Stephen Rees's blog

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

Edmonton to scrap their trolleybus system

with 29 comments

Edmonton Sun

Photo by Michael Marriott (etbmike101 on flickr)

Photo by Michael Marriott

Translink bus on lease to Edmonton

Apparently Vancouver leasing them one of the nice new trolleybuses was not enough to convince them.

Some of the comments show how irrational and poorly informed decision makers can be. There is a deal of suspicion about the ETS estimate of how much extra buying new trolleys would be

Coun. Don Iveson, who voted to keep the trolleys, said he didn’t believe replacing the vehicles with hybrid buses would save $100 million – a figure touted by city administration.

So where is the supporting information?

By 2010, the cost of a new trolley bus is estimated to hit $950,000, while a hybrid will come with a price tag of $650,000 and a clean diesel will ring in at $425,000.

First off why look at prices in 2010 – you are buying them now – though they may not be delivered for two years. And since New Flyer would be doing a run on from the Vancouver order, their costs should be lower. And the 18 years given for trolley life is not at all what we have seen in service. The current Edmonton fleet is much older – as was the retired E902 fleet in Vancouver.

47 times $300k still leaves around $86 million unaccounted for and the life cycle cost of a trolley will be quite a bit different based on cheaper maintenance and lower energy cost. So maybe they decided to add in the cost of a complete replacement of the overhead. That was the technique used in both Toronto and Hamilton, when an official in the MTO was determined to force a switch to natural gas, which was less than a success. The operating entities simply neglected to maintain the overhead and watched it deteriorate to back the withdrawal decision.

Coun. Tony Caterina said it didn’t make sense to sink that kind of money into a type of vehicle that makes up only 3% of the transit fleet. Most people he’s talked to don’t like the system anyway, he said.

“They don’t like them, can’t stand them and would rather see open skies than the canopy (of wires) above.”

The percentage of the fleet is not what matters – its is the question of whether the choice of electricity is more sustainable in the long term than diesel. And the LRT has overhead wires too. Does that mean Edmonton is going to tackle its festoons of power, telephone and tv cable along every street?

Bob Boutilier, the city’s manager of transportation, warned putting money in trolleys would mean less cash for LRT.

So Canada’s richest province is still intent on stiffing city transit systems? Why not put the blame where it really lies. The Alberta Tories hate spending tax dollars on public works – even when it is essential to prop up their favourite project. The roads to the oil patch have been grossly inadequate for years- but the province of Alberta would rather pay off their debt and then give tax payers their own money back than invest wisely in the future.

Hybrids are a good solution if you have not got the world’s longest extension cord already strung over your streets. But if you look after the overhead, and all electric bus has some significant advantages. For one thing it does not carry the weight of an engine and fuel and can both pull as much power as it needs when accelerating or climbing, but can put power back when braking. And electricity can be generated all kinds of ways. In a world of rising oil prices that alone should catch their attention. There is of course no mention in this story of ghg or local air pollution.

The fact that most other North American cities got rid of their trolleys does not mean that they were wise or far sighted when they did so. But if you had stood up then before those city councils and talked about oil at $150 a barrel and vanishing glaciers, you would have been laughed out of the room.

But Edmonton Council knows about those things – or perhaps it needs a reminder – send it by web form here

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2008 at 9:06 am

Posted in Environment, transit

29 Responses

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  1. In contrast, TransLink recently ordered twenty more articulated trolleybuses to be delivered in 2009. That will put its fleet at 188 standard and 60 articulated trolleybuses.


    June 19, 2008 at 10:02 am

  2. Oh dear! That’s not good! How can that be? Dayton, Ohio (area pop. 900,000+) preserved trolleybuses, and now, after a “temporary” withdrawal from service, they’re bringing ’em back this year in Philadelphia! (They’re called “trackless trolleys” in the Northeast.) That’s a stupid decision! Funding for trolleybuses is not incompatible with LRT funding. This decision sucks!

    Those guys who bitch about overhead wires being supposedly unsightly and causing “visual pollution!” have got to get with the times. Can’t they understand the truth? In Philadelphia, they restored one streetcar route (15 Girard) in 2005, 13 years after a “temporary” suspension. This is so dumb! I was alive when they used to run trolleybuses in Toronto from 1972 to 1993! (I was born in 1987 in St. John’s, NL.) I even saw the overhead wires when I was in downtown Edmonton from the car on my trip to Alberta 5 years ago! (I didn’t ride ’em, but I did ride LRT when I was there, and also rode the C-Train in Calgary.) As much as I support expanding LRT in Edmonton (and here in where I live, Ottawa), in Edmonton, they should not discount overhead wires as allegedly unsightly.

    Matt Fisher

    June 19, 2008 at 10:47 am

  3. By the way, I also have a link on Wikipedia regarding the 15 Girard route in Philadephia. And this is a map of trolleybus routes in Dayton, although it’s from 2000. 7 routes, huh? (I should note that the area population statistic includes nearby Springfield.)

    Matt Fisher

    June 19, 2008 at 10:59 am

  4. I grew up with the ‘ol Brill trolly buses in Calgary and saw them displaced by diesel GMCs just in time for the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. The irony was not lost on the press and the public. The councillors used the same “visual pollution” comments about the trolley wires, but the “diesel fuel is cheaper” argument won the day … until OPEC.

    Another irony was that the Brills were sold to BC Hydro, which was the transit authority back then, and they saw another generation of service in Vancouver before they were retired. Those things served the public for almost a half-century.

    I’ve always thought someone could make a great little diner out of a couple or three Brill bus bodies joined together.


    June 19, 2008 at 11:54 am

  5. Regarding electricity generation in Alberta, a great deal comes from coal, so even the electric LRT vehicles in Calgary and Edmonton can be traced to GHG emissions. That’s unfortunate because Alberta also has some of the best land-based conditions in the world for wind power, especially where the tight mountain passes empty vast quantities of concentrated Pacific air onto the plains 24/7/365.

    The Alberta government pigheadedly places a cap on the maximum allowable power generated by wind, presumably to “protect” their one-horse petroleum economy. It never ceases to amaze me that the boards of the largest corporations — and their political supporters — do not follow their own business rhetoric about diversification.


    June 19, 2008 at 12:07 pm

  6. I wonder if Edmonton examined Skoda trolley buses too?

    Ron C.

    June 19, 2008 at 12:53 pm

  7. The sad fact is, trolley buses are a dying breed. One problem is that in Vancouver and Edmonton, electric buses were never used to their best advantage, rather just an electric version of an ordinary bus.

    When one studies successful electric bus applications, they tend to copy that of LRT/tram operations. In Europe, trolleybus routes survive on hilly medium sized routes that would be expensive to convert to LRT/tram.

    As for Skoda buses, I believe they are no longer in production.

    Malcolm J.

    June 19, 2008 at 1:30 pm

  8. The C train actually makes a point of claiming it’s power comes from green energy, specifically wind. Of course it’s a juggling act of sorts since that power would be used elsewhere if it weren’t used for transit. At least they have some green power in Calgary.

    With trolleys, I have been told by a friend in transit operations that transit managers don’t like trolleys. I recall quite clearly, a few years ago, when the Coast Mountain was dragging their feet on ordering the replacement fleet that they openly advocated scrapping the trolley system. I can’t put my finger on what it was that scuttled that idea but I rather think it was largely a public outcry.

    It’s very odd to hear councillors in Edmonton claiming citizens hate trolleys because of the overhead. That’s about the weakest argument ever and doubt it’s the general sentiment. As Stephen said, if we’re so sensitive about scarring the view with wires why haven’t we buried phone a power lines? Pure drivel.


    June 19, 2008 at 1:49 pm

  9. I’m pretty sure than none of Calgary’s trolleybuses ever ran in Vancouver, though I’d be surprised if BCH didn’t buy some for parts. BCH did run ex-Saskatoon and Winnipeg Brills, and bought scrapped buses from several systems for parts and to provide the motors for the Flyer E800s.

    Skoda’s trolleybuses most certainly are in production:

    … as are those from Van Hool, Hess, and Neoplan (Germany, not the defunct USA operation), as well as eastern-bloc manufacturers.

    I’m not sure where Malcolm’s “not to their best advantage” comment is rooted in considering that flat cities like Arnhem use trolleybuses extensively, as do some with some hills like Pardubice. When volumes are high enough to justify installing overhead but not enough for rail, trolleys have their place. Perhaps it’s merely a case of “LRT good, all other modes bad.”

    Ian King

    June 19, 2008 at 1:54 pm

  10. For those that are still under the impression that there is a ‘cap’ on wind power in Alberta, as of last year that is no longer the case:

    And the reasons why one would want to slowly introduce such a variable source of energy and proceed cautiously with it are described nicely here:

    I don’t see anything wrong with the City of Calgary paying wind farms for the equivalent amount of energy the LRT is using. Even though we all know there is only one grid and you can’t pick and choose the electricity you use, this is a logical first step.

    And back to trolley’s – this is a sad decision that Edmonton will live to regret. I’m surprised that they didn’t use weather as an excuse. I guess they don’t have the same problem Vancouver does with frost on the lines or whatever it is that causes them to go wonky here in bad weather.


    June 19, 2008 at 6:22 pm

  11. The loss for Edmonton could be the gain for Vancouver. Perhaps Translink should look at snapping up all the overhead catenary and catenary support to be disposed of in the next couple years. I would like to see articulated trolley buses on Hastings between SFU and downtown Vancouver. The diesels could be eliminated. Between Kootney Loop and downtown there is an express bus wire, pairing the local bus wire. The express wire would need to be extended further along Hastings and up the steep hill.


    June 19, 2008 at 7:10 pm

  12. Glad to hear Alberta is expanding wind power now. The BC coast (offshore + onshore) has great potential too. Here’s one interesting project indicating the potential:


    June 19, 2008 at 7:50 pm

  13. Historically the City of Burnaby has been opposed to trolleybuses. The Metrotown extension was only permitted very reluctantly on the condition that it was part and parcel of getting SkyTrain.

    I can’t definitively say the current councillors or Mayor of the City of Burnaby have had much of anything to say about trolleybuses. Perhaps the question should be put to Derek Corrigan and his clan about their feelings on trolleybuses. Let’s see whether their anti Gateway sentiment has more to so with being aware of sustainable transportation issues or more of a “stick it to the BC Liberals” issue.


    June 19, 2008 at 8:06 pm

  14. Someone commented that you could get a Trolleybus for $500,000. I’m sure there was a manufacturer out there who could build one for the same cost or less than the hybrid. To me, it would be worth the non-spewing of diesel particulates.

    The Overhead Wire

    June 19, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  15. One has to be careful mixing ‘trolley’ nostalgia with ‘trolley’ fact. In Europe there has been extensive study with trolley buses and the results are not promising. More expensive to operate than regular buses, trolley’s showed no benefit in attracting new ridership. This is why the ‘guided-bus’ came into being, but alas ‘guided-bus’ has also failed to attract new ridership, when compared to new LRT routes.

    Many European cities still do have trolleys, but mostly operate on special routes that would be too expensive to convert to rail.

    Arnhem trolleys operate on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain trams, but do have the ridership that makes trolley’s an economic. Trolleybuses, with higher acceleration rates etc. should operate on routes with stops at least 400 metres apart, to take advantage of electric operation. Vancouver has over twice as many bus stops per route km. than European cities.

    Many years ago, I was involved with a few people to extend the Oak St. electric bus service to Richmond via the Oak St. Bridge and #3 Road, Garden City, #2 or #1 roads to Steveston. The bus route would operate to European practise with stops every 400 to 500 metres apart. There was no support, NADA, from anyone.

    Trolley Trivia:

    Did anyone know that Moscow had a large fleet of freight carrying trolleys that catered to major stores and industry in the city centre.

    Malcolm J.

    June 20, 2008 at 8:25 am

  16. I’m glad Alberta has opened the sky, as it were, to expansion of their wind power initiative.

    The Globe piece illustrates one of the major concerns that wind power fluctuates a lot. This may be applicable more to inland wind farms than to land-sea or land-lake interfaces where the geology alone creates reliable local wind movements independently from high or low pressure weather systems.

    It also applies to closely-spaced wind farms that are subjected to identical local wind patterns. As the number of farms increase, the areas affected by low wind speed could be counterbalanced with wind farms located farther away in areas with higher wind speed.

    The technology has improved exponentially over the last decade or so too. Wind turbines are computer-controlled and the pitch of the blades is constantly adjusted to obtain a relatively steady rotor speed regardless of the actual wind speed. They can even be stopped during hurricanes by turned the blades 90 degrees into the wind, or turn in remarkably weak winds.

    There was a bit of discussion here recently about the electrical grid. Denmark and Germany made very wise decisions with respect to alternative energy and we could learn from their examples. Having several connections to other grids is good, and creating an additional east-west grid across the northern provinces would go a long ways to satisfying our energy security concerns.

    Here’s a link to one of the largest offshore wind projects yet proposed, and it happens to be in BC waters. It has the full backing of the Haida, and will enable Haida Gwaii to become energy independent and replace its existing diesel generation system.


    June 20, 2008 at 10:24 am

  17. I don’t agree that the wires are ugly. Many of our streets are too wide and out of proportion with the buildings that front them. Overhead wires frame the street and pull it back together visually. But I guess that’s just me.


    June 20, 2008 at 10:38 am

  18. According to today’s Buzzer, TransLink has 34 more articulated trolleybuses coming in 2009, not 20 as I posted above. The fleet will then be 188 standard and 74 articulated trolleybuses.


    June 20, 2008 at 11:16 am

  19. While Edmonton’s decision is disappointing, it sadly is of no surprise. The local media outlets are nothing more than shills for the anti-trolley movement. That, and the very public dislike of trolleys among city council and ETS management has practically brainwashed Edmontonians into thinking that trolley buses are bad for transit and harmful to the environment. A quick read of the chatter in online forums after the city council decision reveals that while there are many citizens bemoaning the decision, most are jubilantly celebrating the pending demise of their trolley system. Given the tremendous amount of campaigning into having the trolley system scrapped, it’s only reasonable to wonder if there were cash-stuffed envelopes discreetly changing hands under the table.

    There might be a glimmer of hope that Vancouver won’t be the only Canadian city with trolley buses. There are mumblings in Montreal of using trolley buses on a new BRT line being planned. And in Toronto, where their new fleet of diesel-electric hybrid buses are not delivering the promised fuel savings and their batteries reportedly wearing out prematurely, there has been talk of reintroducing trolley buses which that city eliminated in the early 1990s in favour of the ill-fated CNG buses. But all this is just talk, though — nothing has been committed.

    Putting trolley buses to use on a BRT system in situations where LRT and trams are not practical is perhaps a good way to reintroduce them by filling a niche. But there’s nothing wrong with treating them as an “electric version” of an ordinary bus. With high oil prices a reality, it’s important to have a mix of transit vehicles using different energy sources for their motive power as opposed to being constrained to diesel oil as the only fuel source — much like how smart investors diversify their investment portfolios as a hedge against market fluctuations.


    June 21, 2008 at 2:56 am

  20. For everyone who disagrees with the choice to get rid of trolleys in Edmonton, please write to Edmonton city council, and tell them these things. We have until the end of 2010 to get this descion changed.

    Michael Marriott

    June 21, 2008 at 11:20 pm

  21. The decision to scrap the cable cars will save a hundred million dollars in the same way that the secretive pay hike decision made by the Premier and his chums will save taxpayers money in the long run.

    It seems that choosing hybrid over electric runs counter to the apparent motive behind the decision that introduced the new anti-idling by-law in Edmonton.

    One might draw some parallel comparison with a forced-air furnace vs. a boiler system. A forced-air gas furnace could never be as efficient as a boiler generating radiant heat. Am I right? I’m no expert, but I do have a very strong hunch that when all the money is spent to remove the existing infrastructure, maintain the engines on the hybrids, and so on and so forth, in no way could it conceivably save any money.

    As usual, this is all likely the result of some hidden conflict of interest. Either that, or our Mayor gets a sadistic kick out of irritating the citizenry with his smiling face plastered on the front of commuter fish wrap papers; under increasingly astonishing and disappointing headlines.

    B. R. Mathews

    June 24, 2008 at 6:01 pm

  22. A “cable car” is quite different to a trolleybus.

    Stephen Rees

    June 24, 2008 at 6:52 pm

  23. Just for the edification of all, the supposed $100 million in savings comes rather dubiously from:

    -Assuming a trolley bus has the same life cycle (18 years) as a diesel or hybrid
    -$2.2 Million each year just to maintain the overhead wires
    -$66 Million to “upgrade” the overhead–this really includes as you guessed the replacement of almost all major overhead components including all substation equipment and roughly 75% of the line poles. This cost is offset by almost $12 million to tear down the overhead wires and $11 million to replace a few joint-use poles (both of these estimates seem low).
    -$0.4 Million each year to maintain the trolleys (which isn’t supported by any data at all–the old BBC trolleys cost less to maintain than any diesel buses more than five years old, and they only run on busy routes)

    Energy prices barely enter into the picture–these reports assumed a price of 81 cents/litre for diesel fuel and that it will not increase any more beyond the rate of inflation over the next twenty years. They also don’t consider that the system is severely underused–it was built for 100+ buses but barely 30 run in peak hours and they get replaced with diesel buses at the slightest whim. The consultant the city hired from the university, in particular, presented his life cycle costs “per km” but calculated based on only 40% of the actual scheduled trolleybus kilometres in the city.

    This whole debate has been nothing less than fradulent, and it is to the city’s loss.


    July 2, 2008 at 1:43 am

  24. Simon Atkinson from New Zealand.
    It was very kind of Vancouver to lend a New Flyer trolleybus to become Edmonton no 6000 for a short while.

    Even thou I have Never been to Canada.
    I have been following about the Edmondton trolleybus system.

    What should have happen.
    The following is for Edmonton to buy New Flyer trolleybuses (Tacked on to the order of Vancouver) to replace the GMC/BBC trolleybuses from the early 1980s.

    Their decision to close the trolleybus system is I think NOT A VERY GOOD LOOK.

    It is a VERY BAD decision.

    Trolleybuses are Very good for the enviroment and keep the air clean.

    In the world of today where we need to be awear of the enviroment and keep the air clean.


    The following is that the councillers that decided to close the trolleybus system need to changer their decision.

    Buy the New Flyer trolleybuses for Edmonton.

    Any routes that have closed reopen them.

    Extend the network

    Keep the trolleybuses in Edmonton.

    Many thanks from Simon Atkinson


    March 28, 2009 at 4:15 pm

  25. Simon Atkinson again.
    E-mail me on simonatkinson2003(at)

    [moderators note – to reduce the risk of your email being filled with spam I have munged the address slightly]


    March 28, 2009 at 4:16 pm

  26. Reply to Simon Atkinson, trolleybuses, unlike fossil/bio-fuel powered buses or even battery powered ones, do not face the problem of enegry storage, their power consupmtion is evenly spread over their use. They only requrie batteries for (limited) off wire maneuvers. If batteries were used for their full mileage, they would need to be recharged and discharged quite a lot, and eventually need to be replaced after a limited number of cycles, and the remaufacture and disposal also has enviromantal consequences.


    August 22, 2011 at 7:15 pm

  27. Trolleybuses in Beijing are thriving. The city has been converting diesel bus routes into trolleybus routes and has been doing so aggressively for the past few years.


    March 3, 2017 at 8:55 am

  28. […] example), or if electricity is unavailable (if there is an extended blackout, for example), or if extreme weather puts the trolley wires out of […]

  29. […] However, the continued operation of such clean, green and quiet public transit into the 21st century did not align with the vision of the then progressive city politicians of the late 1980s and 1990s. As one commentator wrote: […]

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