Stephen Rees's blog

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

A walk through a tunnel or two

with 31 comments

In got really lucky. I happened to be online when an email sent to all local members of the Institute of Transport Engineers came into my inbox. It was an invitation to a site visit to the Canada Line construction site under False Creek. There were a very limited number of places, and as I was one those who responded straight away I got on the tour.

Work is still continuing. Track is laid in only one of the tunnels, and there is no electrification yet. Work is currently busiest in the station boxes, but in general the project is actually ahead of schedule. I also understand that contrary to what may appear in some of my earlier pieces, there is capacity in the stations for three car trains, but initially they will all be two cars.

The engineers are of course all quite pumped to see the thing getting closer to completion. Actual constriction being much closer to their hearts than the long process of deciding what should be built and where. And of course int his case that process was rushed and not at all inclusive, and we could go on for days about what else could have been done. But what is being done now is impressive.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 26, 2008 at 6:43 pm

Posted in transit

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31 Responses

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  1. Stephen,

    I am really glad that you got to be there to document the event. Great stuff!

    By the way, at some point in the next few days I’ll be writing something about the re-opening of Cambie. If you don’t mind re-directing some of your traffic over to that particular post, that’d be awesome – particularly because (as you may know) I am quite interested in supporting the struggling businesses of Cambie.



    June 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

  2. Just to clarify: Which will fit, a train with three “regular” cars, or two regulars cars and a C car in the middle?


    June 27, 2008 at 6:16 am

  3. Considering that the 2-car train is 41 m long and the platforms are at most 50 m, I’d like to know the answer as well.


    June 27, 2008 at 8:59 am

  4. Stephen, thank you for the update. I am relieved to hear that the 50m platforms will be able to support a three-car train as-built. The 40m stations will need to their platforms extended but that was factored into their design just as SkyTrain platforms were designed to be extended to 100m at some time in their lives.

    I suspect that a three-car train would just be able to have its doors line up with the edges of the station platform while the rest of the train would project beyond the platform. This way three cars would be able to fit.

    I still think that the stations are absurdly small and the question still looms of who will decide that additional trains are required, who will pay for them, and how will the concessionarie contract be amended. I think all of that is a ‘we’ll cross that bridge…” situation.

    Once again, thanks for the photo update.

    David G

    June 27, 2008 at 10:53 am

  5. Raul

    I have put a link in your name and in your post so that people can find you blog easily, even if I miss that post

    Steve and Sungsu

    I am merely passing along what we were told yesterday by the SNC Lavalin engineer who lead the tour. One guess I could make is that you stop the train with the outermost doors at the edge of the paltform but some overhang – mainly the driver’s cab, in the tunnel. There are only two car trains at present and no non-driving centre cars as yet.

    Stephen Rees

    June 27, 2008 at 11:11 am

  6. Thanks for the pictures. Just to ask a geeky question- am I right in thinking the wagons are a kind of flat unit with the tubs resting on them rather like a container… And what track gauge are they?

    Sorry, train nerd…

    Andy in Germany

    June 27, 2008 at 12:05 pm

  7. Thanks for the pics.
    Based on photos of the existing trains (link below), the proximity of the doors to the head and tail would likely preclude the insertion of a 20m “C” car. The doors look to be at most 3m away from the head and tail. So if that part overhangs the platform, that leaves roughly 35 m between the first and last door – meaning that the “C” car may be more in the order of 15m at most.

    As an aside, Dallas recently added 10m “C” cars to their LRVs.

    Ron C.

    June 27, 2008 at 12:37 pm

  8. The three car trains (if any do operate) may have SDO or selective door opening at the 50 metre stations. It could very well mean that if a 3 car train operates on the light-metro the first doors in the leading and trailing car will not open, as they over hang the station platform.

    The real test for RAV is: “Will it attract 100,000 car drivers from their cars as claimed by Falcon, Ladner,etc.?”

    Malcolm J.

    June 27, 2008 at 4:17 pm

  9. It’s a pity that the Skytrain Canada Line is designed to have such short platforms. It would’ve been fine if the current 40m platforms can be extended to around 80m. However, with the design allowing only 10m extension to 50m is incredibly shortsighted, although I’m really glad that this project got off to a start in the first place (I live in Richmond so it’ll benefit me a lot. I mostly drive now but I’ll be using it a lot when this thing opens next year). The C-Line will serve Richmond’s population that is only around 2000-3000 less than Burnaby (and Burnaby has 2 Skytrain lines running through it!!) as well as a huge portion of Vancouver’s 600,000 people. So be sure to see massive overcrowding of stations within the next 10-15 years.

    Sometimes I wonder, even though the C-Line is only capable of extending to 50m, but if work is done in the future, is it possible to actually extend it a bit more to 60m? At least looking at the Bridgeport Station and a few others, it looks like this is possible. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch eh?

    Henry A.

    June 27, 2008 at 6:48 pm

  10. Another question: Is it possible that the single tracked sections south of Lansdowne be double-tracked by adding another single track stacked on top of the existing one (similar to Bangkok’s Skytrain)?

    Henry A.

    June 27, 2008 at 6:49 pm

  11. Very cool. Thanks for sharing the pictures. Though the project has created quite a mess for the city on the surface, it’s great to be able to peek into the engineering achievement underfoot.

    Todd Sieling

    June 28, 2008 at 9:55 am

  12. Henry

    The extension of underground station boxes will, I think, be prohibitively expensive. But if demand increases the way you project they could do a parallel line – on the surface to cut costs. Possibly along an existing right of way. So we might see trams to Steveston down Arbutus again before too long.

    Double decking seems even less likely than ripping down the existing single track stretch and replacing it with double track. Perhaps they will extend with a single track section left in place. Or a parallel track down Buswell or Minoru or something.

    Stephen Rees

    June 28, 2008 at 3:20 pm

  13. Just a note: RAV is not SkyTrain, it’s not even a Bombardier product. Bangkok’s SkyTrain is a Siemens product as SNC Lavalin went bankrupt when they tried to sell their newly acquired UTDC ALM (ALRT -SkyTrain) to the transit authority. Several proprietary elevated light-metro systems are called SkyTrain. It is a bit of an oxymoron to call an underground metro, SkyTrain!

    The silly thing about the $2.4 billion RAV is that, as built, it has less capacity than a much cheaper light rail operation on Arbutus!

    Malcolm J.

    June 28, 2008 at 6:14 pm

  14. Can someone confirm or dispel two rumours for me?

    1) The YVR line will open before the rest of the system operating as an airport people mover.

    2) It will be free to travel between stations on YVR island.

    Also, just an observation. It costs passengers $14 for the 18 minute train ride from Sydney airport to Sydney city centre. No wonder the thing is such a failure.


    June 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm

  15. RE: Henry A. said, on June 27th, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    While these are horrendously short platforms, it is important to note that with more trains (higher frequency) and with every platform expanded to 50-metres, the Canada Line is capable of reaching a capacity of 15,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd). That’s the capacity the Expo SkyTrain Line runs today, and that’s a lot of capacity for the Vancouver-Richmond corridor.

    I do think the trains will fill up and become packed quite quickly, particularly during rush hour, but the main concern should be platform crowding at some of the more busier stations (Waterfront, Vancouver City Centre, Yaletown Station during game nights, Broadway-City Hall, Oakridge-41st, Marine Drive, Bridgeport, and Richmond City Centre-Brighouse).

    It wouldn’t be a bad idea to install platform doors onto the Canada Line in the future, and it would be possible unlike SkyTrain which uses different car models.


    June 30, 2008 at 12:55 pm

  16. RE: Malcolm J. said, on June 28th, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Arbutus would’ve been a very poor choice when you look at ridership projections. Cambie was chosen for its centre location in the city. It’s also a shorter route, and it has employment and attractions that can help raise ridership.

    On Cambie, you have Central Broadway, City Hall, VGH, City Square, Children’s Hospital, a future hospital and major unannounced condo tower developments at 33rd Avenue, Oakridge Mall and its redevelopment and the area’s densification, and Langara College.

    On Arbutus, all you have is the western tip of Central Broadway and Kerrisdale and that’s it. In the distant future, Arbutus is much more suitable for a streetcar/LRT line that will complement the Canada Line.

    Destinations along a transit line are a huge factor for ridership.

    The Cambie route is also shorter – 25-minutes from terminus to terminus compared to the Arbutus route’s 31-minutes.

    And as for cost, the Canada Line is pegged at $2.05-billion….NOT $2.4-billion. An elevated line down Arbutus would have cost around $1.5-1.6-billion, not cheap either and only marginally less expensive than the Canada Line.


    June 30, 2008 at 1:02 pm

  17. RE: Shane said, on June 30th, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    1) Not likely. It’s not part of the contract with InTransitBC, and it costs money to program the automated train control system which would then require reprogramming when the entire line goes into operation.

    2) Yes, it will be free to travel between stations on YVR island.

    I personally do think the Canada Line will be a huge success. While I do think the 100,000-ridership figure is a bit optimistic for the first year in operation, I do think they will attain that within 3-5 years. It takes time for the public to get used to the line…..I’d say they’ll open with ~70,000 in December 2009.


    June 30, 2008 at 1:08 pm

  18. I forgot to mention in my first post, that when the Canada Line opens in 2009 with its 20 trains it will run a capacity of around 8,000 pphpd….similar to the current operating capacity of the Millennium Line.


    June 30, 2008 at 1:10 pm

  19. I stand to be corrected but to answer your questions:

    #1) Could be, as an demonstration line. The Expo Line ran a short 1 KM. shuttle along Terminal Ave. in 1985.

    #2) Yes, with a premium fare levied when the train reaches Casino Junction in Richmond. The rumor is YVR is planning to build 2 or 3 massive parking pods.

    Malcolm J.

    June 30, 2008 at 1:27 pm

  20. I was at River Rock the other day – the Canada Line station is dwarfed – and hidden – by the massive parking structure River Rock is building. Is it going to be used as a park and ride too?

    As for YVR, I believe they are moving the car rentals to Templeton station – so perhaps those are the parking pods you are hearing about.


    June 30, 2008 at 1:52 pm

  21. Ken in the first of his messages mentioned “higher frequency”, but there is a very significant constraint imposed by the single track section from Lansdowne to Brighouse. This will ensure that on the Richmond branch the interval between trains can be no shorter than the time it takes for a train to get to the end of the line, unload, reload and then return to Lansdowne.

    In the current period there are also not enough trains to run a frequent service on a short turn basis. The number on order was cut back to fit within the budget.

    Stephen Rees

    June 30, 2008 at 3:05 pm

  22. RE: Malcolm J. said, on June 30th, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    1) It certainly is possible, but I highly doubt it. You have to consider that Expo SkyTrain was basically built as a public showcase….and of course, it’s a publicly run line. The Canada Line on the other hand will be operated by InTransitBC, which is looking to make money on the line. Opening the airport’s ~5-km segment early isn’t a money maker, nor is it part of the contract and it will only cost the operator more money.

    2) The area around Templeton Station around Sea Island is being compacted right now for a massive parking lot (i’m not sure but i think it’s the airport’s new long-term parking), office buildings, and perhaps some check-in facilities.


    June 30, 2008 at 3:30 pm

  23. RE: Shane said, on June 30th, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Yes, the massive parking lot being built right now at Bridgeport Station is a park and ride. There’s something like 1,400 spaces. Translink handed the project off to River Rock Casino as a public-private project. In exchange, the parking lot will be converted for casino-goers to use at night and a park and ride facility during the day.


    June 30, 2008 at 3:33 pm

  24. RE: Stephen Rees said, on June 30th, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Yes, it’s true that the 640-metre single-track segments at the end of the YVR and Richmond segments will limit the highest frequency possible…..but it’s still possible to reach relatively high frequencies even with those single-track segments, though not as high as SkyTrain’s peak frequency of 90 secs (max. design frequency of 45 secs).

    With more trains (even with single-tracking in Richmond and YVR), they can run the Richmond and YVR segments with a maximum frequency of about every 2-3.5 minutes (Vancouver’s frequency would be about 60-90 secs)….which is a huge improvement from the planned Richmond/YVR 2009 peak frequency of 7 min 20 secs.

    It is also possible to short-turn trains at Bridgeport, so that the Waterfront-Bridgeport segment would have a even higher frequency.

    If worse comes to worst, they could always double-track the single-track segments…..and I’m sure a few decades down the road, probably in 35 years when the operating concessionaire ends, we’ll spend a few billion to expand the station platforms beyond 50-metres. Afterall, aren’t we spending more than $3-billion to upgrade and extend the Expo Line? By then, the Canada Line would need an aesthetic facelift anyway.

    They’ll probably order more trains within the next decade….I’m not sure who would be responsible though, but it should be InTransitBC afterall the deal was for a line with a 15,000 pphpd capacity.

    You’re right though, with 20 trains they can only use 18 at the most (remaining two as backups). 18 trains in operation gives a max. frequency of 3 mins 10 secs from Waterfront to Bridgeport and 6 mins 20 secs from Bridgeport to Richmond Centre and Bridgeport to YVR.


    June 30, 2008 at 3:50 pm

  25. I’ve been pretty disappointed with the Canada line for a while now, but I’m starting to get excited about it.

    I’m so glad to hear about the ability to extend the platforms – although in the early days, the Project office told me that the only scalability was through increasing headways with more trains.

    It also works out rather well to have the trains from YVR arrive at Bridgeport near empty to accommodate those arriving on the express coaches from the southern ‘burbs. For them, it will be like the empty shuttle train arriving at Broadway in the AM peak.

    By the way – a special thanks to SkyTrain control for that innovative thinking – certainly not something any surface light rail line could accommodate without being built that way to begin with.

    Now, I standby and wait for MJ’s reply 🙂


    June 30, 2008 at 3:58 pm

  26. ^ well, just for you to know, quite a few stations will have 50-metre platforms when the line opens in 2009: Waterfront, City Centre, Yaletown, Broadway-City Hall (i think), Oakridge-41st, Brighouse-Richmond City Centre, and YVR Airport.

    I think it was a poor decision not to have 50-metre platforms to Bridgeport and Marine Drive Stations to start with….given that Bridgeport will be the new terminus for the suburban buses and Marine Drive Station being the new terminus of the Arbutus, Granville, Oak, Cambie, and Main routes.

    In the long-run, it won’t be that difficult to extend the elevated and at-grade station platforms beyond 50-metres…..but it’ll certainly be a challenge for the underground stations, given the tunnel fans and other electrical equipment located at the ends of the stations.


    June 30, 2008 at 4:15 pm

  27. […] Check out the full posting, along with photos of the work in progress, here. […]

  28. Quote from Malcolm J.’s post:

    “Just a note: RAV is not SkyTrain, it’s not even a Bombardier product. Bangkok’s SkyTrain is a Siemens product as SNC Lavalin went bankrupt when they tried to sell their newly acquired UTDC ALM (ALRT -SkyTrain) to the transit authority. Several proprietary elevated light-metro systems are called SkyTrain. It is a bit of an oxymoron to call an underground metro, SkyTrain! The silly thing about the $2.4 billion RAV is that, as built, it has less capacity than a much cheaper light rail operation on Arbutus!”

    The Canada Line should still be considered and a part of the Skytrain network and be branded as such. First, Richmond and YVR’s section of the line is elevated, just like the majority of E/M-lines. Second, branding the Canada Line as Skytrain gives Vancouver’s rapid transit system a much more unified look, feel and organization, and it’ll be less confusing to commuters and tourists alike. Even if Canada Line is branded separately, most people, like myself will still call the Canada Line “Skytrain” regardless.

    The term “Skytrain” should NOT be limited to the Bombardier product.

    Henry A.

    July 2, 2008 at 10:45 pm

  29. ^ the term/name “SkyTrain” is licensed by BC Transit, and really, “SkyTrain” is the name of our metro system……just like how New York has its subway or London with its Underground and Hong Kong with its MTR.

    I couldn’t agree more with you. The majority will still be calling it SkyTrain…

    …and personally, I find the whole blue/green colour scheme a poor choice when it’s called Canada Line (which btw is a horrific name, could’ve gone better with “Olympic Line” just like how we named our first rapid transit line the “Expo Line” after the 1986 fair). The Canada Line would connect Richmond and Waterfront while the “Airport Line” would’ve connected YVR with Waterfront.

    Being called the “Canada Line”, you’d think they would have gone with a red colour scheme and think about the region’s metro system rather than creating a separate corporate brand. I wonder where this leaves the Evergreen Line, the blue/green colour scheme would’ve been perfect for it.


    July 2, 2008 at 11:39 pm

  30. Malcolm, Skytrain for a partially underground line makes as much sense as London Underground for a system with large segments at-grade. It’s a generic name for the system. I’ll bet that if the Evergreen Line had been built as LRT, people would also have called it Skytrain too – it was to have some elevated portions.

    I would have preferred two names for the Cnaada Line – that would be consistent with the interlined Millennium Line and Expo Line. The Canada Line is really two interlined routes. I would have named the Richmond route the “Olympic Line” – since Richmond does have olympic facilities, and the YVR route the “Canada Line” since it connects two federal undertakings – the Port of Vancouver and YVR.

    Ron C.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:55 am

  31. I think the Everegreen Line would adopt the standard Translink colours since it’ll probably be operated as an interlined service – i.e. an extension of the M-Line.

    Ron C.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:56 am

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