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Archive for September 21st, 2006

Group lobbies for SkyTrain rather than light rail

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Group lobbies for SkyTrain rather than light rail

This is bizarre. Accepted wisdom is that light rail is cheaper than SkyTrain. SkyTrain Mainly because SkyTrain is grade separated, and the costs of a structure are way more than putting tracks in the streets. Of course, most light rail schemes started by making use of existing rail tracks, and building short links to make service more convenient especially in City Centres. (NottinghamNottingham tram at Trent University, Manchester and Croydon all follow this pattern).

Mazur also worried about the effects of street-level rapid transit on vehicle traffic,

Actually that is kind of the point. He tries to tie it in to fire trucks, but the hidden agenda is what it always is – the desire to ensure freedom for cars. In most of Europe, cities which had retained streetcars played around with “pre-metro” for a while (AntwerpAntwerp tram for example) putting the street cars into tunnels in city centres prior to planned later extensions into full blown metros. Most abandoned this approach, as cars flooded into city streets as the trams were taken out, making not only the congestion worse, but reducing the quality of life in city centres with noise, fumes and danger. Perhaps some of the nicest new LRT systems are in France (Grenoble, Strasbourg Tramway - Bernard Chartreau photoStrasbourg, Marseilles, Lyon) which are nearly all at grade and often in car free streets. The Swiss,Basle tram of course, stuck to their streetcars throughout.

SkyTrain is very nearly unique. It is only found in Canada (Scarborough – where it is going to be scrapped) and the US (Detroit, and a slightly larger version feeding JFK airport). Originally conceived as a maglev people mover, the innovations when it was launched were linear induction motors (LIM) and driverless operation (except in Scarborough). Small volume production and the use of proprietary technology means higher costs, as there is not the ability to tap into volume production. Many systems take standard cars common to many cities. Calgary LRT 7th AveCalgary and Edmonton both went for on street running using high level cars (standard German Duwag cars initially – popular with US cities too) and platforms. Most comparative studies show that LRT can be affordable, provided the proponents resist the inevitable scope creep that happens once local politicians with an edifice complex get involved. Docklands LRT(The original Docklands Light Rail was developed as a turn key contract for UKP75m, mainly built on existing rail rights of way and structures and using off the shelf German trams. It is now growing rapidly along new tracks.)

That being said, there is a lot of merit tying LRT into redevelopment. Docklands served this function so well it had to be expanded almost as soon as it was opened, and a new deep level tube line was also added to the area. Portland has made a success of developing station precincts in suburbs that were formerly lifeless dormitories, and has also added city centre street cars to regional rapid transit. The TriCities are already developed as car oriented suburbs, although Port Moody has added some high rises in its downtown, as has Coquitlam. But the key to making sustainable suburbs is to put the train in first, and put up with operating losses for the years it takes for the city to grow up around it. This is the way that most cities grew in the pre-automobile era. The streetcar and subway companies lost money on their operations, but made out on the property development. We do not have this ability here now.

Actually, when it was laid out Coquitlam left provision for an “intermediate capacity transit system” (i.e. technology not specified) with provision for a right of way along Guildford Way to City Hall. When the the province attempted to extend SkyTrain on this route the people who had moved in, knowing the SkyTrain was planned, all howled in protest and got it moved back to Barnet Highway. The same thing happened when the TTC tried to use its reserved right of way into Malvern to extend the Scarborough RT, and the extension was abandoned, contributing to the rapid decline of the area into one of Canada’s most dangerous places, though that may have been reversed recently.

What we have here, folks, is a pattern. And that is, once again, “not in my backyard.” No doubt this group will gather adherents to their misguided ideas, and the end result could be the Evergreen line (one of the few properly planned rapid transit proposals in this region) goes on the back burner once again.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 21, 2006 at 9:31 am