Opinion: TransLink SkyTrain Business Case Hoax – letter sent to PM & Premier on SkyTrain to UBC proposal

Arbutus to UBC SkyTrain map 2020

This proposed costly Arbutus to UBC Skytrain extension to UBC is definitely NOT supported by everyone.

CHW obtained a copy of this letter from Malcom Johnston, a 35-year advocate for user friendly, cost effective transit), sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others, before Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart headed to Ottawa seeking federal money for a “SkyTrain to UBC” as announced in Jan 29 joint media event (reported here).  At the media event, the Mayor said is next task was to raise money to study the business case for SkyTrain to UBC.

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“TransLink SkyTrain Business Case Hoax”

[Sent 3-Feb-2020 to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, BC Premier John Horgan, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena, and BC Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson.]

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

The preceding is the final paragraph of a letter in which American transit expert, Gerald Fox, shredded the Evergreen Line’s so called business case in 2008

The same is true today for the business case to extend SkyTrain in Surrey and Vancouver.

There can be no honest business case for SkyTrain since 1982, when the Toronto Transit Commission’s ART Study was released, which showed that ICTS (the first name of what is erroneously called SkyTrain) “could cost up to ten times more to install than light rail, for about the same capacity

No business case because modern light rail would always be cheaper, more user-friendly and just as efficient, with the bonus of having higher capacity and far more flexibility in operation, which is so important in today’s transit planning.

The proprietary railway, previously named ICTS and ALRT was sold twice, first to Lavalin, which went bankrupt trying to build what was then called Automated Light Metro (ALM) in Bangkok, Thailand and then to Bombardier Inc. which renamed it Advanced Rapid Transit (ART). In total, the proprietary system has been renamed at six times and now is marketed as Movia Automatic Light Metro, with the technical patents owned by Bombardier Inc. and the engineering patents owned by SNC Lavalin.

By the late 1980’s modern rail technology made light-metro, including the now-called MALM, obsolete by costing much less to build, maintain and operate, with the bonus of having a higher capacity. Only seven of our now called MALM systems have been built in the past 40 years and only three seriously used for urban transit and one of these three systems, Toronto’s Scarborough Line will soon close, with the system being “life expired”.

TransLink and the provincial government have never allowed light rail to compete against SkyTrain and have never allowed companies such as Siemens or Alstom using LRT to bid against MALM, in deep fear that a honest process will show MALM for what it is, a very expensive museum piece, inferior when compared with LRT.

The Mayors’ Council on Transit has failed to insist that TransLink seek arms-length professional advice and, as a result, continues to misinform the public with respect to the costs involved with transit expansion. The provincial government is complicit in this sham transit “planning”, because it, too, fails to force the Mayors’ Council to provide more affordable and more efficient transit solutions for the Metro Vancouver region.

Even before the Canada Line was rushed into existence, Greater Vancouver commuters could have been enjoying a region-wide, affordable but forward-thinking light-rail transit grid for the dollars already spent on Bombardier’s propriety SkyTrain. And with politicians such as Surrey’s Mayor Doug McCallum or Vancouver’s Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who cares little for taxpayers beyond the boundaries of their cities, things can only get worse, far worse.

Currently, there is a funded budget of $4.6 billion to expand the Expo and Millennium Lines 12.8 km.

Just last fall, the French city of Caen, opened 16 km., three-line modern tramway (LRT) which cost $373 million. Already, that new LRT line is carrying 22,000 more customers a day than the previous “rapid bus” operation it replaced.

This is just one of the many facts about light rail that TransLink and their cadre of six figured salaried managers and spin doctors residing in their “Ivory Tower” in New Westminster are afraid of.

There is no funding on the horizon to build a subway to UBC (estimated at $4 billion) or to Langley (estimated at $2 billion). There has been absolutely no discussion by TransLink and the Mayor’s Council on Transit about the much higher operational costs for extending the MALM system (the subway alone will add $40 million to TransLink’s operating budget) or the estimated $3 billion desperately needed to rehab the the Millennium and aging Expo lines to obtain higher capacity needed for the current funded extensions.

If you tell a SkyTrain lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The SkyTrain lie can be maintained only for such time as TransLink, the Mayor’s Council on Transit and the provincial government can shield the people from the political, economic and/or transportation consequences of the SkyTrain lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the TransLink, the Mayor’s Council on Transit and the provincial government to use all of their powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the SkyTrain lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the TransLink, the Mayor’s Council on Transit and the provincial government .

Sadly, Metro Vancouver and its taxpayers reside in a transit bubble, using 1970’s transit technology and 1960’s transit philosophy meaning the taxpayer will pay much more to build much less.

It clearly evident that civic and provincial politicians and bureaucrats, hoping that the taxpayer remains comfortably numb with massive tax increases to come to pay for a museum piece that no one else has wanted for decades, while at the same time, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Malcolm Johnston

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ADDENDUM

1) Gerald Fox’s full letter.

February 6, 2008

Greetings:

The Evergreen Line Report made me curious as to how TransLink could justify continuing to expand SkyTrain, when the rest of the world is building LRT. So I went back and read the alleged Business Case (BC) report in a little more detail. I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too. Specifically:

Capacity. A combination of train size and headway. For instance, TriMet’s new Type 4 Low floor LRVs, arriving later this year, have a rated capacity of 232 per car, or 464 for a 2- car train. (Of course one must also be sure to use the same standee density when comparing car capacity. I don’t know if that was done here). In Portland we operate a frequency of 3 minutes downtown in the peak hour, giving a one way peak hour capacity of 9,280. By next year we will have two routes through downtown, which will eventually load both ways, giving a theoretical peak hour rail capacity of 37,000 into or out of downtown. Of course we also run a lot of buses.

The new Seattle LRT system which opens next year, is designed for 4-car trains, and thus have a peak hour capacity of 18,560. (but doesn’t need this yet, and so shares the tunnel with buses). The Business Case analysis assumes a capacity of 4,080 for LRT, on the Evergreen Line which it states is not enough, and compares it to SkyTrain capacity of 10400.!

Speed. The analysis states the maximum LRT speed is 60 kph. (which would be correct for the street sections) But most LRVs are actually designed for 90 kph. On the Evergreen Line, LRT could operate at up to 90 where conditions permit, such as in the tunnels, and on protected ROW. Most LRT systems pre-empt most intersections, and so experience little delay at grade crossings. (Our policy is that the trains stop only at stations, and seldom experience traffic delays. It seems to work fine, and has little effect on traffic.) There is another element of speed, which is station access time. At-grade stations have less access time. This was overlooked in the analysis.

Also, on the NW alignment, the SkyTrain proposal uses a different, faster, less-costly alignment to LRT proposal. And has 8 rather than 12 stations. If LRT was compared on the alignment now proposed for SkyTrain, it would go faster, and cost less than the Business Case report states!

Cost. Here again, there seems to be some hidden biases. As mentioned above, on the NW Corridor, LRT is costed on a different alignment, with more stations. The cost difference between LRT and SkyTrain presented in the Business Case report is therefore misleading. If they were compared on identical alignments, with the same number of stations, and designed to optimize each mode, the cost advantage of LRT would be far greater. I also suspect that the basic LRT design has been rendered more costly by requirements for tunnels and general design that would not be found on more cost-sensitive LRT projects.

Then there are the car costs. Last time I looked, the cost per unit of capacity was far higher for SkyTrain. Also,it takes about 2 SkyTrain cars to match the capacity of one LRV. And the grade-separated SkyTrain stations are far most costly and complex than LRT stations. Comparing 8 SkyTrain stations with 12 LRT stations also helps blur the distinction.

Ridership. Is a function of many factors. The Business Case report would have you believe that type of rail mode alone, makes a difference (It does in the bus vs rail comparison, according to the latest US federal guidelines). But, on the Evergreen Line, I doubt it. What makes a difference is speed, frequency (but not so much when headway’s get to 5 minutes), station spacing and amenity etc. Since the speed, frequency and capacity assumptions used in the Business Case are clearly inaccurate, the ridership estimates cannot be correct either. There would be some advantage if SkyTrain could avoid a transfer. If the connecting system has capacity for the extra trains. But the case is way overstated.

And nowhere is it addressed whether the Evergreen Line, at the extremity of the system, has the demand for so much capacity and, if it does, what that would mean on the rest of the system if feeds into?

Innuendos about safety, and traffic impacts, seem to be a big issue for SkyTrain proponents, but are solved by the numerous systems that operate new LRT systems (i.e., they can’t be as bad as the SkyTrain folk would like you to believe).

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

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

2) From Metrolinx in Toronto – the 50 year costs of transit projects.

It should be noted that the costs for SkyTrain a somewhat higher than elevated LRT and a SkyTrain subway, slightly less than a heavy rail subway. Toronto is abandoning their one line ICTS system.

Cost comparison transit mode Metrolinx rail for the valley

3) The Canada Line

The Canada line is a conventional heavy rail metro and not the proprietary MALM system and has many issues that are not in the scope of this letter.

4) The previous names for the proprietary and now called Movia Automatic Light Metro and owning company.

  1. Innovia Light Metro (Bombardier Inc.)
  2. Advanced Rapid Transit (Bombardier Inc)
  3. Advanced Light Metro (Lavalin)
  4. Advanced Light Rail Transit (UTDC)
  5. Intermediate Capacity Transit System (UTDC)

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4 thoughts on “Opinion: TransLink SkyTrain Business Case Hoax – letter sent to PM & Premier on SkyTrain to UBC proposal

  1. Adam Fitch, Calgary LRT is doing great…so great they need to make some hard choices they deferred originally. It is clear they can’t put all the extra trains through downtown in the existing transit mall so the Green line will go in a very expensive tunnel. Also remember recent lines and extensions (and the Green line) were all similar or more expensive than recent Skytrain projects (but not the proposed Broadway line). You should note the C-Train lines are not remotely like Broadway or what some are advocating to put on Broadway. Calgary is basically a S-Bahn, and it works great in Calgary but would not work on Broadway with all the cross street traffic.
    Ottawa will be a good system once teething issues are worked out…but note it is a Metro system that uses low floor light rail vehicles….and it would have been better off using high floor vehicles. Also note again it cost more than recent Skytrain projects…and phase II is still surprisingly expensive considering it is suburban with a pre-existing right of way. It probably would have been cheaper as Skytrain.

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