Friday, Oct 6, 2017 



A Cheaper Fix

Rail group still plugging away at it
By D. Malcom Johnston, Rail for the Valley/Voice photos, RFTV images


Graham Dalton speaks with interested people at the Chilliwack Library Oct 30.


here is a lot of misinformation about both light rail and what we call SkyTrain and I believe some fact must be injected into the conversation.


With the ongoing SkyTrain versus light rail debate now heating up in Surrey, many false claims have been made about LRT and SkyTrain, it is time to offer these facts.

What we call SkyTrain in metro Vancouver is actually three different automatic railways, two of which are proprietary unconventional railways.

The Expo Line originally used Advanced Light Rail Transit (ALRT).

The conversation about rail was spirited on Saturday.

ALRT was the renamed Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) light-metro system developed by the Ontario Crown Corporation, the Urban Transportation Development Corporation's (UTDC.). ICTS was an unconventional railway powered by Linear Induction Motors or LIM's and was not compatible with any other railway.

Despite claims that ALRT was cheaper to operate than LRT and even though it was driverless, it proved to cost about 40% more to operate than conventional light rail and like ICTS, ALRT went the way of the Edsel.

In the late 80's, the UTDC and ALRT was sold to Lavalin, which again renamed ALRT, Automated Light Metro (ALM), to reflect the fact that ALRT was not light rail.

Lavalin went broke while selling ALM to the City of Bangkok. Bangkok's rapid transit system is called SkyTrain but it is a conventional railway with no relation to ALM.

ALM technical patents were sold to Bombardier Inc., who completely redesigned ALM, using their Innovia body-shell and called it Advanced Rapid Transit (ART). Bombardier hold the technical patents for the proprietary railway, SNC Lavalin, through the bankrupt Lavalin, retained the engineering patents to the proprietary railway.

The Millennium and Evergreen Lines (which was the unfinished portion of the original Broadway-Lougheed Rapid Transit project) are ART Lines.

Though both ALRT and ART are similar and can operate one each other's routes, the vehicles themselves cannot operate in coupled sets.

ART not only costs more to build, ART costs more to operate and maintain, than LRT. Since ICTS/ALRT was first marketed in the late 1970's only seven such systems have been built: two ICTS (Toronto and Detroit); one ALRT (Vancouver) and Four ART systems (New York JFK & Beijing airport people movers; Yongin Korea, theme park people mover; Kuala Lumpor, light-metro).

The cost of the Expo Line SkyTrain compared to other new build LRT Lines.

The VAL system is another proprietary light metro system from France.

The Canada Line is simply a heavy-rail metro built as a light metro and as such it suffers from high operating costs and small capacity due to having station platforms a mere 40 metres long, which can only accommodate two car trains. Internationally, the Canada Line is seen as a classic "White Elephant" and to date, not transit authority has copied the format.

The Canada line is also very expensive to operate as annual payments to the SNC Lavalin operating consortium, amount to $110 million to $120 million annually.

By comparison, the operating costs of a comparable LRT line are $20 million to $25 million annually.

The following gives a good comparison of the E & M/E ALRT/ART Lines with stations with 80 metre long station platforms and the Canada Line with 40 metre long station platforms.

Contrary to the belief that SkyTrain has a large capacity, its operating certificate with Transport Canada limits capacity to 15,000 persons per hour per direction. To increase capacity on the ALRT/ART Lines, upwards of $3 billion must be spent to lengthen station platforms at all stations; to rebuild and increase the electrical supply; rebuilding portions of the Expo Lines viaduct due to aging issues; and more.

The Canada Line, due to have 40m long station platforms has little more than half the capacity of the E&M/E lines. To increase capacity, a further $1.5 billion must be spent upgrading the line.

The Canada line has more in common with modern light rail than ALRT/ART.

Light Rail (LRT)
What we call light rail is a family of transit modes all compatible with each other. From the simplest of streetcar or tram operation, to that of a light metro. The modern light rail vehicle has the ability to operate on rights-of-ways of various quality and can operate on various R-o-W's on same route if need be. This gives modern LRT a tremendous flexibility in operation and is the main reason why it made ALRT obsolete in the mid 1980's.

Classic LRT in Australia, operating on a reserved or dedicated R-o-W, enabling the LRT to match commercial speeds of a metro at a fraction of the cost.

The main modes of light rail are:
TramTrain, which is a modern tram of light rail vehicle which can operate both on tram lines and the mainline railways. Costs for TramTrain start at $5 million/km. to build.

Streetcar or tram, which is simply a tram operating on street, in mixed traffic. Costs for a simple tram system start around $15million/km to build. Light Rail Transit, which is a modern tram, operating on a reserved rights-of-way, with priority signaling at intersections. Costs for LRT start around $30 million/km to build. Light metro, which are trams using a grade separated rights-of way, such as subways and viaducts. Cost for light metro starts around $130 million/km.

It is interesting to note that in Karlsruhe Germany, their city tram system has routes where the tram operates as TramTrain, tram, LRT, and a light metro, without the transit customer transferring vehicles.

This illustration of modern trams being used in Ottawa compared to SkyTrain. A two car coupled set of trams, has a higher capacity than 5 Mk.2 SkyTrain cars in theoretical operation.

Despite claims to the contrary, modern LRT can carry more customers at a cheaper cost than SkyTrain and illustrates why only seven ALRT/ART systems have been built in almost forty years and not one has been allowed to compete against light rail. By comparison, during the same period ICTS/ALRT/ART has been on the market, over 200 new LRT lines have been built and the vast majority of the existing 350 heritage tram system have been rebuilt to a light rail standard.

A personal comment
I have tried not to editorialize the preceding comparison of LRT and SkyTrain, but the following must be said.

We cannot afford to build SkyTrain; we cannot afford to operate SkyTrain, as the excessive costs are bankrupting TransLink. The taxpayer is paying a premium price for a now obsolete transit mode. The region has spent more than $11 billion on four rapid transit lines, which by world standards, give a rather a mediocre service. We have spent at least three times more than we should of, almost $7 billion dollars more for a rapid transit system that does not match the capacity or economy of modern light rail.

Any thought of building SkyTrain to Langley ($130 million/km+) or a Broadway SkyTrain subway ($400 million/km+) is a fool's game being played by those who do not care about good public transit nor care about the taxpayer.

As no SkyTrain system has been sold in the past decade and Bombardier's rail division is in a shambles, Bombardier Inc. may abandon SkyTrain altogether, leaving TransLink and the taxpayer holding the bag, so to speak as no other company builds ART.

Those who support more SkyTrain construction do so on a foundation of financial quicksand.

There should be no LRT versus SkyTrain debate in the region, as transit authorities around the world have studied ALRT/ART for four decades and found the mode wanting, most building with light rail instead.

I leave the the last words to Gerald Fox, a noted American Transportation Engineer, and his summation after reviewing TransLink's Evergreen Line's business case.

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.



2008-2017 The Valley Voice News | All Rights Reserved