Capital costs of Canadian rail transit systems

Capital costs of Canadian rail transit systems

There’s been a lack of clarity when it comes to the big numbers that define the planning of transit systems in Canada. It’s particularly evident when transit technology becomes a matter of discussion.

Of course, millions of dollars are at stake. So there’s no doubt that when the cost estimate for a major project is higher by so much as a few million dollars, it’s the kind of thing that sends transit advocates scrambling to get attention and some people in the media practically screaming.

So I decided to take all the recent and upcoming Light Rail projects in Canada, research their costs and alignment details, and put them in a table for proper comparison. I put the data in a Google spreadsheet:

All projects were included regardless of technology. Alignment was divided by percentage and split into/measured in 7 categories: on-street, above-grade (i.e. elevated), below-grade (i.e. tunnel, open cut), disused R.O.W. (i.e. railway R.O.W., other empty lands), bored tunnel (the most expensive kind of tunnelling), shared-lane (on-street in mixed traffic like a streetcar), and the total at-grade percentage.

Trends

Since the transit planning complaints here in Vancouver always seem to be directed at grade-separation, I decided to focus on seeing if there was a cost trend regarding the amount of grade separation for the line.

Same data as above, but sorted by amount of grade-separation

What I found is that there is a trend that occurs when the chart data is pinpointed on a graph and assessed by percentage, but it’s very inconsistent and the projects are all over the map:

Percentage below or above-grade
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Several projects end up below the average and several end up above it. As an example, there’s a difference in the four projects on this chart closest to the 100% mark. The highest mark is for the proposed Scarborough extension of Toronto’s Bloor-Danforth subway line, which will be fully underground. The lowest mark is from the estimate for a SkyTrain Expo Line extension in Surrey, which will be fully grade-separated but built in an elevated guideway as opposed to a tunnel.

Despite the use of grade-separation, many of the highest-cost projects are not fully grade-separated and feature many at-grade segments that can limit potential. Even projects with only about 20% grade-separation can come close to or even breach $200 million per km.

Below-grade segments

In order to account for the differences associated with much more expensive below-grade (tunnelled) segments, I took the data and assessed it by percentage below-grade and found a much steeper and more consistent trend-line:

Percentage below-grade
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The amount of systems at the 100% mark has decreased from 4 to 3, and the trend-line now hits the middle of these three dots. The middle dot, closest to the line, is the current ongoing extension of Toronto’s Yonge-University Spadina subway line. The lowest dot is the cost estimate for the ‘Broadway Subway’ (the Millennium Line’s proposed extension down Broadway), which is below the trend-line but is built around a medium-capacity system unlike Toronto’s fully-fledged, high-capacity subway.

Still, there are some differences to account for in terms of alignment. At the 45-50% mark there are two projects that deviate both from the trend-line and from each other.

2012210-eglinton-lrt
The vast majority of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be placed in a large and expensive underground tunnel

The higher of these two marks, at $279 million per km, is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT being built in Toronto. The Crosstown was planned as an on-street LRT system, but the central portion will be placed in a 10km dual underground bored tunnel, which spans more than half of the final construction.  The lower of these two marks is actually our SkyTrain system’s Canada Line. The Canada Line is a fully grade-separated light metro and a slightly higher total percentage of it is below grade. However, only a much smaller portion of this is expensive bored tunnel – the rest was done as less expensive cut-and-cover. Therefore, it manages to be less expensive despite the full grade-separation.

Bored tunnels

To account for that difference I created one more plot excluding everything but projects with bored tunnel segments. The plot line managed to stay the almost same, and the relationship between high capital costs and tunnels is thus made clear:

Percentage bored
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Since only 13% of the Canada Line was built in a bored tunnel, it is now to the left of where it was in the last chart and sitting very close to the trend-line (the Eglinton Crosstown is also closer to the trend-line). Meanwhile, our Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension, which encountered challenging soils with its single tunnel bore, is right on the trend-line when set amongst the other systems.

Canada can’t be compared to Europe

The Tyee has probably been one of the most prominent to sound the cost-comparison alarm when they published a 2012 article titled, “Why Is TransLink’s Price for Light Rail Triple What Other Cities Pay?”

This article surmised that our Light Rail cost estimates are triple what they should be, based on cost estimates being about one-third as much in European and American cities. (And it was, of course, brought up as a way of hurling tomatoes at the idea of a Broadway Subway line – which is still a great idea for a number of reasons).

14532657623_ab73087347
Nice try, Tyee – but the Hiawatha Blue Line is largely off-street and incomparable to Broadway!

Interestingly, of all the American cities that could’ve been chosen in the comparison, it was Minneapolis and its Hiawatha Blue Line. This comparison is invalid as over 80% of the line is placed in either disused R.O.W. or tunnel, with only 20% of it being on-street. All of the other examples are from cities in Europe.

Regardless of whether you believe these numbers or not, the reality is that transit projects and their costs are more complicated than being able to be broken down into a simple cost-per-km value that can apply nationwide, across nations, or across transit projects. There are differences in labour laws, work schedule expectations, material costs, acquisition costs, logistics costs, varying land values, differences in local terrain and differences in economy. All of these need to be accounted for and thus it can’t be assumed that a transit project that cost a certain amount in Europe (or any other country, really) could be replicated in Canada for a similar cost.

Here in Vancouver, for example, any big rapid transit projects are likely to cost more than anywhere else in Canada simply because the higher cost of land would likely significantly raise the costs of project elements such as the operations & maintenance centre (OMC).

Despite this, at the end of the day, both the Broadway Subway and the LRT proposals were consistent with the trendlines across Canadian rapid transit systems.

On-street LRTs

To further address the point raised by The Tyee, I compiled one more chart between the predominantly on-street LRT systems:

Percentage on-street LRTs
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From the wide spectrum in cost of what would otherwise be similar at-grade, on-street LRTs, it may appear that The Tyee would have a point. Even this can be explained, however. The two lowest-cost systems on this chart are Kitchener-Waterloo’s ION rapid transit and the proposed Victoria LRT system. They also happen to have the highest percentages (44% and 31% respectively) on a disused right-of-way (i.e. beside a railway), which is the least expensive place to build any transit because there’s no utility removal, property acquisition or street-scaping work adding to the cost.

highway_401_at_hurontario_street_9192877703
With a right-of-way this wide, the Hurontario LRT is not going to need a lot of property acquisition.

In the middle are the Mississauga and Hamilton systems, which are slightly lower than the big-city systems in Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto (they are also among the 3 systems with occasional mixed-traffic rights-of-way), which seems just right to me. The Mississauga system (Hurontario LRT), in particular, is being built on a wide roadway that in most places still has significant allocations on either side where the roadway can be expanded if necessary (in other words, there’s almost no property acquisition).

The cost for a Broadway LRT system is certainly on the high-end of the spectrum. This makes sense as a Broadway system would need to offer the highest capacity of all of these systems and would face street-scaping challenges with the need to stay within property lines (though this won’t stop property acquisitions from being necessary at station locations). There’s also the uncertainty around an OMC, which would have likely had to be built underground and/or expensively due to the lack of lands along Broadway and high land costs in Vancouver.

Conclusion

In the end, the amount of bored tunnel has a somewhat linear relation with project costs – but grade-separation altogether does not. This doesn’t mean we should avoid building systems with bored tunnel segments from end-to-end (at the end of the day, whether to go that far or not should come down to detailed evaluations of each corridor and transportation needs), but what I do hope to achieve with this article is to facilitate an improvement in the discussion of rapid transit projects (Especially capital costs, since it seems to be the only thing people want to talk about when thinking of rapid transit projects – I, of course, completely disagree).

It’s time to stop thinking that we can build paradise if we replicate the results of other countries, at the costs those other countries experience – it’s impossible. Let’s build transit systems that are adapted to the way our cities work, so that we are sure to be rewarded with positive outcomes.

Sendai celebrates SkyTrain technology with opening of new Tozai Line

Sendai celebrates SkyTrain technology with opening of new Tozai Line

sendai-map
Sendai Subway map showing the new Tozai Line (east-west line in blue)

The sun is rising over a quiet city, where the lights inside 13 new rapid transit stations turn on and the first station staff make their way down the relatively unused escalators to prepare to open the platforms for the first wave of customers.

The familiar hum of a linear induction motor system populates the station as the first of 15 four-car trains rolls in from the maintenance yard, ready to board passengers for the first service of the day.

If you think I’m describing an event in Vancouver, you would be wrong because I am describing what’s happening right now in a major Japanese city, one that decided to build a brand new rapid transit line with the same SkyTrain technology developed in Canada and pioneered here in Vancouver.

See: New subway line opens in disaster-hit Sendai – The Japan Times

Sendai, Japan is the city that was hit hard during the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The completion of the new Tozai Line, a 14km rapid transit subway with both underground and elevated stations, has turned the page for the city, marking its vibrance and prosperity as it progresses in its recovery from the devastation of 4 years ago.

I went back to Sendai for a business trip, and it also happened to be the day the Tozai line opened to the public. It was crazy! The city and its people are treating it like a big event!
-Ryukyurhymer from Skyscrapercity (LINK)

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Videos and photos of the launch celebrations show thousands of people making use of the new system, and celebrations ranging from idol girl groups performing on the station platforms, local sports team mascots out to celebrate, men in samurai outfits, traditional dance performances on board the trains, and picnics at the park beside the train’s visible elevated section. It is a lively hustle and bustle and the mood appears to be as festive as when I visited Sendai just 4 months ago to attend the city’s most famous Tanabata Festival, as part of my 1-year Japan studies journey. It is arguably the biggest occurrence in the city since this August and the biggest revolution for the city since the first steps in recovery were made after 2011.

Pictures from TransLink of mockup Mark III Skytrain vehicle
SkyTrain technology was developed in Canada and pioneered right here in Vancouver.

Since the first km of demonstration track opened in early 1983 here in Vancouver, SkyTrain technology has made its way around the world with just over 20 systems complete or being proposed in 15 cities worldwide. We have reinvested in it and expanded our system several times, yet we’ve been overtaken by a certain Guangzhou, China that has made a monstrous investment in this technology with over 99km of track – reaching 130km by next year.

Sendai’s will to revitalize their city with the help of a technology pioneered here in Vancouver, Canada should be seen as a wonderful treat and a mark of our contributions to this technology’s progress, and a reminder of the big impacts we can make with choices that we would otherwise deem irrelevant. Sendai’s choice of SkyTrain technology will help the city fast-track its ongoing recovery from the events of 4 years ago.

The line will serve 80,000 riders a day next year, with an additional 3% more estimated to come each year and grow the system’s ridership. According to the schedule on the city’s website, trains will run every 3-4 minutes during peak hours and no less frequently than every 7.5 minutes at off-peak times and weekends – an excellent service standard for a medium-sized city of 1 million people.

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The new line is already enabling new transit-oriented development nodes in the city, maximizing the line’s potential and giving a nod to the transit-oriented development practices that Greater Vancouver pioneered for every city in North America.

In an area around Arai Station, work to establish a new community of nearly 20,000 people is progressing. Public apartments have been built for those affected by the tsunami, with people moving there from areas closer to the Pacific coast as part of a collective relocation program. (The Japan Times)

We should celebrate a technology that’s made an impact around the world

As a result of the practical research for three years from Fiscal 1985, we confirmed that low-cost subway “Linear Metro” that has been developed as a public transport is suitable for regional hub city as a semi-main metropolitan line or branch line. For this reason, the Japan Subway Association established the “Linear Metro Promotion Headquarters” within the association in October 1988.

ml98pr_fig2
Comparison of conventional subways and linear motor subways. From Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau’s info page on LIM technology

Japanese researchers started studying linear induction motors (LIMs) as train propulsion in 1985. After Osaka built Japan’s first LIM line (the Nagahori Tsurumi-Ryokuchi line), it was found that the city had saved approximately 20% in construction costs. This is one of the key advantages that come with LIMs – the less-complicated motors enable trains to have lower platform heights, which  means tunnels can be significantly smaller and less costly without impacting the quality of service. There is no doubt that with the majority of Sendai’s new subway line tunneled, millions in cost savings were found with the use of SkyTrain technology.

This same advantage was directly to blame for the use of an existing railway tunnel on our Expo Line SkyTrain downtown, a choice that saved us hundreds of millions of dollars as a traditional light rail system would have required new and larger tunnels to be dug under our downtown core.

“The new line is a symbol of development for the disaster-hit Arai district. I hope the Tozai Line will play a major role in leading the city.”
– Emiko Okuyama, Mayor of Sendai (The Japan Times)

See also: List of Linear induction motor rapid transit systems

Sendai’s system brings the amount of in-service SkyTrain technology systems from 17 to 18. 14 cities/areas are currently using SkyTrain technology, and a 15th (Okinawa Island, also in Japan) has declared its use for a major future transit investment.

I am pleased to hear about and report on this successful launch, and I encourage all of us in Vancouver to cheer this Japanese city and its people in celebrating a brand new era of progress and motion.

Local news report (Japanese)

Watch trains arrive and depart at Sendai Central Station

We can learn from Japan on transit delays/incidents

We can learn from Japan on transit delays/incidents

Video shows that in Japan, even the train evacuations are orderly 【RocketNews24】

As reliable as Japan’s public transportation system is, with so many trains running from morning to night, eventually some sort of problem is going to occur. Passengers heading to work or school in central Kobe had their commute interrupted at approximately 8 a.m. on November 16, when it was discovered that an overhead line had snapped on the Japan Railways (JR) Kobe Line between Kobe and Motomachi Stations.

Seeing that the repairs would take some time to complete, some 5,000 passengers were instructed to leave the carriages, which were stopped in an empty stretch of the tracks, and walk to the nearest station, as directed by JR staff who were on the scene.

Even in Japan, which is known for having one of the world’s supposedly most “punctual” train systems, delays and incidents can occur. Last week in Kobe, this was the scene on the city’s main JR rapid transit line after an incident with an overhead power-line was found, requiring a full shut-down of the system in Kobe and service disruptions throughout the 194km-long intercity rapid transit line.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it does resemble some of the incidents that have plagued our SkyTrain system here in Metro Vancouver over the past few years.

I’m also sure many of you are aware of what happened to the SkyTrain yesterday (November 24th), when it was shut down in downtown due to a “power failure” incident that turned out to be a ‘one-in-a-million’ misplaced replacement rail part that moved on the tracks and struck/damaged the power shoe of an oncoming train.

Map of JR train lines in the Osaka/Kansai area. The blue line going west-east from Himeji to Maibara through Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto was the line affected.
[OPEN to enlarge] Map of JR train lines in the Osaka/Kansai area. The blue line from Himeji in the west to Maibara in the east was the line affected.
I was in Japan last week and happened to actually experience the Kobe incident in the video at the top of this post, although I wasn’t in Kobe when it occurred. Instead, I felt the ripple effects over 140km away at Maibara Station, on the eastern end of the line, as I transferred from another train from Nagoya intending to ride this particular line en route to Kyoto.

The featured photo at the very top of this post is my own picture of the “trains delayed” notice display I ran into when I arrived at Maibara Station. I could feel my stomach churn even more when I checked the departure time-boards on the station platform itself, which showed that westbound express trains had been completely cancelled.

This left me and perhaps several hundred other passengers waiting on the platform before having to crowd onto a smaller local train, which we would ride until another station down the line (Yasu) where express trains would re-commence. The incident was uncomfortable, cost me nearly 90 minutes in delay and had a major effect on my plans for the day.

This is, incidentally, longer than the approx. 60 minute delay I experienced yesterday when I was caught in yesterday’s SkyTrain delay. I started commuting from Surrey to the Main St. Station area to fulfill an errand, right after delays began at around 2:50PM. I went through stopped trains, crowdedness of the trains and crowded-ness again when I boarded a replacement shuttle bus at Commercial-Broadway Station.

SkyTrain has been through numerous shutdowns in the past year, which many have attributed to be an issue of system reliability. In actuality, many of them the result of the lack of an auto-restart system that was neglected by BC Transit in the 1990s; some of them were genuinely due to human error; and some of them just couldn’t be prevented no matter what anyone did.

Regardless of the cause, we don’t seem to handle these very well. Doors have been broken open, resulting in people walking on the tracks unauthorized and causing further delays as track power needs to be shut down. People tend to respond loudly and angrily on social media, not waiting for the investigation to blame TransLink on whatever happens.

There’s a lot that we can learn from the Japanese when incidents like these happen. In Japan, trains are so critical to the functions of life, responsible for moving millions of people every day in a very dense country. Punctuality is considered very important, and so train operators concentrate on providing the best service possible when everything is working. It’s important to understand that things can sometimes not work – and when that happens, instructions have to be followed and anger has to be calmed. Which is why the train evacuations showcased in the video were so smooth and orderly.

This train line didn't have emergency walkways at door-level like our SkyTrain system - so passengers had to climb down ladders to get onto the track.
This train line didn’t have emergency walkways at door-level like our SkyTrain system – so passengers had to climb down ladders to get onto the track.

The most important thing to remember is that at the end of the day, these incidents don’t actually happen that often – SkyTrain has maintained a statistical reliability that tops transit systems in other cities. I pride myself over having kept myself calm throughout yesterday, and hope that other passengers who were able to do the same do so as well.

See also: Vancouverites are Spoiled with SkyTrain – Vancity Buzz

We can’t let these incidents affect the way we think about transit and play our part in shaping major transit decisions, like the recent NO vote on the regional transit referendum. It’s easy to lose sight of the facts when you’re inconvenienced and made bitter, but at the end of the day, in doing you really aren’t helping anyone.

I’m noticing many commuters on Twitter talking about how reluctant they were to take SkyTrain today. If I had let the incident from last week stop me from using the JR train line again out of fear, I wouldn’t have been able to resume with my plans to visit Himeji Castle and take these gorgeous pictures….

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Lastly, here’s a bit from the Rocketnews article that perhaps TransLink could take from for next time…

…we think what really sealed the deal is the Japan Railways representative who shows up on the platform at the video’s 0:27 mark, ready to apologize to those who were inconvenienced and hook them up with bottles of tea, which he opens for each person who walks by. Because hey, on the occasions when you can’t be punctual, you may as well be classy.

Man tea 1

Malaysia confirms SkyTrain technology for 36km Klang Valley line

Malaysia confirms SkyTrain technology for 36km Klang Valley line

It’s official: SkyTrain technology has been confirmed in Malaysia for a brand new, 36km rapid transit line to be built on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The new ‘Klang Valley LRT Line 3’ will begin construction at the beginning of next year, and is expected to open for revenue service in the year 2020. An alignment study has been completed, and the project owner has distributed the construction tenders just last week for the new line so that the detailed design process may proceed.

Featured: Kuala Lumpur's next-generation Mark III train
Featured: Kuala Lumpur’s next-generation Mark III train

The Klang Valley line will intersect with the existing Kelana Jaya Line on Kuala Lumpur’s RapidKL network. The Kelana Jaya Line was built on the same propulsion and driver-less technology used on the SkyTrain system in Metro Vancouver, and uses the same Mark II vehicles manufactured by Bombardier. In addition to the Klang Valley Line, RapidKL is also currently in the process of completing a 17km extension of the Kelana Jaya Line, which will open in 2016. Here’s a short description of the new line from RapidKL:

Designed to ease traffic congestion in the Klang Valley and connected to the current LRT Kelana Jaya Line and the upcoming MRT Line 1 Sungai Buloh–Kajang, the proposed alignment of the LRT3 is currently being finalised by the Land Public Transport Commission. LRT3 aims to connect Bandar Utama to Klang, covering 36km, and will comprise 25 new stations.

Daryl’s take reported on the Klang Valley Line last year, then known as the “Shah Alam Line” (SEE: Previous article) when its potential use of SkyTrain technology was merely a possibility. This has now been confirmed in the alignment studies.

VIEW NOW: Klang Valley LRT 3 Environmental Assessment [PDF]

The environmental impact assessment for the Klang Valley/LRT3 project, which was uploaded by observers on the SkyscraperCity forum, mentions that the vehicles on the proposed transit line will be the “similar to those used on the Kelana Jaya line” – indicating that they will be the exact same vehicles or a close variant, using the same linear motor propulsion technology, and driver-less operation.

The Light Rail Vehicle train, similar to those used in the Kelana Jaya LRT Line, will be used. The train can be configured to a 2, 4 or 6 car-vehicle train. The dimension of each car is 20 m long x 2.65 m wide x 3.44 m high. Each car will have a minimum of 36 seats and 6 passenger doors (3 doors on each side). It will be full Automatic Train Operation driverless system.

While the assessment did not specifically mention the use of linear motor propulsion, it did specify a vehicle height of 3.44m, matching the vehicle height of the Mark II trains on the Kelana Jaya line and thereby requiring the use of linear motor “SkyTrain technology”, as the height would not permit standard rotary motor propulsion due to its requirement of a higher platform. As a comparison, the regional network’s Ampang Line trains, using standard rotary-motor propulsion, have a height of about 3.9m. The assessment also specified a 5% maximum grade, requiring linear motor trains for safe operation. For rapid transit rail lines, standard rotary propulsion trains are generally limited to 3% maximum grades in order to accommodate for push-pull operations in the event of train stoppages and other emergencies.

The initial operation will use 54 2-car trains, at a 2-minute headway throughout the day. There will be an end-to-end time of 51 minutes on a running speed of 80 km/h, for an average speed of 42 km/h. Here are some additional highlights of the new Klang Valley line:

Largest SkyTrain technology expansion in recent history

At a whooping 36km from end-to-end, with 25 stations, the line will be the largest expansion of SkyTrain technology in recent history. I believe this will assuage some critics in Metro Vancouver who have claimed that the expense of SkyTrain technology prevents us from building larger-scale expansions. This is 36km of track being built at once, within 4 years!

6-car trains!

Guangzhou Metro Line 5
Yep, 6-car trains! Pictured: Guangzhou Metro Line 5

The new line will be designed to accomodate 6-car trains on platforms that are 120 m long – 50% longer than those used on the Expo and Millennium Lines. This will not be the first example of a SkyTrain technology transit line with trains longer than 4 cars (the Toei subway Oedo Line in Tokyo runs 8-car trains), but it may be the first done with Mark III trains if Bombardier is awarded the rolling stock contract.

330,000 daily passengers after 30 years

The line is being designed to meet projections of carrying 330,000 daily passengers by the year 2050, which will make it one of the busiest SkyTrain technology lines in the world – and possibly the busiest using Bombardier’s Innovia trains if those are used on the new line. Opening-day ridership is estimated at 70,000 riders.

82km of SkyTrain technology

With the existing Kelana Jaya Line and its extension, the Klang Valley line’s 36km addition will result in over 80km of SkyTrain technology rapid transit in operation in the Greater Kuala Lumpur area.

This will be the second largest network in the world, short of the Guangzhou Metro which is already operating over 100km of linear motor rapid transit and continues to expand that. If the rolling stock is provided by Bombardier, then RapidKL will surpass Vancouver’s SkyTrain to become host to the world’s largest SkyTrain technology system with Bombardier trains.

CSR-Zhuzhou consortium bids, debunks “SkyTrain is proprietary” myth

Naza proposes to finance up to 90% of LRT3 – The Star

According to a recent news report, Chinese rolling stock manufacturer CSR-Zhuzhou, which has previously provided linear motor technology for the Guangzhou Metro and the Changsha Maglev, has bidded for the Klang Valley line in a consortium with local construction firm Naza Engineering & Construction. The Naza-CSR consortium have offered to fund up to 90% of the project cost, in an effort to lure the contract.

If the consortium wins the contract, the trains will then be built by CSR-Zhuzhou rather than Canada’s Bombardier. They will still have to fit the specifications in the alignment study, meaning that linear motor propulsion trains – likely based on the ones in service in Guangzhou – will be used.

A Naza-CSR win would mark the second time in history (the first being Tokyo) that a SkyTrain technology rapid transit system is operating vehicles from two different manufacturers, effectively debunking a commonly spread idea throughout this region that “SkyTrain technology”, which was originally developed in Canada, is proprietary. The Greater Kuala Lumpur region is familiar with CSR-Zhuzhou: they had previously provided rapid transit vehicles (of standard rotary propulsion tech) for the region’s older Ampang Line.

Bombardier eyeing Klang Valley Line, sets up resources in Malaysia for prospective bid

Bombardier targets sales in the Asia Pacific to reach 25% in the next 5 years – XSInvest

A representative from Canada’s Bombardier Transportation (the manufacturer of our Expo and Millennium Line SkyTrain cars) has previously stated that the company is eyeing a train order for the proposed Klang Valley Line project, as well as other proposed heavy rail rapid transit projects throughout the region. Bombardier Rail opened a new office in Kuala Lumpur last year to facilitate operations in Malaysia and throughout Asia, accomodating 100 engineering, project management, systems integration and signalling specialists. If Bombardier bids for the Klang Valley line, they will then be in open competition with CSR-Zhuzhou and any other bidders for the line rolling stock.

Debates over: the line is opening in 5 years

LRT3 Tender Documents Ready for Collection – RapidKL

While we can’t seem to decide on transit projects or technologies here in Metro Vancouver, the Klang Valley region has progressed quickly and the project owner has already started the call for construction tenders. This is not just a proposal at this point – the consultations have been finished, and the project is moving forward. The line will be open for service just 5 years from today.

About Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” system

Kuala Lumpur's integrated rail system. The Kelana Jaya line is in magenta.
Kuala Lumpur’s integrated rail system. The Kelana Jaya line is in magenta.

Kuala Lumpur’s RapidKL network is like a clone of our SkyTrain system overseas: the system is composed of several grade-separated, automated (driverless) rapid transit lines. Some use the same linear induction motor propulsion technology and Bombardier Mark II vehicles used on SkyTrain here in Vancouver, whereas others use standard rotary motor technology (as with the Canada Line). The Ampang Line, the first rapid transit line, used standard rotary propulsion and was opened in 1996. This was followed by the 1998 opening of the Kelana Jaya Line, the fully automated linear-propulsion line that looks and works exactly like our SkyTrain system, with the same Mark II trains.

The 29km Kelana Jaya Line is built with both overhead sections and bored tunnel sections through the city core. It is the busiest and most popular rapid transit line in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur with 160,000 riders daily [1], and was for a long time the only rapid transit service in the Klang Valley metropolis that broke even (revenues paid for operations costs) until the Ampang Line, which had historically fallen a few thousand riders short from breaking even [1][2], was equipped with thec system to itself become fully automated (driverless) [3]. Both lines are currently receiving extensions that are due to open at around the same year the Evergreen Line is opened here in Vanouver.

The extensions are shown in the above map (note the unnamed stations near the bottom). Kuala Lumpur’s Rapid Rail system has been immensely successful since its opening, being major money generators for the regional rapid transit system and the biggest drivers of ridership and high-density development. SkyTrain technology helped the fares on RapidKL’s rapid transit lines remain completely unchanged for 10 years [4], despite hydro bill increases for the operating company, as a result of continually increasing ridership [5]. The RapidKL network is considered the “key revenue-generator contributor” for Prasarana, the regional transportation authority if the Klang Valley [6]

Sources/footnotes
  1. Passenger numbers from Urban Rail Development Study, page 19 [LINK]
  2. The Ampang Line breaks even at 170,000 riders daily, according to Malaysian Business (article “Red Flags” from 16 June, 2000 issue – not available online) – most recent recorded ridership was 141,000 daily
  3. The Kelana Jaya Line has been automated from start of service; the Ampang Line was refitted with the Thales SelTrac system in 2012 [SEE HERE]
  4. LRT, Monorail fares to go up next year – Astro Awani report [LINK]
  5. Prasarana Power Cost Up 17% since Jan 1 – The Edge Malaysia [LINK]
  6. Description page on Rapid Rail Sdn Bhd [LINK]

SkyTrain technology declared for 60km outer belt metro in Tokyo

SkyTrain technology declared for 60km outer belt metro in Tokyo

“SkyTrain technology” (linear motor propulsion, with automated operation) has been declared for a major investment in rail rapid transit in the outer boroughs of the city of Tokyo, Japan – the world’s largest metropolitan area with over 38 million people residing.

Map: Proposed "Metro 7" and "Eight Liner" rapid transit line circling outer Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation wants to use SkyTrain technology to reduce the project costs of this transit line.
Map: Proposed “Metro 7” and “Eight Liner” rapid transit line circling outer Tokyo, which will run under the city’s 7th and 8th Ring Roads. The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation wants to use SkyTrain technology to reduce the project costs of this transit line.

The proposed lines – initially two separate projects codenamed “Metro Seven” and “Eight Liner” – will be merged into a single project that is 59.7km long, with 42 stations.

There is an additional 13.7km extension to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (bringing the total project length to a whooping 73.4km) under consideration. It has not been finalized as part of this proposal and is pending further study, likely given that other Haneda-oriented rail projects are currently being considered by other operators.

Case study

I was given a link to a study on the Itabashi ward website, which concluded that the use of SkyTrain technology would significantly save costs and improve the project business case, due to significant reductions in tunneling and land acquisition costs.

LINK: 平成25年 – 度区部周辺部環状公共交通に係る調査 – 概報告
English: 2013 Fiscal –Outer Ward Circumferential Public Transit Study – Summary Report

The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation (Toei) has proposed to build and operate the subway line with public funds, a rarity in a country where most major railways are built and operated by private companies.

Linear Motors Save Costs

The new metro line in Tokyo will use a new specification called “Smart Linear Metro“, which is identical to the 69km SkyTrain technology railway line proposed in Okinawa. Short, 12m long cars – similar to Vancouver’s Mark I SkyTrain vehicles – will enable a further reduction in tunnelling height, curve radius and land costs compared to 16m long “standard linear metro” cars already in use in Fukuoka, Yokohama, Kobe and other cities, which themselves allow for smaller tunnels than standard 20m rotary propulsion metro cars. To enable the high carrying capacity required for a Tokyo metro line, multiple-car, articluated units will be used.

Through the reduction in tunnelling and land acquisition costs – made possible by the key advantages of linear motor propulsion in lower floor heights and tighter curve radii – the use of SkyTrain technology is estimated to save taxpayers the equivalent of $300 million Canadian dollars.

Slides from the case study (tap to enlarge):

Trains will initially operate every 3 minutes during peak times on the higher-demand western segment, whereas a 5 minute frequency will be used on the eastern segment.

Popular in Japan

Japan is one of the world countries that has recognized the benefits of SkyTrain technology and pushes a widespread application of SkyTrain technology in every new railway project. There are now 9 lines in 6 cities running, under construction or under consideration. The new circumferential line will be the 9th such line in Japan, and the 20th such line in the world.

The Toei Oedo subway has been operating since 1991, and had one extension in 2001.
The Toei Oedo subway has been operating since 1991 and is one of the busiest Tokyo subway lines.

Toei has previously demonstrated SkyTrain technology successfully on the Toei Oedo Line, a major Tokyo subway line with a ridership of over 850,000 passengers daily. The Oedo Line has operated successfully for over 23 years. It’s no surprise that with this record, Toei would want to build another such line.

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor Rapid Transit Systems

New SkyTrain technology metro in Sendai, Japan opens 2015

New SkyTrain technology metro in Sendai, Japan opens 2015
sendai-map
Sendai Subway map showing the new Tozai Line (east-west line in blue)

A brand new rail rapid transit line in Sendai, Japan – which is using linear induction motor propulsion technology (“SkyTrain technology”) – is on track to open next year (2015), with final construction activities and train testing underway. The Tozai Line will be 14km long, and feature a mix of underground and elevated sections.

The use of SkyTrain technology is now confirmed by more than a concept photo, as the linear-motor rolling stock has arrived and pictures have surfaced showing linear motors on the subway track. These initial trains have passed their testing, keeping the line on-track to open exactly one year from now on December 6, 2015.

A new video featuring the rail transit project, showing the unveiling of the SkyTrain-tech rolling stock and construction progress, was recently updated to YouTube. As part of these unveilings, school children were allowed to be a part of the event, inspiring a future generation of transit riders.

New construction photos of the Sendai Subway’s Tozai Line has recently hit the internet. The photos below were posted on the official project Facebook page:

The Tozai Line was originally scheduled to open much earlier, but construction was delayed by the devastating 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which heavily damaged much of the city. The new subway line will therefore be part of the revitalization movement for Sendai City.

Japan is one of the world countries that has recognized the benefits of SkyTrain technology and pushes a widespread application of SkyTrain technology in every new railway project. There are now 8 lines in 6 cities running, under construction or under consideration. Sendai Subway’s new Tozai Line will be the 7th such line in Japan, and the 18th such line in the world.

Sendai’s project is one of seven SkyTrain technology projects concurrently under construction around the world – the other projects are in Vancouver (Evergreen Line), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Kelana Jaya Line extension), Guangzhou, China (Metro Line 4 & 6 extensions) and Beijing, China (Airport Express west and north extensions).

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor Rapid Transit Systems

A recent SkyTrain-tech project, announced for the island of Okinawa, Japan, will be the largest one-time SkyTrain technology project in the world at 69km long.

Okinawa, Japan declares SkyTrain technology for 69km urban and intercity railway

Okinawa, Japan declares SkyTrain technology for 69km urban and intercity railway

Okinawa Railway System - Urban elevated railway station concept

As you may recall (or not, since I have yet to actually discuss anything Japan-related on this blog!), I departed Metro Vancouver in September of this year to pursue a scholarship-supported abroad studies program in Kyushu, Japan. My studies include a transportation research component – and through this, I initially received word that Okinawa would use linear motor cars on its inaugural island railway – a.k.a. “SkyTrain technology”.

As of this week, a number of online articles in Japanese have now surfaced, revealing project details and effectively confirming SkyTrain technology for Okinawa’s first major rapid transit line.

News release: 知事選で高まる気運 リニアモーターを使った沖縄の「普通鉄道」建設構想とは (English: Election momentum growing: plan outlined for Okinawa’s linear motor railway)
Translated (Google): [LINK]

This means that linear motors and reaction rails (locally termed in Vancouver as “SkyTrain technology”) will be used to propel trains on the island. Japan is one of the world countries that has recognized the benefits of SkyTrain technology, with 7 lines running or already under construction in 6 cities. Okinawa’s railway will be the 8th such line in Japan, and the 19th such line in the world.

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor Rapid Transit Systems

The news release linked above emphasizes that every candidate for prefectural governor (there is an election coming up in Okinawa!) is supporting the proposed rapid transit line. This is because the line will be 30% cheaper to ride end-to-end than the current express bus service, due to efficiencies for the island’s transit operator. It is expected to cut travel time across the island in half, to 58 minutes from the current 1 hour and 45 minutes by rapid express bus.

There will be two primary segments. The 20km segment between Okinawa City and Naha Airport will feature an urban metro-style service. Trains will initially run every 5 minutes during peak hours, and every 12 minutes off-peak. The 49km segment between Okinawa City and Naga City will be the world’s first intercity railway using SkyTrain technology. Trains will initially arrive every 15 minutes during peak hours and every 20 minutes off-peak.

Map of proposed 69km SkyTrain-type railway in Okinawa
Map of Okinawa’s 69km SkyTrain technology railway

The line will initially use 4-car trains, with shorter 12m long cars – similar to Vancouver SkyTrain’s Mark I vehicles. They will be low-height vehicles capable of running through smaller tunnels.

最高速度は100km/hが目標とされており、長さ12mの車両の4両編成が考えられています。1両あたりの長さが約15.7mである長堀鶴見緑地線の車両が、4両編成で定員が380人なので、12m×4両では単純計算で290人程度の定員があることになります

English: Trains will have a maximum speed of 100km/h, and the government has considered using 12m length cars. For comparison, trains on Osaka’s Nagahori Tsurumi-Ryokuchi line are 15.7m long. Those trains carry 380 people, so we imply that Okinawa’s trains will carry 290 people between the 4 cars.

In order to navigate the island’s challenging terrain, 70% of the proposed line will be in a tunnel, which means the linear motor trains – which have lower train heights and require smaller tunnel diameters – will save the local government billions of dollars in tunneling costs. A standard rotary propulsion railway would have also likely required more tunnels, given linear motor vehicles are capable of handling steeper slopes at higher speeds, avoiding the need for tunnels and landscaping in certain segments.

Case study

With further searching, I was able to uncover a case study document that included conceptual art for the proposed rail line:

LINK: 新たな公共交通システム導入促進検討業務 – 報 告 書 – 概 要 版 – 沖 縄 県 (English: New public transit system promotional business case – Executive Summary – Okinawa Prefecture)

According to the study, the SkyTrain-type rapid transit line was initially compared on a level playing field with a variety of other transit options – including Tram-Train – a form of ground-level Light Rail Transit (LRT), and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – and won against these options, found to be the most worthwhile investment as it would generate the most travel time benefits for local citizens.

The linear motor transit systems examined in the study included the Bombardier ART (SkyTrain) systems in New York and Beijing.

About Okinawa

A map of Okinawa prefecture - from Wikimedia Commons, license CC-BY-SA
A map of Okinawa prefecture – from Wikimedia Commons, license CC-BY-SA

Okinawa, a well-populated and internationally well-known island south of the 4 main Japanese islands, is contrary to the rest of the country in that it has yet to see any serious developments in rail transit. There is a 12.8km monorail, called Yui Rail, in the main city (Naha), but that is it – the rest of the population must take buses or drive automobiles to travel longer distances.

The new railway will significantly improve transit travel times and create a new option to combat rising congestion levels on the Okinawa Expressway, a major toll road crossing the island. The entire railway will be 69km long, which will immediately make it the third longest SkyTrain-technology rail system in the world upon completion. Vancouver’s SkyTrain system (which will grow with the completion of the Evergreen Line) and Guangzhou, China (where three SkyTrain technology lines cover 100km of track) are the only longer systems.

New Surrey stop on 555 a hit – prompts TransLink to increase service

New Surrey stop on 555 a hit – prompts TransLink to increase service
156 St Stop Bus
A bus approaches the new 555 stop at Highway 1 and 156th Street, giving Surrey residents improved access to Greater Vancouver.

The new 555 stop in Surrey is a hit! In case you’re not aware of my involvement with the stop, I encourage you to read my article on the stop’s introduction now at [CLICK HERE]. Reporter Kevin Diakiw from the Surrey Leader also did an excellent report on the stop and my involvement, which also highlights an important endorsement from city Councillor Tom Gill on my advocacy work throughout the past year:

Rapid bus now has Surrey stop – Surrey Leader

Coun. Tom Gill, who chairs the city’s transportation committee, said the bus stop materialized thanks to the relentless campaign by 18-year-old Daryl Dela Cruz, who on his website, describes himself as a technology fan, a transit user, a researcher and a community issues advocate.

Gill describes him as a “outspoken, very smart, intelligent young man” who inundated Gill and the committee with well-argued facts supporting the need for the bus access.

“He has been non-stop for a year (pushing for the stop),” Gill said…

[READ MORE]

As for what’s the story now, the #555 bus from Braid Station to Carvolth Exchange in Langley, stopping at 156 Street in Surrey, has received a service increase. Buses now operate every 7-8 minutes in the AM peak period, responding to increased demand as a result of a popular 156 St stop. They previously operated every 9-10 minutes. The service change was confirmed through a schedule change in the 555 schedule posted by TransLink on its website.

[#555 schedule – TransLink – CLICK HERE]

Schedule changes on the 555 improve service to every 7.5 minutes in the morning peak, increasing service for both Surrey and Langley riders. Schedule: TransLink
Schedule changes on the 555 improve service to every 7-8 minutes in the morning peak up from 9-10 minutes, increasing service for both Surrey and Langley riders. Schedule: TransLink

The materialization of this service increase may have had to do with a citizen effort I was informed about, called #555passup, to inform TransLink of the growing service needs and pass-ups on the 555 route that would result in Carvolth passengers being told to wait for the next bus by TransLink security, to make room for riders boarding at 156th Street.

It would seem that much of the efforts were spearheaded by a local rider named Donald Nguyen.

All in all, with only a couple of weeks having passed since the stop’s opening, it looks like my efforts have definitely not gone to waste – and neither have these riders’, to improve the new service provided for them. It thrills me to see that I have given hope in citizens and may have started new trends in citizen-lead transit improvement advocacy. As the improvements materialize, Surrey residents are realizing significant benefits of a new bus stop that really should have been built in the first place – and with demand increasing, funding will soon need to increase further so this service can keep up with the high demand.

Having seen citizens come up with innovative ways to advocate for smaller-scale improvements gives me hope as well – hope in a larger-scale effort we’re going to need to have in order to push the big improvements in transit funding the entire region needs.

The question now is, how can we expect the authorities in charge of funding – specifically, the provincial government, who have also explicitly tied the introdduction of any new sources to a referendum – to be responsive, if at all, to our concerns.

New bus stop enables Surrey access to #555 rapid bus

New bus stop enables Surrey access to #555 rapid bus

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I was delighted to learn that the new bus stop at the 156th Street-Highway 1 off-ramp to the 555 Port Mann Express rapid bus would open earlier than expected – in time for the 2014 back-to-school season, and saving commuters to downtown and students at post-secondary institutions like Simon Fraser University and Douglas College minutes upon minutes every day.

The new stop helps Surrey residents in Guildford and Fraser Heights connect to the Millenium Line SkyTrain in Coquitlam, significantly improving links to SFU, Brentwood Town Centre and Downtown Vancouver.

This diagram shows the travel time benefits for Surrey riders now able to access the 555. From my "unofficial business case" (see below)
This diagram shows the travel time benefits for Surrey riders now able to access the 555. From my “unofficial business case” (see below) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

A complicated history

See also: No Stops in Surrey for Port Mann Express Bus – Surrey Leader, Nov 2012

See also: Surrey left out of rapid bus line – CTV News (Video)

For those who didn’t know, the bus stop for the Highway 1 Rapid Bus (#555 Port Mann Express) has been a topic of controversy for some time after a bus stop for the service was not provided in Surrey, due to several issues of mis-communication between TransLink, the Provincial Government, and the City of Surrey. A private developer who was expected to build a transit exchange may also have been involved in the fray.

Original concept images by the provincial ministry of transportation showed buses turning and making a stop at 156th Street, giving a new rapid transit access to Surrey residents in Guildford and Fraser Heights. When the HOV ramp and bridge were opened in late 2012 – along with the introduction of the rapid bus route – this didn’t materialize, secluding Surrey residents from improved transit access in the face of a new toll on the bridge.

Picture of 156th Street underpass and HOV ramps, showing buses that would have been using the interchange.
Picture of 156th Street underpass and HOV ramps, showing buses that would have been using the interchange and stopping for passengers.

Fraser Heights residents would feel the pinch of this when ridership on the bus route #337 grew at the fastest rate of any Surrey bus route – and this was before the introduction of Port Mann Bridge tolls – indicating a high level of demand for the new #555 service that was never provided.

My work ensured that this got built!

We have TransLink (who worked and cooperated with other parties to ensure this would be in service) and the City of Surrey (who ended up providing the bulk of the funding, according to recent Transportation & Infrastructure Committee reports) to officially give thanks to for this stop – but I’m not sure how many people will be talking about the role I and some others had in actually ensuring that this stop was built and in service yesterday!

The surprise retraction of the project and the transit service put a significant amount of pressure on me as I was hoping to benefit from the new stop service, being a Guildford resident and a major transit user facing a transition from high school to university. It prompted me to launch a big advocacy effort myself, which culminated with the creation and presentation of an unofficial “business case” telling city officials why this stop would be so important – not just for me but for several others who could have been benefitting, and were now otherwise losing.

See also: 156th St Rapid Bus Stop Project – Unofficial Business Case

In fact, the expected construction timing and inability to provide the bus stop in due time would become one of many factors behind my decision last year to pack my bags, leave Surrey, and temporarily move to the North of Fraser – making a new home for myself near a Burnaby SkyTrain Station, where I have lived for the past year.

I worked with many individuals – including the vocal and active Daniel Badragan, a local-area student, who wrote quite a few letters to the editor in protest surrounding the missing stop – coming up with ways to advocate for the missing stop.

See also: “Surrey needs transit for Port Mann” – letter, Daniel Badragan, on Surrey Leader
See also: “Make your voice heard on Bus Stop” – letter, Daniel Badragan, on Surrey Leader

It’s probably no surprise that my delight has been intensified by the coincidence of the opening date of the stop with my return to residency in the South of Fraser (I moved back to Surrey yesterday and will be here for a few days before embarking on a major study abroad tenure). The opening of the stop was suddenly added to the TransLink fall service changes page, to a fanfare of probably a few commuters and people except those I heard around me who were talking about it on the bus.

Being labour day, the ridership was markedly low and the buses were running on a Sunday/Holiday schedule, every half hour. But, that didn’t stop me from making use of the new bus stop for the commute to my workplace downtown. See the slideshow above for an early look! 🙂

View my original unofficial “business case” for this rapid bus stop, below!

SkyTrain meltdowns a consequence of devaluing transit investment

SkyTrain meltdowns a consequence of devaluing transit investment

See also: Vancouverites are spoiled by SkyTrain on Vancity Buzz

2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line

Introduction

SkyTrain operates with high standards, transporting passengers with a remarkable 95% on-time performance rate and doing better at providing rapid public transit than other cities our size. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s immune to system-stopping failures that can require the use of shuttle buses and inconvenience thousands of transit passengers.

Our SkyTrain system managed to suffer from two major system meltdowns within seven days, and it’s perplexed everyone. It’s raised questions of accountability and competence within TransLink, and of the versatility of how SkyTrain is operated. It’s raised questions of whether there could be a better plan for emergencies, so as to prevent frustration and inconvenience.

By far, a lot of the comments I’ve seen point fingers at TransLink. Provincial Minister Todd Stone was quick to deny responsibility, and looking through social media reveals an aura of madness from inconvenienced customers. All of this creates a dangerous precedent that a discouragement into putting more money into our transit system is created, as people begin to believe that proactively investing in it isn’t worth it.

However, some of the problems we faced in these past 7 days could have been mitigated by just that – with investments into good maintenance of our transit system.

With the province putting TransLink through audit after audit as part of a mandate to increase the system’s efficiency, it’s become more difficult to justify investments to keep the transit system and its employees running – with everything from a provincially-funded park & ride expansion to the provision of coffee for employees to public art being put through questions and a high-level of scrutiny.

The chaos that we witnessed during SkyTrain’s recent shutdowns can very much be attributed to a devaluation of transit funding, lead by anti-TransLink campaigners.

An explanation

TransLink didn’t purchase a $20 million backup system that would have assisted SkyTrain in the event of computer failures. This would have spared riders from service meltdown incidents like the one on Thursday, July 17th.

To compound the issue, as part of the recommendations of several efficiency audits, TransLink has tightened up the amount of spare buses and staffing on the bus network. This means that when bus bridges are needed to deal with SkyTrain emergencies, there are fewer staff available to drive buses, and few buses available – which was an issue on both Thursday and on Monday, July 21st during the second, human-error-triggered meltdown.

It’s a no-win scenario for TransLink. A seamlessly-integrated backup system would not even require riders to be notified if SkyTrain were to have computer issues – and should the investment have been made known, an inevitable sensation surrounding the choice to invest – driven by anti-TransLink critics – is what we would be hearing about from the media instead. That would be the news item of the day, instead of a SkyTrain failure.

Meanwhile, continuing to provide adequate staff and buses to handle emergencies like the recent ones would go flat out against recommendations in recent audits – which could have triggered a harsh reaction from the provincial government, as they do directly control TransLink’s governance and some funding for transit.

PHOTO: Shuttle buses line up to board passengers at Metrotown
No one likes to ride a bus bridge – but it’s as important to have funding so that drivers and buses can be ready when we do need these.

Comments that put pressure on TransLink and portray them excessively negatively as an organization could result in more “NO” votes in the upcoming referendum next year. It may have become one of the reasons that TransLink has not undertaken investments proactively, spending money to prevent issues before they actually happen. As long as the public has yet to know of the real value of proactive transit investments, it’s difficult to do so without endangering long-term transit funding.

It’s a concern that has been raised by transit advocates and decision-makers, as they work hard to promote the value of transit investment in advance of this referendum. As a “NO” vote has been confirmed to be an option, there is nothing that can stop voters from using their vote to ‘send TransLink a message’ – something that would do commuters on all transportation modes no good whatsoever.

See also: Does TransLink have a bad brand? on South Fraser Blog
See also: TransLink Referendum: Can it win? What do we need to know? on Price Tags
See also: How will anti-TransLink vote influence transit referendum? on Metro 604

Last month, on Thursday and again on Monday, critics were quick to rush to mediums such as Twitter, radio and news to lambast TransLink and remind us of past issues that have been raised. The resulting negative attitude that surrounds our transit system will not just affect how people vote in the upcoming referendum – it may have numerous negative shorter-term impacts such as the reduction of fare revenue, as less people choose transit and more believe that it is not worth doing so. Less fare revenue can mean more service cuts and even worse rider satisfaction throughout the system.

I have a strong feeling that there would be a backup computer system in place today, giving riders a more reliable SkyTrain system, were it not for the persistence of the anti-TransLink critic.

“Ironically, the people campaigning to strip TransLink of funding in the name of efficiency may be responsible for the time it took to get service restored and get people moving over the last few days.”

Nathan Pachal, who operates South Fraser Blog and is running for Council in Langley Township, raised this issue on his blog in his response to the recent incidents.

What do we do about this?

We’re surrounded by comments on how TransLink is “mismanaged”. In order to effectively combat the issues that this creates, it’s important to bring into light whether this level of scrutiny and demand for cost-efficiency is actually necessary.

In a previous blog article, I brought into light how it’s questionable if TransLink was being audited correctly, pointing out a discrepancy between how cost-efficiency has been portrayed and how it’s actually supposed to be measured – noting that between the transit operators in Canada’s three major cities, TransLink is the most efficient – providing the most service at the lowest operating cost.

See also: Was TransLink audited correctly?

It’s also important to bring into light what we should already know about TransLink’s efforts to be a better organization. We should know that TransLink is following up on the recommendations in the audits, and that those efforts are working – TransLink ended financial year 2013 with a $43 million surplus.

One of the most important changes that needs to be made is in public attitudes on transit spending. We can’t be ignorant to the fact that it is necessary to spend some money to keep our system in good repair.

For SkyTrain riders, the worst part of this devaluation of transit funding is that it has a major implication on our SkyTrain system that extends beyond $20 million.

As rail lines age and ridership grows, upgrades are needed to maintain efficiency and reliability long-term, and ensure the maintenance of the benefits provided by the system. TransLink has yet to secure a long-term funding commitment to pay for the over $1 billion in upgrades that will be required to keep the SkyTrain from becoming overcrowded and unreliable as it continues to age. These upgrades will improve station facilities with new entrances and amenities, as well as prepare the system for longer 5-car trains. Some of these upgrades are ongoing, but the majority of them have yet to be started.

See also: Reality Check: Why is SkyTrain breaking down so frequently? on Vancity Buzz

Just as TransLink is looking for long-term funding to upgrade our SkyTrain system, so have other transit operators in Canada with their rapid transit systems. Calgary has made significant investments to extend C-Train platforms across the system for longer trains and refurbish old light-rail vehicles. Montreal is taking delivery of the first new subway vehicles to replace a fleet that is almost 40 years old. Toronto has been working to replace an aging 60-year-old subway signalling system and rebuild its busy downtown transit hub – Union Station – on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line. Both projects have even required planned closures of the subway there.

Long-term funding to be committed to this upgrade is what will be decided in the provincially-mandated referendum, and it is imperative that voters do approve a funding option to keep our transit system in a good state of repair.

As costly as infrastructure like the Canada Line SkyTrain is, the investment has been proven worthy by the benefits to the tens of thousands of people using the system daily. The investment confidence that has resulted in our SkyTrain system expansions needs to be applied to the whole system.
As costly as expanding and building infrastructure like the Canada Line SkyTrain is, the investments have been proven worthy by the benefits to the tens of thousands of people using the system daily. The investment confidence that has resulted in our SkyTrain system expansions needs to be applied to the whole system.

TransLink is in trouble

Some of the issues we faced in the recent SkyTrain meltdowns definitely had to do with more than funding, and perhaps they could have been addressed through better plans and higher competence within branches of TransLink.

However, the fact remains: if we want to maintain a high or higher standard of reliability, there’s going to be an inevitable cost to it. On the other hand, if we devalue the taxes and fares that keep people moving, we don’t get a reliable system as the penalty for our ineptitude.

As stakeholders, if we want to enjoy more reliable transit, we need to realize that TransLink is in trouble and change our attitudes on transit and funding. We need to value our transit, value TransLink, and consider the good value of the services it provides to us.