“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With further searching, I was able to uncover a case study document that included conceptual art for the proposed rail line:
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.
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.
If you’ve read about me in any way, you’ll likely know about my issue with the Surrey at-grade rail (Light Rail Transit) proposal. It was the turnkey issue that became responsible for dragging me into a world of politics. As a stakeholder, it motivated me to educate myself as best as I could about issues in the community, and is the reason why I pay attention.
My problem with Light Rail? As much as everyone seems to like the option – especially over a SkyTrain expansion – and as much as it DOES work well in many locations around the world, the reality of Light Rail in Surrey is that it won’t help us achieve ambitious goals (rather restricting us from getting to them ever); won’t move our people the most efficiently; and won’t give us the most benefits for the cost.
These aren’t wild claims; these are facts and stats that have been made clear in numerous studies, including TransLink’s Surrey Rapid Transit Study. So far, people across the city of Surrey – from stakeholders to big advocacy organizations like the Surrey Board of Trade – have disregarded these facts and stats. It really dismays me to see that over $5 million that was put into the Surrey Rapid Transit Study – which was made specifically to compare the rapid transit options from a technical perspective – is largely going to waste.
One of the most alarming things about the proposal for me is that one of the proposed corridors (104 Ave to Guildford Town Centre) will actually see transit worsen with Light Rail, especially during its construction. It’s been a concern not just as a long-time resident of the Guildford area (and a rider on 104th Ave transit routes), but as a generally astute Surrey issues follower for the sake of citizens in all areas, and our region.
With over 5 years of advocacy of Light Rail Transit from numerous city organizations and politicians, stakeholders like me now face a situation where city organizations that control our future unanimously support Light Rail and unanimously disregard its serious downsides. Light Rail for Surrey was recently approved in the Mayors’ Council’s regional transit vision, which is why I believe the time for action is more urgent ever. It’s a perfect time, actually, with the next municipal elections only months away and the attractive lure of political discussion in this city being just around the corner. I think there’s a real potential to turn this around, and I think it has to be done more than ever.
So today I present you with a new Surrey Rapid Transit Vision: a vision that promises more practicality at a lower cost, and with more than twice the transit improvement benefits for our citizens. And, I plead that you don’t ignore this.
It’s the convergence of my best research, put together in a way that residents, current politicians and candidates for the upcoming Surrey municipal elections will be able to understand. In the following months you will be seeing me circulating this presentation to associations in the city and working hard to make this issue clear in advance of the next municipal elections. You’ll see me contacting potential Mayor and Council candidates, current politicians, the media and stakeholders about this issue. You’ll see me working at this because I believe this is a big issue and people NEED to hear about it, right now.
Without further ado:
Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: A Surrey Rapid Transit Vision
(Recommended: Tap the icon on the bottom right to view in full screen!)
BY RENÉ BRUEMMER, GAZETTE CIVIC AFFAIRS REPORTER MAY 26, 2014
MONTREAL — The start of Monday’s monthly city council meeting was dedicated to a man who never served as an elected official but whose life left an enduring mark on a city he loved.
After his homage, a large part of the meeting was dedicated to the question of putting a light-rail transit system on the new Champlain Bridge, a topic close to the heart of Marcel Côté.[READ MORE – The Gazette]
In the City of Montreal, City Council is at odds as to what type of transit should complement the replacement of the dangerous Champlain Bridge, which has come under increased scrutiny after the federal government announced its funding.
Montreal’s transit authority is pleading the City Council to vote in favour of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system on a replacement for the crumbling Champlain Bridge, whereas some stakeholders prefer a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The LRT line, initially meant to provide an alternative transit option for the corridor with no Champlain Bridge replacement, has been in the planning stages since before the need to replace the bridge was identified.
I was reading about this and came across a concept image for the proposed highway median LRT system, on the official website for the proposed line. The yellow-coloured train looks suspiciously like a Mark II SkyTrain vehicle in a 5-car configuration:
I did some further digging and found that this image is repeated in the preliminary design studies for the light rail transit system, which is comprehensively suggesting that the desired specifications of the new “LRT” line are fully compatible with linear induction motor propulsion (“SkyTrain technology”) and will be using similar rapid transit vehicles.
This is made evident by a number of items on the project’s list of desired performance criteria on page 32:
• an attractive service operating at a high commercial speed (over 50 km/h) and a high maximum speed (100 km/h); • a high frequency (intervals less than every 3 minutes at rush hour); • a high level of safety thanks to guide rails, an exclusive track, automated operating systems and anti-collision devices;
and on page 55:
3.4.1 Operating mode Automatic train operation has been retained because, among other things, it allows for reduced service intervals and running times, increased flexibility for adjustments of timetables and intervals, as well as improved safety, better controlled accelerations, and greater passenger capacity in each train set.
and on page 56:
3.4.7 Car performance requirements …The design load of the cars (seated passengers + four standees/m2) is 131 passengers per car. Each train will be made of 5 cars and will therefore have a capacity of 655 passengers.
Notice how this is exactly the passenger capacity of a Mark 2 vehicle.
With 80-90m platforms, frequencies less than 3 minutes, 5-car trains, and high-floor cars on a fully grade-separated right-of-way with 6% slopes… almost everything matches. You name it, SkyTrain has it, and Montreal’s Champlain Bridge “LRT” is also going to have it.
Studies have identified that the proposed rapid transit line, which will be fully grade separated, has a positive benefit:cost ratio of 1.11:1. It is 15km long, and advertises a travel time of just 18 minutes from the outbound terminus to Montreal City Centre.
Why this matters
You may recall that I recently started a new blogseries called The Problem with SkyTrain critics, which comes at a time when several SkyTrain or other rapid transit expansions are being debated here in Metro Vanouver. One of the problems I have identified with SkyTrain critics (and will be discussing shortly in more articles on the matter) are the numerous dubious claims of SkyTrain’s “obsolescence” – SkyTrain critics claim that the technology, which was developed in the 1980s, no longer has a place in rail rapid transit planning.
SkyTrain criticsdeny SkyTrain’s potential as a high-quality rapid transit system that generates billions of dollars in transportation, developmental and economic benefits. They clutter our blog-feeds, newsletter sections and comments with endlessly varied suggestions to perpetuate the belief that SkyTrain simply isn’t the best option for investment.
But, this is the second example I have uncovered as of late that shows that the technology we use in SkyTrain is becoming a serious rail rapid transit option for cities worldwide. In another recent blog article, I brought to light that Kuala Lumpur [SEE HERE] has approved an additional 36km of SkyTrain expansion in addition to the ongoing 17km extension of the Kelana Jaya Line. Other extensions are taking place in Sendai, Japan and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Guangzhou Metro recently opened a new metro line using SkyTrain technology, which already carries over 700,000 passengers daily.
The success of SkyTrain (in particular, the Canada Line) has also inspired the Montreal airports authority to advocate for a light metro-type shuttle to the airport.
Today I bring you news from Malaysia! A news release from a few days ago reveals details of a new 36km SkyTrain line to complement an already under-construction 17km extension of the Kelana Jaya line are beginning to surface. The new extension would run from a proposed new transit hub, intersect the Kelana Jaya Line, and then travel through Shah Alam to a terminus at Klang – a city of close to 850,000 people situated 32km west of Kuala Lumpur.
The original regional transportation plan finalized in 2011 [CLICK HERE] proposed that this line would be constructed after 2030; however, a re-examination of the business case in June 2013 has resulted in the project being pushed up to the pre-2020 timeframe. An even newer study focusing specifically on the line details itself has suggested that there are immediate benefits to reap – and with that, the line is now a top priority investment. Construction is likely to begin on the new SkyTrain extension at the beginning of next year, where it will parallel the ongoing extension of the Kelana Jaya Line.
The new plan helps show that the technology we use in SkyTrain is becoming a serious rail rapid transit option for cities worldwide, with expansions of SkyTrain-type lines now well under way in multiple cities – including here in Vancouver, there in Kuala Lumpur, in Sendai, Japan and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The “Shah Alam LRT” will be the second SkyTrain-type line in Kuala Lumpur (or the third if the Kelana Jaya Line extension is considered a separate line). The new line will connect directly to the Kelana Jaya Line and may offer a continuous service onto the line. With its completion, Kuala Lumpur’s RapidRail system will eclipse the SkyTrain system in the amount of in-service linear motor trackage, spanning a distance of 82km before 2020 – whereas SkyTrain (lines using linear induction motor tech) will span just 63km after the completion of the Evergreen Line. This will make Kuala Lumpur’s system the second longest linear motor rapid transit system in the world, after the 100km Guangzhou Metro system.
The new “Shah Alam LRT” line will complement an already in-service commuter rail transit line, similar to how the Evergreen Line will complement the non-stop West Coast Express service in the tri-cities. The rapid transit stock for the new line can be expected to be built by either Bombardier or CSR-Zhuzhou. Bombardier has been a major supplier for the rapid transit cars on the Kelana Jaya Line (ART 200/Mark II trains), while CSR-Zhuzhou has supplied standard rotary-motor rapid transit cars for the Ampang Line (but is also a major supplier of linear motor cars for the Guangzhou Metro system).
About Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” system
In case you weren’t initially aware, Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” network is like a clone of our SkyTrain system overseas: the system is composed of several grade-separated, automated (driverless) rapid transit lines, many of which use the same linear induction motor propulsion technology and Bombardier Mark II vehicles used on SkyTrain here in Vancouver. The Ampang Line, the first rapid transit line using standard rotary motor technology, was opened in 1996 as the first rapid transit rail line in Kuala Lumpur. This was followed by the 1998 opening of the Kelana Jaya Line, the fully automated linear-motor type line that looks and works exactly like our SkyTrain system. 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 , 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 , was equipped with the Thales SelTrac system to itself become fully automated (driverless) . 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 has helped the fares on RapidKL’s rapid transit lines remain completely unchanged for 10 years , and continue to remain the same (so far) through power tariff increases for the operating company, mainly because of increasing ridership . The rapid transit lines are considered the “key revenue-generator contributor” for Prasarana, the regional transportation authority if the Klang Valley 
Passenger numbers from Urban Rail Development Study, page 19 [LINK]
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
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]
LRT, Monorail fares to go up next year – Astro Awani report [LINK]
Prasarana Power Cost Up 17% since Jan 1 – The Edge Malaysia [LINK]
Transit gurus in the region constantly criticize SkyTrain and it doesn’t make sense.
I think I’ve pretty much seen it all: unfound claims on SkyTrain’s financial burden, claims that entire tram networks could be built at the same cost as a SkyTrain extension (ignoring the impracticalities of trying to conduct such a massive replacement of buses without ever improving transit speed), and other alternate light-rail transit (LRT) proposals that just don’t make any practical sense.
SkyTrain is constantly being challenged, and this contention has had a phenomenal effect in getting people involved with transit planning matters. Some of the biggest names we know in Metro Vancouver transit issues discussions – the ones you might hear about in newspapers; examples include: Paul Hillsdon, Nathan Pachal, Jordan Bateman, John Buker – are or at one point have been motivated by a criticism of SkyTrain rapid transit.
If there were no one to respond to these criticisms and unearth the problems with such a viewpoint – as I am doing so now – the quality of transit planning in Metro Vanouver would deteriorate to the point where perhaps no disagreement would be had on transit projects; and consequently, little progress would be made in changing communities and peoples’ lives for the better.
Denying the Benefits
SkyTrain critics deny SkyTrain’s potential as a high-quality rapid transit system. They don’t even want to see it acknowledged that SkyTrain generates billions of dollars in transportation, developmental and economic benefits. They clutter our blog-feeds, newsletter sections and comments with endlessly varied suggestions to perpetuate the belief that SkyTrain simply isn’t the best option for investment.
They’re often proponents of Light Rail Transit (LRT), an alternative option that could allow rail transit to be built in a somewhat more flexible manner (including at-grade and on-street), who are quick to bring forward the positives of community-building, lower capital cost and less obtrusive (at-grade) infrastructure as upsides when compared to SkyTrain.
Can LRT be an appropriate solution in the transit planning sense? Absolutely. That should be quite obvious: there’s a reason why light rail investments are so popular around the world, with hundreds of proposals to reference at any time. However, the versatility of LRT should not be resulting in the dismissal of SkyTrain as another great – and often better – solution to addressing transportation problems, especially here in Metro Vancouver.
And yet, the critics are relentless in their criticisms. . Worse – they’re ridiculing and, apparently, finding reasons to shame our system and the way we’ve built it. These are the worst kind – the kind that try to deny altogether that building SkyTrain has provided Metro Vancouver with any benefits – and the ones who should arguably be disallowed from participating in public policy debacles, because they seem to have no understanding of what has been happening here in Vancouver for the past 30 years.
Sample contentions by SkyTrain critics that are incorrect
1. SkyTrain hasn’t gotten people out of their cars.
TransLink’s trip diary data is a difficulty: there is little bearing that can be had about the accuracy of the measurements (this is a sample size) and the types of commutes that were recorded (i.e. are they commutes to work, shopping, and at what time of day/day), but nevertheless, it is a valid source. It’s used by TransLink and Metro Vancouver in regional planning matters, and is and often utilized by SkyTrain critics. As SkyTrain critics have been quick to point out, the 2011 value is only 3% higher than the valule recorded in 1994 – the year SkyTrain was expanded across the Fraser River and into Surrey. It’s tempting, when you look at this, to think that SkyTrain has failed us in serving its original purpose.
The problem with these numbers is that they really don’t tell the whole story.
The trip diary draws data from 22,000 households in the region, and is meant to take a “snapshot” of a day in Metro Vancouver transportation. It is a partial survey – it’s not the same as the much more accurate ‘journey-to-work mode-share’ numbers collected by Stats Canada from every household, which show that transit mode share in Metro Vancouver is a bit higher than that collected in the Trip Diary and – together with walking and cycling – has grown significantly since 1996.
Closer studies have suggested that the biggest impact in transit modal shift is coming from SkyTrain and SkyTrain expansion. The City of Vancouver has also collected more specific numbers [Vancouver Transportation Plan Update – CLICK HERE] that not only show a big increase in transit ridership from outside of the city (i.e. connected by SkyTrain) – but also that the amount of motor vehicle trips actually declined for the past decade, despite population growth.
An even closer 2009 study [Niko Juevic SFU study – LINK HERE]that more closely looked at households within both 400m and 1500m radii of Expo and Millennium SkyTrain stations showed even more significant changes – outpacing transit modal shift across the region. The opening of the Millennium Line SkyTrain had a phenomenal effect on the surrounding area: within a 1500m radius of each station, transit mode-share had nearly doubled 4 years after the line opened – growing at more than 4x the regional average rate.
I compiled a summary of these numbers in the graphic below:
2. 80% of SkyTrain riders are recycled bus riders
While I’ve never really been able to track a definitive source for this statistic (I have seriously only ever heard it from one SkyTrain critic group), I see it repeated in discussion circles and used as justification that SkyTrain is weak at attracting ridership. SkyTrain critics have repeated this number to contend that the majority of riders on the SkyTrain were already taking transit before the line was built, claiming that this is “double the industry standard” – and were extremely vocal in certain situations where SkyTrain expansion replaced one or mutliple bus routes, especially in the case of the Canada Line (which replaced express segments for multiple south-of-Fraser bus routes heading into Vancouver).
Firsty, I have never understood why such a vague 80% number is being portrayed as a weakness. In the City of Calgary, a single centralized high-density core and the most expensive downtown parking in North America combine with free park-and-ride facilities along Light Rail Transit lines to give the Calgary C-Train the majority of its nearly 300,000 daily boardings. The Calgary C-Train is a versatile system and many of its riders have chosen to use transit, but not for their entire commute – the first segment of their trips is more often being done by car than by bus, walk or bike.
If the majority of SkyTrain riders are taking other transit to get there first, then that is at least as much a strength as much as it is a weakness (and, very likely, very much more a strength) – because this kind of transit commute coherency is simply not being replicated by other rail transit systems.
Secondly, this claim – at least in the case of the Canada Line – certainly doesn’t hold up to collected ridership numbers.
Passenger measurements by Canada Line operator ProTransBC collected by the Richmond Review were showing that Canada Line ridership in its first few weeks averaged 77,000 – meaning over 55% of today’s ridership numbers were already on board the Canada Line before September 7th, 2009 – when the 98 B-Line and 490-series express routes were terminated, and the many South-of-Fraser express buses (351, 601, etc) were terminated at Bridgeport rather than continuing to downtown Vancouver.
These bus routes make up only a small percent of the Canada Line’s total ridership – the vast majority were choosing to ride the Canada Line before any of these buses were transferred to terminate at Bridgeport or eliminated. A rider survey conducted in 2011 indicated that 40% of those surveyed were new to the system – that being, they previously drove and did not take transit at all for that commute – and that riders’ biggest vaues for the system were speed, frequency and reliabillity.
With the cancellation of the 98 B-Line and associated peak-hour express routes, it’s true that a number of the Canada Line’s passengers were riders of the previous bus-only system; however, this is something that needs to be expected from all rapid transit projects regardless of technology and alignment. Each and every SkyTrain line, C-Train Line, Portland MAX line, etc. replaced a previous bus service and took in riders from that bus service.
Claims like this also downpay the benefits being provided to any previous bus riders, whose faster commutes are fostering increased productivity, lower stress levels and better comfort. For most of the first month of operation, the 98 B-Line continued its operations alongside the new Canada Line until its termination on September 7th. Riders had the option of continuing to ride the 98 or take the new SkyTrain – and as evidenced by ridership numbers that averaged more than double what the 98 B-Line carried before the new SkyTrain opened, the majority of 98 riders were opting for the faster ride.
The Canada Line, which was introduced just 4 years ago, is already a Vancouver icon; a part of this city’s fabric of life. It’s hard to believe that less than 5 years ago, the link between downtown Vancouver and Richmond was a miserable bus trip that took as long as the SkyTrain’s Expo Line took to travel nearly twice the distance to Surrey. As a daily rider of the Canada Line to reach Kwantlen University in Richmond (and again later in the day to go from there to work downtown), the Canada Line’s benefits are evident to me in person. I don’t have to worry about potential traffic issues heading into Vancouver that can make buses (or even light rail trains) late – and neither do the 121,999 others who ride with me each and every day.
Riders, stakeholders and decision makers have been clamouring to build something similar and soon under Broadway between UBC and Commercial-Broadway Station. Support has been near unanimous, because previous experience with SkyTrain has shown us that we can be confident about the expanding the system.
In walks of transit planning and provision, I have always thought that SkyTrain isn’t getting enough credit for what it does. SkyTrain has been part of why Metro Vancouver has lead North American cities in transit ridership. We rank third in transit trips per person per year, behind only New York and Toronto. We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C. – cities with full-size metro systems – and far ahead of cities with only LRT systems. This has grown from 4th in 2006.
We are achieving great things because we approved the construction and expansion of the SkyTrain system. Which is why making sure SkyTrain critics who mess up the facts do not get a grip on transit-planning decision makers is my top priority for this year.
Critics of SkyTrain as a technology and rapid transit option are everywhere. Largely motivated by a fear of all megaprojects with high capital costs, SkyTrain critics are vocal, active, and will stop at nothing to act on this fear. They deny the productivity and developmental benefits that the system has given our region, and they refuse the potential that SkyTrain has to continue to be useful to our region if extended further.
With a $3 billion capital cost, it’s no surprise that numerous SkyTrain critics, fearing the investment cost, have scrambled to promote or find alternatives. “Just another SkyTrain critic” was my first response when I first read about an “alternate proposal” for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) line on 16th over a Broadway subway crafted together by Adam Fitch – a planning technician for the Thompson Nicola Regional District – just over 1 year ago when it was featured suddenly in the Vancouver Sun.
But, the response seemed to be triggered by an absolutely valid series of concerns over the impact on businesses on Central and West Broadway if an at-grade LRT were to be built on Broadway itself – including the loss of parking, impacts to parallel cycling routes, and expropriation at a few properties (particularly at Broadway and Kingsway/Main) where it would indeed be necessary. I suspected that Fitch crafted the idea to counter the imminent disappearance of LRT consideration from public policy in Vancouver.
…The most appropriate solution, with due consideration for costs, regional transit priorities (i.e. Surrey, etc.) and time frame (10 years from now to build the subway at a minimum) is to build a mainly street-level light rail along the CPR corridor, the Arbutus corridor, and West 16th Avenue to UBC. Compare this route with a Broadway subway on cost, construction time and capacity, and it prevails.[READ MORE]
Over the years, this idea continued to circulate in the local discussion scene. It has been featured on a number of regional transit issues outlets, including: Price Tags, Stephen Rees, Rail for the Valley (obviously) and – most notably, but not surprisingly given the paper’s perpetual pro-LRT bias – the Georgia Straight newspaper, in a feature with an intimidating headline that immediately implies that the alternative is “better” – or at least, as reviewed by editor Stephen Hui.
Critics of the planned Broadway SkyTrain wasted no time backing this idea, calling it the next big thing, triumphing it as a “realistic priority” and denouncing the SkyTrain extension proposal as “another megaproject” in the comments for this article.
I find it unfortunate that these people were given this opportunity to further this cause, because it honestly surprises me that the idea – despite the objections from many others aside from myself – has not already died. The fact of the matter that some editors at the Georgia Straight (among others) haven’t seen is that the 16th Ave LRT and B-Line combo idea is a poor, discredited and badly planned idea from someone who doesn’t have a clue how this city works.
A 16th Ave LRT just doesn’t work
I contend that advocating for this idea is a collosal waste of time and money for three simple reasons:
No benefits to Central Broadway riders
Few, if any, benefits to UBC students
Doubling of annual operating debt
Let’s put it into context:
Take a look at this stylized map showing both the routings for the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension and Adam Fitch’s LRT proposal. Notice how the planned Broadway SkyTrain services all of the busy business and activity districts on Broadway, but the LRT misses them – making the only possible benefactors the rider from either existing SkyTrain Lines, Broadway & Arbutus, and residents along the 16th Avenue corridor.
What this show is that there are clearly no benefits to Central Broadway riders – which actually make up a significant majority of the current 99 B-Line’s ridership, as opposed to UBC – and the West Broadway business district is missed as well. That’s millions of dollars in economic potential that could be unlocked, but that isn’t happening under Fitch’s plan. In what would quite possibly be the least equitable planning move in Metro Vancouver transportation planning history, billions of dollars would be spent to benefit only a small portion of the tens of thousands who are actually facing the problems that riders are facing on the Broadway corridor daily.
As many, the Adam’s proposal apparently assumes that the main demand is on UBC. It is worth to mention that the numbers ran by Translink suggests that the highest demand is on the central Broadway portion (Voony’s Blog)
It was one of the shortfalls I mentioned in my original letter to the sun responding to the concept. The City of Vancouver’s report on Broadway rapid transit finds that the Central Broadway area generates at least as many trips as UBC, if not more.
It is extremely important to bring any rapid transit to where the anchors and trip generators actually are – both at the ends and along the route itself. That’s why the Canada Line uses the Cambie Street corridor, as opposed to either Granville or Arbutus Streets – because it provides strategic connections to busy anchors like Central Broadway, City Hall, various major hospitals, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Oakridge Mall along the way.
The indirectness of the proposal also has some other consequences: the proposal is 2.3km longer than any route going down Broadway, an additional distance that not only adds to the proposal’s capital costs – it brings up the travel times as well.
On top of the longer line distance, while parts of the line will be capable of 80-90km/h operation like SkyTrain – supported by crossing gates and some tunnelling – there are several portions of the line that will need to be limited to 50-60km/h speed limits – further dampening the supposed speed benefit:
As a result of the longer distance combined with the speed restrictions, the proposal fails to offer a significant benefit to the one possible travel crowd that could seriously benefit: the UBC traveller; which brings me to my second contention: the Fitch proposal offers few, if any, benefits to UBC students.
With the longer route and deferred connections, it’s reasonable to think that many riders – especially in non-congested off-peak hours, when the 99 B-Line trip takes as little as 30-minutes end-to-end – will opt to continue using the 99 B-Line on Broadway.
This especially applies for UBC students who live on campus, where the 99 is an important connection to businesses in Point Grey/Sasamat, West Broadway and Central Broadway. Fitch’s proposed LRT links fewer business centres, with the first major business cluster from UBC being reached when the line hits Dunbar – a full 6km away, twice as far as Sasamat. Meaning, for items and needs like groceries, doctor’s appointments and other outings, UBC students likely won’t be utilizing the billions of dollars spent on Fitch’s LRT – they’ll be continuing to use the 99 B-Line.
Which brings me to the third reason why Fitch’s LRT proposal is an extremely bad idea: with the required retention of the 99 B-Line, the Fitch LRT proposal doubles the annual operating debt of providing Broadway-UBC corridor transit. By not replacing the 99 B-Line, the operating cost of providing UBC-Broadway corridor transit can only increase.
Versus the current (“business-as-usual”) setup that includes the 99 B-Line, the planned Broadway SkyTrain is expected to save $7 million incrementally in annual operating costs (see: design guide). With estimates already pitting the operating cost of a separate LRT on Broadway itself at over $10 million annually by 2041 (in 2011 dollars), the operating debt with the Fitch LRT simply doubles over the existing setup.
The bigger picture
I could go so far as to say that the Fitch LRT proposal hurts the entire region, because it is really that short-sighted in terms of practical thinking.
As aforementioned, the planned driverless SkyTrain extension is expected to save $7 million in annual operating costs – savings that could be redirected to improving transit around the region. With over 54,000 new transit trips daily attracted around the region – more than double other studied options, including any theoretical LRT on Broadway itself – the planned Broadway SkyTrain generates new fare revenue. That would have also been a serious contributor to expanded transit around the region.
The elimination of the 99 B-Line also means bus services improve throughout the region – because the 99 B-Line consumes more than half of TransLink’s articulated diesel bus fleet. These buses could be redirected to other busy routes in the region to address growing transit demands.
With the Fitch LRT proposal, none of these improvements are able to materialize.
Such bus service redirection can also take from the numerous other high-frequency bus routes that connect to UBC from different parts of the city, usually during peak hour periods. These are the:
43 Joyce Station – via 41st Ave and Oakridge
44 Downtown – via 4th Ave
84 VCC-Clark Station (ALL-DAY) via 4th Ave, Olympic Village and Great Northern Way
480 Bridgeport Station (ALL-DAY Weekdays) – via Kerrisdale and Marpole
The planned Broadway SkyTrain is the only option that offers the significant travel time benefits (cutting travel time between Commercial-Broadway and UBC in half, to 19 minutes!) that could enable the truncation of some of these routes to save even more money annually. For example: the 44 duplicates the 84, and is likely to be eliminated in favour of the faster connections downtown riders will get by utilizing the Broadway Subway with connecting routes and the Canada Line. The 480 could also be eliminated, perhaps following my suggestion. However, with the incremental operating cost savings, bus service on even these routes could theoretically be increased without costing more than the transit on the Broadway-UBC corridor today.
By denying these benefits and choosing an alternative simply because it offers the prospect of less initial capital cost, the region loses out on better transit both on Broadway itself and elsewhere.
Responding to the Straight over the mention of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson being on record for supporting the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension, Fitch rather arrogantly proclaimed in the opening of the recent article on his proposal:
“He’s wrong on probably four or five fronts.”
But, as an upvoted commenter pointed out, he didn’t list a single one. Which I think highlights another problem with critics who fear studied and decided megaprojects and act quickly to try and debase them: they don’t do a good job at it. In this case that doesn’t help, because I think that the City of Vancouver has done an excellent job at laying down the benefits and the business case of a Broadway SkyTrain extension – probably much to the dismay of many critics who have already quit.
As for Adam Fitch’s 16th Ave LRT proposal, it’s evident that not only does it have no case – it really has no argument either.
Author’s note: Thanks for reading this far! I encourage you to subscribe to my blog by clicking the “follow” button on the left sidebar! As I previously mentioned, I will be detailing why there is really no alternative to the Broadway subway – how its business case is proven, and why any alternatives just do not work – in a follow-up article.
I recently updated my List of Linear Induction Motor rapid transit systems [LINK] list to reflect the opening of Guangzhou Metro’s Line 6 – the world’s newest “SkyTrain technology” line, adding 25km of linear motor trackage to Guangzhou’s Metro system. The opening was met with a celebration last week.
The new line is expected to carry 700,000 passengers daily (about twice as much as our SkyTrain system carries) in the first month – making it one of the world’s busiest applications of SkyTrain technology on a rapid transit line. Guangzhou now has 100km of active linear motor rapid transit track – twice the length that Vancouver has on our SkyTrain system. Line 6 has both above-ground sections and tunnel sections; the latter in particular takes advantage of the low-height of linear motor cars, which enables smaller tunnels and cost savings.
Line 6 is very unique among the Guangzhou Metro Lines in that it has the most stations, the most passenger amenities, and offers the most frequent service of any Guangzhou Metro line. Basically, Guangzhou has chosen to build the most important subway line in the city with SkyTrain technology.
Guangzhou Metro ordered almost 200 linear motor rapid transit cars from Itochu and China’s CSR Sifang for Line 6. [SEE LINK]
A recent Vancouver Sun piece [LINK HERE] that I’m planning to send commentary on took note on the apparent obsolescence of “25-year-old SkyTrain technology”. The opening of this new line in Guangzhou, which is a high-capacity application, shows that this is far from true. In fact, there’s new research going on in India [LINK] at the Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University) Varanasi to make it the fourth country to offer a “SkyTrain technology” product – after Canada, Japan and China.
Looks like my calls are being echoed in the City of Toronto. Someone out there is seriously listening to me, for I had previously proposed the very idea this think tank is proposing through Better Surrey Rapid Transit (SkyTrain for Surrey), in an attempt to communicate to people that SkyTrain expansion can make sense.
I have been pushing for quite some years now for a SkyTrain expansion in my home city (Surrey) over the current Light Rail expansion plan on account of SkyTrain making a lot more sense (most of you reading probably know this of me). As part of that, I went ahead and applied some of my thinking onto Toronto’s transit proposals in a special article I wrote regarding the under-construction Eglinton Crosstown Line. I published that write-up more than 1.5 years ago, in March 2012.
The use of [SkyTrain technology] would provide the same cost savings that moving a portion of the LRT at-grade would and more, despite a need for complete grade separation. It would provide faster, more reliable service and be more flexible in capacity expansion, and also remove the travel time penalty associated with at-grade LRT.
I supposed that using linear motor-propulsion “ALRT” (also known by some critics here as “SkyTrain technology”) would cut down on the Eglinton Crosstown Line’s tunnel size and tunneling costs (the LRT is being built with a 6.5m diameter tunnel, whereas SkyTrain technology requires just a 5.3m diameter tunnel), saving billions and billions of dollars, and opening up the room for grade-separating the rest of the line and providing better service throughout, increasing ridership numbers and improving the business case. The Crosstown Line is currently being built for at-grade LRT technology, assuming that further expansions would be at-grade.
The Neptis Foundation yesterday submitted a very bold critique of the Metrolinx “Big Move” plan that seems to agree with a lot of my previous propositions. The 144-page study recommends a different Toronto rapid transit plan than the one being recommended by Metrolinx. It thinks in the same way I have thought, in that leveraging the Scarborough RT’s ALRT/SkyTrain technology and extending it would make more financial and practical sense than the current proposal to build LRT.
Neither Metrolinx nor TTC seems to have given serious consideration to development of Scarborough and Eglinton Crosstown lines using ALRT or similar “light metro” technology. This technology has been applied very successfully in more than 20 cities around the world. 89 Some architects and urban designers prefer surface LRT, because it is less visually intrusive, and can run in mixed traffic and pedestrian environments, albeit at much lower speeds. But faster services on exclusive rights-of-way are far more effective, and efficient, at getting motorists to switch to transit.
The Toronto LRT schemes could be greatly improved by building them with fully exclusive rights of way, perhaps automated ALRT or similar technology. Ridership would be much higher, as would the benefits to the region. And the costs could actually be less.
The author, a UK-based railway consultant, is calling for the full package: a switch of the Eglinton LRT line to a SkyTrain-technology ALRT line with driverless train automation, grade-separation of the full line (including Phase II) to offer faster journeys, and shorter station platforms (appropriate given higher train frequency). He cites that such a setup would generate more than twice the benefits and cost half as much per new daily transit rider. This is based largely on the basis that as a faster SkyTrain-type line it could provide better service and attract more ridership, which is very sound. It isn’t rocket science: when compared against light rail transit systems throughout North America, our 68km SkyTrain system here in Metro Vancouver is outperforming all of them in ridership numbers. There is value in better rapid transit service.
Here is one excellent question I would like to highlight: the study questions a proposal to refurbish the existing Scarborough RT line (a 1980s-era SkyTrain technology line traversing eastern Toronto), noting that the costs to refurbish the RT line to use LRT technology are higher per kilometre than the from-scratch SkyTrain construction costs for the Evergreen Line in Vancouver:
At $1.8 billion for 10 km, the Scarborough LRT line would be considerably more expensive than the Sheppard Line, 68 or about $180 million per km. About half the cost is for conversion of the existing 6.5-km RT to accommodate low-floor LRT cars, with overhead power collection. This involves substantial reconstruction of six intermediate stations, and complete reconstruction of Kennedy Station to provide a larger underground loop, and track connection with the Eglinton LRT so TTC can exchange cars for maintenance purposes (but not for through-running with passengers). The balance is for construction of 4 km of new line, mostly elevated, from McCowan to Sheppard Avenue.
Note that at $180 million per km, the cost per km for the Scarborough RT is about 30% higher than the costof the Evergreen Line, a fully grade-separated ALRT line in Vancouver, even though the Scarborough line uses mostly existing infrastructure, and otherwise operates through a broadly similar corridor.
The study recommends building on SkyTrain technology on account of finding that the LRT proposals in Transit City and following plans had low (or negative) benefit:cost ratios, in exactly the same manner as I am recommending SkyTrain technology in Surrey based on a negative benefit:cost ratio for LRT – and does a great job at making a case for it, addressing issues raised with capacity and size of rolling stock, among other things.
The author officially proposes the “Scarborough Wye” concept, for 3 rapid transit lines using SkyTrain technology: the existing Scarborough RT with renewed infrastructure, its extension to Malvern Centre, and a new line from Scarborough Centre to North York via an elevated right-of-way in the centre of the 401 Freeway and down the existing Sheppard Subway tunnels. He makes the case that the whole concept could be built for an outstandingly low cost per new transit rider and a high benefit-cost ratio – better than any of the LRT proposals that have gone through thus far.
We can only wonder if the common sense overflowing from this study could possibly prevail in the upcoming decisions at TTC and Metrolinx, and I hope something moves forward because it does look like SkyTrain technology is the solution for providing a lot of high quality transit. I think it would send a good message across Canada and to Metro Vancouver’s decision-makers and planning authorities as well.
More on Michael Schabas, the study author
Michael Schabas is a UK-based railway consultant who has been involved in launching several new railway projects and businesses.
Between 1981-1986, he worked for the UTDC (Urban Transportation Development Corporation) and was involved in the early development of the automated rapid transit technology used in Vancouver’s SkyTrain system.