Oct 6, 2017
Rail group still
plugging away at it
Johnston, Rail for the Valley/Voice photos, RFTV images
Graham Dalton speaks with
interested people at the Chilliwack Library Oct 30.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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