Stephen Rees's blog

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

Bombardier makes a pitch for piece of $14b Metro rapid-transit work

with 19 comments


I did get an invite to the Board of Trade for this speech – but they charge a lot for attendance. I do not think I need to pay to listen to a commercial.

Worth quoting

“Mobility is a critical issue for any region striving to be a true player on the global stage,” Betler said. However, when it comes to moving people, transportation systems in regions such as Metro Vancouver are out of whack and weighted too heavily toward roads. Traffic congestion is one of the results, the cost of which has been calculated at $700 million to $1.2 billion per year in the Metro Vancouver region.

“We simply can’t build enough roads to accommodate the volume of people that need to have access to our urban centres,” Betler said. “Not today and certainly not when you consider what’s coming in the future.”
Transit trains, he added, can help balance out the transportation formula. A modern transit system, he said, can carry 40,000 people per hour heading in either direction, versus 6,000 people driving on a two-lane highway during the same time frame.

Betler did not disparage the province’s other transportation plan, the Asia Pacific Gateway Strategy, which calls for new perimetre [misspelled in the original] roads, twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and expansion of the freeway. “[Transportation is] personal preference,” he added. “But at some point in time, economics and environmental conditions are going to force a solution.”

Transportation is a lot more than personal choice. Transportation shapes development. Transit makes denser, walkable centres possible. Building freeways means there has to be more parking and more vehicle circulation space – and roads which are designed to deter through traffic on distributors. The dendritic street pattern that gives rise to low density sprawl. We need rail based transit systems; not so that  Bombardier can make more money, but to secure a future that is sustainable and does not threaten the ALR and the Green Zone. Trains and trams can run on electricity which can be generated from a wide variety of sources. At the moment that is not a very practical or economic option for road vehicles – and that includes my beloved trolleybuses.

“Making a pitch” is a waste of effort if we have an objective, fact based bid appraisal process. It is not that the lowest price should win: there must be a value for money evaluation. Some things are worth paying extra for.

We do not need the Gateway. We do need a livable, sustainable and affordable region.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2008 at 9:15 am

19 Responses

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  1. Amen to that!


    April 30, 2008 at 11:52 am

  2. What Bombardier Inc. really wants is to be sure that more SkyTrain is built in the region. SkyTrain ART is a proprietary light-metro system, only Bombardier will be able to bid for car replacements, etc., as no one produces ART cars. This is called the “gotcha” factor and is good news to Bombardier’s share holders.

    Bombardier learnt well with Portland’s LRT, where they have lost car orders to Siemens.

    What a light-metro network will mean for Vancouver? More highways, because SkyTrain will be too expensive to extend to suburban areas. More buses, which will compel transit customers to use the car more (loser cruiser syndrome). And of course much higher taxes to pay for the hugely expensive, yet small light-metro network.

    Of course the transit customer and the tax payer will be the big losers, but then who cares, SkyTrain is a mega-project geared to win elections, not to move people.

    Malcolm J>

    April 30, 2008 at 1:43 pm

  3. I was out on highway 1 today and saw that crews are busy surveying the road – no doubt for the widening.

    Nice timing as gas hits $1.30!


    April 30, 2008 at 3:58 pm

  4. Why is Bombardier incapable of producing LRT cars? It is a shame that a Canadian company does not have more success in supplying it’s own country with transit solutions (or am I wrong – does Bombardier supply Toronto and Montreal?)


    April 30, 2008 at 7:09 pm

  5. Bombardier Inc. does produce light rail vehicles and a good product they are. Past federal governments favoured Bombardier and Ontario and Quebec had ‘exclusivity’ laws making it extremely hard for other companies to supply transit vehicles to the provinces transit systems.

    Ontario lost a court case a few years back, which enabled Siemens to win the now cancelled Ottawa LRT project (Siemens is suing the Ottawa transit authority for breach of contract). Recently reported in the European transit press, the Quebec supreme court struck down an exclusivity law in the province, in an action brought about by Alstom of France. Alstom is a major transit vehicle manufacturer.

    Siemens has always supplied the two Alberta LRT systems.

    When a region buys a proprietary transit system, that region is tied to one supplier and in Vancouver’s case, SkyTrain must be supplied with SkyTrain, as no one else produces the linear production car. Tis is called the ‘gotcha’ factor, because the company suppling the proprietary vehicles, “gotcha.”

    Certainly if the powers that be opted for LRT, Bombardier would offer a wide selection of modern light rail vehicles, but with politicians always forcing SkyTrain on us, Bombardier has ‘got us.’

    Malcolm J>

    April 30, 2008 at 9:20 pm

  6. Well, at least if we’re tied to a paticular company’s technology , at least it’s Canadian…

    David Banks

    May 1, 2008 at 12:11 am

  7. You mean it’s OK to be tied to an obsolete light-metro system? So Canadian! SkyTrain is both obsolete in technology and philosophy, yet we are forced to build with it.

    Really, the comment astounds me.

    Malcolm J>

    May 1, 2008 at 9:21 am

  8. This Province article fails to mention that Bombardier’s Canada Line bid involved a permanent open trench south of 49th Ave.

    Anyways check out the mention of the Evergreen Line in this Province article ….

    Strange though that the private partner would supply cars for the Evergreen Line – suggests that it will include an “operate” component (unlike the Docklands Light Railway model which is just supplying guideway availability) – but the private partner could just make cars available to Translink.

    It is great that other linear-induction motor suppliers will give Bombardier some competition on the bidding. I know that both Hitachi and Rotem manufacture and supply linear-induction driven subway cars. (Note that the Rotem cars for the Canada Line are not linear induction)

    But it does raise questions about interlining – hopefully interlining won’t be dependent on whether Bombardier wins the bid. Note That Thales (formerly Alcatel) provides train control and rail signalling – and that is not not dependent on the vehicle (i.e. they are supplied ATC for the Canada Line too).

    Bombardier would have used a tunnel: Prez

    Frank Luba, The Province
    Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

    Bombardier would have built the Canada Line rapid-transit project in a tunnel instead of the cut-and-cover trench that has opened Cambie Street up like a nasty gash.

    [moderator’s note for the rest of the article click on the link above]

    Ron C.

    May 1, 2008 at 12:47 pm

  9. As opposed to Korea, yes. And it’s hardly obsolete, there are new lines being built in Asia, ironically one is located in Korea.


    May 1, 2008 at 1:28 pm

  10. I believe there is ample opportunity in our cities (not just Metro Vancouver) to go back to the future and apply a finer layer of streetcars on major routes, something slower than a regional rapid transit system (in our case, SkyTrain) and faster than buses. That would be independent of SkyTrain, a technology which we are stuck with, like it or not.

    I can’t think of a better carrot for cities to willingly densify and instill urban design guidelines than to introduce something like the Strasbourg-like Bombardier modern streetcars to routes like Kingsway, something the public will probably find very attractive and could well lead to a higher demand. The smooth ride alone would make me want to skip the buses.

    Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about the technology used in any regional rapid transit system, as long as the service is good and safe over the long term, it fits well in the cities it serves (a debateable point here and in Calgary, two very different systems) and the economic stimulus provides appropriate changes to the way we build our cities.


    May 1, 2008 at 3:44 pm

  11. The problem with our SkyTrain’s LIM’s is that they are attractive LIM’s, not repulsive LIM’s, which the late Prof. Laithewaite pointed out to the late Dez Turner (Citizens for Rapid Transit Group) some 30 years ago. Operating LIM powered cars means that light metro (expensive light-metro) will be built forever in Vancouver and the region. Sadly, LIM powered trains are extremely expensive to operate and maintain. What light-metro (SkyTrain & RAV) will do for the region is to ensure major highway schemes, such as Gateway will be built, as light-metro is much to expensive to build a regional network network.

    Light-metro is obsolete, modern LRT has made it so and the only way to sell SkyTrain and LIM powered light-metros is to market them as a ‘prestigious’ airport transit system.

    I’m also very suspect of people using the term ‘rapid transit’ simply because a ‘rapid transit’ system is only as ‘rapid’ as it is designed to be. Gerald Fox pointed this out in is superb AGT versus LRT paper in the 80’s. Given the same quality of route and rights-of-ways, LRT would operate cheaper than an automated guided transit (AGT or Light-metro).

    Light-metro & LRT are two separate ‘rail’ transit modes, built to solve particular transit problems; both can be made to operate as fast or as slow as the planners want.

    Docklands is an automatic light railway, called a light railway because it was built under the UK’s light railway act. Any high floor LRT vehicle produced, with suitable automatic controls installed, can operate on Docklands. The first Docklands cars are now operating on the Essen S-bahn. It is not known if SkyTrain’s cars can operate on other LIM powered transit systems and certainly can’t operate on regular light rail lines.

    We are stuck with SkyTrain, so brace yourselves, highways and more highways will be built and the auto will be the prime transit mode for the foreseeable future.

    Malcolm J>

    May 1, 2008 at 4:40 pm

  12. Meredith:
    > Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about the technology used in any regional rapid transit system

    You should care because a poor, politically motivated choice in technology (i.e. SkyTrain) could result in higher costs which, among other things, results in less track/$ and thereby less ridership. The Mercedes Benz solution is not necessarily the best solution. Save for the Malcolms of the world, too many people in the lower mainland have not take enough time to thoughtfully consider how the technology used in their transit system is affecting it’s growth. I admit that I once was one of those SkyTrain boosters. It was only after I discovered this website and spent some time travelling on LRT systems in other cities did I realize what a mistake SkyTrain was. I don’t want us to make that mistake again with the Evergreen line.


    May 2, 2008 at 7:47 am

  13. Check out the Hitachi website for another example of a LIM light metro:

    Ron C.

    May 2, 2008 at 12:55 pm

  14. BTW – I don’t see a link to the Province article above, just the Vancouver Sun article.

    Anyways, the important reference that I had highlighted (and which was deleted) was the following:

    Evergreen is supposed to use SkyTrain-like technology. Several companies that make linear-induction motors will also bid for the line.

    This reference did not appear in the Vancouver Sun article.

    Ron C.

    May 2, 2008 at 1:05 pm

  15. The link to the Province article is at
    “Bombardier would have used a tunnel: Prez”

    Stephen Rees

    May 2, 2008 at 1:30 pm

  16. I’ve heard it all before. Well, SkyTrain is here. Has been for over two decades. We did not choose it, but it ain’t going away. Period. Deal with it.

    First, it’s irritating when strong transit advocates are consumed with arguing over the arcane technicalities about mode when the whole transit system — buses, trains, seabuses, bikes, pedestrian spaces — has been profoundly underfunded, undermined, and ignored for decades. That reinforces the anti-transit, pro-freeway types to say we can’t even agree amongst ourselves.

    Second, whether it’s $75 million or $150 million per km to build a rapid transit line, it’s still a much better investment than car infrastructure in terms of sheer volume (it’s orders of magnitude more for cars), return on investment in regard to its stimulus of transit-oriented development (the value of which exceeds the transit investment in the long term) and quality of life — provided apropriate land use measures are attached to transit projects.

    Third, it is incredibly simplistic to reflexively elevate light rail over SkyTrain when IMPLEMENTATION is as, or even more important than mode. Glib, sweeping statements about the glory of light rail come to a crashing halt in my books when looking at these projects on the ground. You may have some deserving critical points to make about SkyTrain, but I will take it any day over Calgary’s C-Train, a system I can criticize in great detail 3,000 ways to Sunday.

    Fourth, Portland’s MAX, on the other hand, may be a superior system to C-Train (I’ve never ridden it or had relatives killed by it to judge adequately), but I’d start not with mode / technology, but the superior planning abilities of the City of Portland to integrate it better than Calgary. Strasbourg may be even higher on the success scale with respect to planning and implementation.

    Fifth, if you dig back a couple of months in this blog you’ll find my support for the Evergreen Line as a surface light rail system with low-floor vehicles. NOT because of the mode / technology or supposedly lower cost, but because of the good urban integration, relative safety and the redesign of two highway corridors proposed in a design charette by the UBC Centre for Sustainablity That’s even despite it’s lack of compatability with SkyTrain at Lougheed Station (i.e. seamless interservice between the Millennium Line and the EL). Well, that’s not going to happen either.

    Sixth, I keep hearing about the “huge” cost differential between SkyTrain and light rail. If properly integrated, LRT is not that much cheaper. And “integration” means urban design and very good safety measures which must come as a package with any large transit improvement project.

    And that”s where I’ll leave it for now.


    May 2, 2008 at 2:46 pm

  17. Note: my comments above are directed to S.


    May 2, 2008 at 2:49 pm

  18. The main benefit of Skytrain is the frequency of service allowed by automated operation. Street level LRT cannot be automated for obvious reasons.

    On the mainline part of the Expo Line, Translink’s website shows 2-3 min frequency during rush hours and 4 min frequency late into the night. The Surrey and M-Line branches have 6-8 minute frequency – 8 min even at night.
    By comparison. Portland’s Max website shows 10 min frequency at rush hour and 15 min frequency late at night.

    Max trains are longer, to carry the load of that 10 or 15 min headway, but why don’t they split up the long train to improve the frequency (people hate to wait)? Probably because they’d need more drivers – and that raises operating costs.

    Want to add a few more trains to serve the Sun Run crowds, the Fireworks crowds, or the hockey game crowds? Automated sevrice just dispatches extra trains from the yard – manual service requires calling in and paying drivers (maybe even for a full shift or overtime).

    Ron C.

    May 2, 2008 at 5:07 pm

  19. Meredith,
    I simply stated that I hope LRT is used for Evergreen (which you agree with) and that I regret that SkyTrain is not LRT. If Vancouver is truly going to be ‘the Best Place on Earth’, we have to recognize our mistakes and learn from them going forward. I apologize if my opinion irritates you.


    May 3, 2008 at 8:42 am

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