Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

A survey on the Evergreen Line

with 2 comments

Mike Clay is a Port Moody Councillor who has a web site, on which he has been running a survey of opinions on the Evergreen Line. One of my readers wrote to me and asked me to draw it to your attention, and hoped it would provoke some discussion.

I will kick things off by noting that the response rate is very low – 104 total. Of those, only 35 say they come from Port Moody and another 30 from the rest of the TriCities. The other thing that needs to be said is that this is a self selected sample: people who knew about the web page and its survey and could be bothered to go there and complete it. So in no sense can it be said to be representative of the opinions of those in the area. And it is quite easy, if you put your mind to it, to work out ways in which one individual could answer more than once.

I have commented here before on the Evergreen Line and the group which has been pushing for SkyTrain rather than light rail. So the link will take you there and I won’t cover the same ground again. And I have also noted that Port Moody is a bit of an anomaly in the suburbs as it has got transit oriented development – and could get more – but so far has only a B-Line and the last stop inbound on the West Coast Express.

What is also instructive is the extent of the comments that were posted at the open ended questions in each section – which again shows that those who did respond have a much higher level of commitment than the “average punter” type interviews – usually people who are not skilled enough to avoid market researchers who phone them at suppertime.

The real problem for the TriCities was that the provincial government decided to proceed with the Canada Line – and I have also written about how that decision was rammed through. At that time the completion of the LRSP “T Line” – essentially Lougheed Mall to Coquitlam Centre at one end and VCC to the west (and no one now agrees how far west it would have gone) at the other – was supposed to be the first priority. After all the original idea of developing the North East Sector was that it would be transit oriented, but there has never been and still is not adequate transit service in that area. So the traffic congestion through the area was entirely predictable. Especially around the interchanges at the north end of the Port Mann Bridge.

It now makes it very hard for me to answer the question put me earlier in the week by a journalist on my priority list for LRT in the region in future. We should have built both the Evergreen Line and the Broadway Line extension from VCC by now. But equally with the province determined to expand Highway #1, something to directly link North Surrey to Coquitlam is also essential, as well as rail for the Valley. Now if the sort of money being spent on Gateway were devoted instead to electric trains/trams, especially on existing tracks, we could actually build quite a lot of this. But asked to prioritize between them and I am afraid I had to duck. But I did make it clear that electric trains in general are to be preferred over highways.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2007 at 10:03 am

2 Responses

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  1. Changes in provinncial governments have usually wreaked havoc on transportation planning.

    Under the Socreds, Skytrain would have been up and running to Richmond (and maybe the airport) by 1995, as would have a branch line off the Expo Line to Lougheed Mall (branching near Royal Oak and using the old ROW). The only parts of that plan to be built were the Scott Road extension (opened 1990) and the King George segment (opened 1993?) – premier designate Rita Johnson’s riding.
    The NDP nixed the Socred plans when it came to power and favoured their northeast ridings instead – hence the T-line came to the forefront. Under the NDP, the T-line was partially built as the M-line.
    When the Liberals came into power, they nixed the NDP agenda (planning was quite advanced on the so-called PMC line) and favour returned to the Richmond line.

    ron c.

    August 28, 2007 at 7:22 pm

  2. The following email is from Gerald Fox who has given me permission to share. Mr. Fox is noted American transit specialist, who has worked on most major public transit infrastructure projects in the USA in the past 20 years. He also authored a study, in the 1980’s which showed that automatic or driverless systems were more expensive to build and operate than light rail. The study heralded the demise of sales automatic transit systems in North America.

    Mr. Fox is currently advising a Victoria group on how to implement inexpensive LRT in the city. One wonders why the provincial government and TransLink have never sought the opinion or expertise of Mr. Fox, yet a group in Victoria have easily done so.

    I would recommend reading this brief report, to fully understand TransLink’s and the provincial government’s grand ‘economies of the truth’ regarding the Evergreen Line. The study gives insight on why SkyTrain, despite being marketed for almost 30 years, has failed to find a market, except for Vancouver’s metro region.

    Malcolm Johnston


    The Evergreen Line Report you sent me made me curious as to how TransLink could justify continuing to expand Skytrain, when the rest of the world was 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 BC 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 BC 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 BC 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 for 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 BC 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 headways get to 5 minutes), station spacing and amenity etc. Since the speed, frequency and capacity assumptions used in the BC 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.

    – Innuedos about safety, and traffic impacts, which seem to be a big issue for Skytrain proponents, but are solved by the numerous systems that operate new LRT systems (ie 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 thus suceeded 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 taxpayers’ interests are protected. No Skytrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.


    But the BIG DEAL for Victoria is: If the BC analysis was corrected for fix at least some of the errors outlined above, the COST INCREASE from using SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line will be comparable to the TOTAL COST of a modest starter line in Victoria. This needs to come to the attention of the Province. Victoria really does deserve better.

    Please share these thoughts as you feel appropriate.

    Malcolm J.

    March 1, 2008 at 11:33 pm

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