four of the light rail routes in San Francisco.  This is one of the largest light rail accidents in recent history, though less tragic than the Metro accident that claimed 7 lives in Washington, D.C several weeks ago.  At this point, it is not known whether it is a mechanical failure or human error, but what is known is that accidents can also happen on light rail systems.  This is just one more point for why the rapid transit rail extension to UBC must be built as a SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line to prevent such accidents from occuring.  SkyTrain uses a rolling block signal system which allows it to operate high train frequencies safely. In its 23-year history, there has not been any major accidents with SkyTrain because of the reliability of the computer system with SkyTrain.  Should there ever be even the tiniest glitch in driverless operations, the entire SkyTrain system will be automatically shut down trains for manual inspection of problems..

Scores injured in San Francisco light-rail crash
The Associated Press

More than 40 people were taken to hospital after one light rail commuter train rear-ended another in San Francisco on Saturday, officials said.

Reuters reported that four people were in critical condition.

The San Francisco Municipal Railway L train ran into a K train at the boarding platform about 2:30 p.m. PT, officials said.

“This is probably one of the largest multiple-casualty incidents in recent years (in San Francisco),” said Pat Gardner, a deputy chief with the San Francisco Fire Department.

Gardner said 20 people suffered moderate injuries and another 21 were “walking wounded.”

Witnesses said the westbound L train barreled into the K train as it emerged from a tunnel connecting downtown San Francisco to the city’s western neighborhoods.

Judson True, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Railway, said investigators were looking into “mechanical and human issues” that may have contributed to the accident.
Driver suffered serious injuries

The front of the L train was smashed and its operator was among the three with serious injuries. The K train suffered less damage, witnesses said.

They reported that more than a dozen people sat on benches along the boarding platform after the crash, some of them holding bloodied heads.

Rescue workers set up a triage system to isolate the most severely injured, bandaging their heads and immobilizing their necks on stretchers before they were trundled to waiting emergency vehicles.

“We thought a bomb went off,” said Mike Burke, a San Francisco banker who lives near the crash site.

“Lots of people (in the trains) were still sitting in their seats with their heads thrown back, stunned,” said his wife, Linda Burke.

Nine people were killed and more than 70 injured June 22 when a Metro train slammed into another train stopped on the tracks in Washington, D.C. The cause has not been determined but investigators say equipment that is supposed to detect stopped trains had failed periodically in the days leading up to the crash.

On May 8, more than 50 people were injured when a Boston subway trolley plowed into another train. Authorities say operator Aiden Quinn, 24, went through a red signal while typing a text message on his cellphone. Quinn was indicted on charges of grossly negligent operation and was scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Suffolk Superior Court. He faces three years in prison if convicted.

Source: CBC

Three accidents and it hasn’t even opened

T-Bone Collision with Link LRT and a vehicle

Seattle’s new Link LRT System hasn’t even opened yet and there have already been 3 accidents involving trains running into cars and pedestrians at intersections.    This has occured even though most of the Link LRT is already fully segregated, with a small portion running alongside traffic.  According to Sound Transit, Seattle’s transit agency, the incidents shut down testing for about an hour and a half.  Could you imagine how many problems this would happen if LRT was chosen for the UBC Line, especially since the LRT would run throughout the entire portion of the Broadway and 10th Avenue Corridor?    Start with counting how many intersections there are along those streets.

Full Article:

A man was injured late this afternoon when a Sound Transit light-rail train and a car collided at Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Myrtle Street.

By Mike Lindblom and Phillip Lucas
Seattle Times staff reporters

A motorist received minor injuries Monday in a collision with a Sound Transit light-rail train in Rainier Valley, the third incident since frequent train testing began there this spring.

The crash happened just after 5 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Myrtle Street, next to the Othello light-rail station in Southeast Seattle.

Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said the car was heading south and made a left turn, against a red light, from MLK Way onto Myrtle as the train traveled south alongside in the median of MLK.

The driver, a man in his 70s, was taken away by ambulance with minor injuries, said Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick.

Emergency crews tore the roof off the car to remove the driver, said Fitzpatrick. He was the sole occupant, transit officials said.

At the time of the crash, the train was traveling at low speed because it was about to stop at the station, Gray said. The train T-boned the car.

The crash caused minor damage to a front panel on the train. It drove under its own power to the maintenance facility.

Sound Transit is testing its trains along the 14-mile route from downtown Seattle to Tukwila, in preparation for service to begin July 18.

After the wreck was cleared at 6:30 p.m. train tests resumed.

This is the third incident involving a test train in Rainier Valley, where tracks run in a median at street level. Two were crashes with cars, and in one case, a person walked into the side of a train, according to Sound Transit.

“We’ve been running 20 hours a day for over a month here. We think people are getting used to it, but incidents like this are a reminder for people to follow the rules,” Gray said.

Sound Transit officials say their rail project has improved overall safety on MLK Way, by eliminating two-way left-turn lanes that used to play a major role in both motorist and pedestrian injuries.

Dana Echols, who said she witnessed the crash, and another bystander, Than Pham, said the rail intersections should have crossing gates.

Sound Transit didn’t install crossing arms because trains are going at the normal traffic speed of 35 mph or less, Gray said, and because neighbors in public-comment sessions didn’t want the area looking like a freight-train corridor.

A decade ago, an environmental-impact statement predicted 29 car-train collisions per year, and three with pedestrians, based on experience in other cities. Transit officials said actual numbers would be less in Seattle, because of improved warning signals and road designs, as well as relatively careful drivers here.

Critics of the project urged local politicians not to mix light rail with street traffic, before groundbreaking in 2003. Many U.S. cities, including Portland, run trains along arterial streets.

Sound Transit has visited many schools and groups to preach rail safety, while giving out water bottles, rulers and a board game with safety slogans. The agency and teenagers have made online videos, urging young people to keep off the tracks.

Jaywalking is still commonplace across MLK, while some motorists are noticeably enraged by longer wait times at traffic lights, where trains take priority.

“I just think that a lot of kids, Lord forbid, will be running across the train tracks thinking they can make it, and they’re going to get hit,” said Echols. “The train’s not even open yet, and people are already getting in accidents.”

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

Source: The Seattle Times