Stephen Rees's blog

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

Streetcar of Sam’s desire on track

with 25 comments

Vancouver Sun

I am beginning to get a real dislike of the subs at the Sun. Anyway, the idea is to borrow a couple of Brussels streetcars from Bombardier and refurbish the old CP track along South False Creek currently used by TRAMS to run their heritage interurban cars at weekends. The cost is $8.5m for a 60 day demonstration. And of course the spiffy new track and passing loop will be there for the continued operation of the old cars afterwards and one day, maybe, could be part of the City’s downtown streetcar line, which has been on their wish list since long before Sam took over.

Bombardier Flexity in Frankfurt

Bombardier Flexity in Frankfurt

For 1.8 km for Granville Island to Olympic Village Canada Line station that is a very expensive project. No doubt Malcolm will chip in with comparative details of other places that manage to do things cheaper. The tracks were, of course, never part of Vancouver’s streetcar or interurban systems – and are currently prevented by a city approved Starbucks from linking up to the Arbutus line (which is still in place on the whole). That may or may not have been a strategic decision on their part but, once the Canada Line got under way, they did speculate on local streetcars for Arbutus. Just not at the price CP wanted for the right of way. Apparently the creme de la creme would quite like a tram of their own to ride on as long as those oiks from Richmond did not get to ride through their exclusive neighborhood.

Anyway this is one of the few Olympic projects I am in favour of, and I will stay in town for long enough to snap some pics of it once they get it going.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 1, 2008 at 10:30 am

25 Responses

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  1. Of course Bombardier. That said, I like the look of those vehicles a lot, although I know little about their service record. I do find it odd that ‘only’ $100 million is required for this project, and yet the will of senior levels of government is completely lacking when compared with a hugely more expensive project like the Canada Line.


    October 1, 2008 at 10:48 am

  2. From the council report:

    “HMM conducted a full rail safety inspection of the existing DHR track along this corridor and has advised the City that a minimum of $2.3 million should be allocated to repair and
    rehabilitate the track in order continue operation of the DHR. Although past practice has been to do minimum maintenance for the existing DHR track given its limited seasonal operations, this is no longer considered to be sufficient given the conditions noted during this recent more detailed assessment. HMM’s recommendation is to completely rebuild this section of track with new tie and ballast infrastructure at a cost above these minimum requirements.”

    “… Preliminary engineering work indicates that a complete replacement of the single DHR track with new tie and ballast infrastructure and stations which would accommodate the operation of the DHR and/or a modern streetcar service would cost approximately $8.5 million.”

    At the same meeting in March, Council approved spending up to $1 million on safeguarding the 1st Avenue alignment east of Olympic Village station and FWIW, “planning include integration with a possible future streetcar route along the Arbutus corridor.”


    October 1, 2008 at 11:29 am

  3. The Flexity cars are a good design of modular LRV and have a good service record, certainly a step up from the wee Skoda trams that are now in favour in the USA. A modular car, for those not familiar with the term, is a set design of LRV with several sets of ‘modules’ that a customer can pick to meet the needs of a particular transit line. Modules include high capacity, with few seats allowing more standees; standard, with 2 X 2 seating; saloon with no doors; and more. There is also a tram/train version would would work on the the old Chilliwack Line.

    With modular cars, capacity can be increased by adding a new module, which is much cheaper than buying new cars. Strasbourg’s ‘Jumbo’ modular car has a capacity of 350 persons, which is more than a 4 car Mk.1 SkyTrain set.

    Bombardier took advantage with their sales of the Flexity, when Siemens Combino’s came to grief with metal fatigue problems (now rectified). Alstom and the Swiss company Stadler LRV are also produce very competitive trams (the term streetcar is never used in Europe) and Ansaldo of Italy is also gaining sales. In the USA, Japanese LRV manufactures are also in favour.

    As for the $8.5 million price tag, that includes (probably air delivered) transport of the vehicles, track renewals, maintenance and wages. Comparisons with other transit lines are not applicable. Seattle’s wee streetcar line cost about $50 million a mile!!!!

    The only drawback is that the demonstration line is out of the way and many in Vancouver will not even know its operating, except for brief glimpses on Main St. or 4th Ave. and 60 days is far too short to make any real impression. Too bad because this is about as close to 21st century transportation Vancouver will have.

    I do wish it good luck.

    A note: This is the same sort of car that the TTC said was ‘non compliant’ with their new LRV order. I wonder why?

    Malcolm J.

    October 1, 2008 at 11:30 am

  4. I think the reluctance to finance the streetcar is because it duplicates existing services and the money could be spent to improve transit service in areas with poorer transit service than downtown Vancouver. The major destinations on the line will be Granville Island and eventually Stanley Park. Each of the other areas served by the line are also served by faster rapid transit (Olympic Village Station, Main Street Staion, Yaletown Roundhouse Station, Stadium Station and Waterfront Station). Riders won’t ride the slow streetcar from Granville Island to Waterfront or to Yaletown when they can transfer to the Canada Line.
    Ultimately, I see the streetcar as a feeder line to the rapid transit lines (other than the Granville Island and Stanley Park segments), and arguably, the spacing of the rapid transit stations allows walking to those stations without the need for a feeder streetcar (i.e. Main Street Station and Olympic Village Station are both walking distance from Southeast False Creek; Gastown is walking distance from Waterfront Station).
    I can see the Arbutus Line eventually being built as full at-grade LRT once the Canada Line reaches capacity.

    Ron C.

    October 1, 2008 at 11:33 am

  5. I hate to say this and I find it very amusing, that a streetcar operating on the Arbutus Corridor would be in fact Light Rail! it is the rights-of-way that today, define what is LRT or what is a streetcar. Of course in Europe, they don’t have distinction of tram or LRT; where in the USA, planners are trying to invent one!.

    Malcolm J.

    October 1, 2008 at 11:36 am

  6. Streetcars, acting as feeder lines to rapid transit, will fail. In an age where the seamless (no-transfer) journey is the great philosophers stone of transit planners, I find it odd that locals have not grasped the importance of the seamless journey.

    Streetcars are LRT, only operate on-street, with little or no segregation from traffic and minimal signal priority at intersections is still about 10% faster, cheaper to operate, and attract more customers than buses. Again, locals compare 1940’s or 50’s streetcar data for 21st century transit planning. Please note well – who buys SkyTrain? Why do most transit operators buy LRT? The former is a dated elevated railway, while the former has the cutting edge of transit development.

    The RAV/Canada Line will never reach capacity, because it is so poorly planned and built, as is the antithesis of good transit planning. Forced transfers will deter ridership and the ease for auto traffic to access Vancouver, makes RAV a poor choice. I think one will see trams/streetcars using the RAV subway before the metro even comes close to operate at capacity.

    Malcolm J.

    October 1, 2008 at 11:51 am

  7. Since the streetcar duplicates the destinations of the faster rapid transit routes, maybe its consequential role as a feeder to the rapid transit lines is the reason that more financial backers are not on board. Maybe a starter line circulating around the West End or downtown penninsula would have been a better first step.

    Ron C.

    October 1, 2008 at 12:32 pm

  8. I didn’t see the ticket cost mentioned anywhere. Please tell me it’s a free…


    October 1, 2008 at 1:03 pm

  9. Just my opinion/observations, but I think there are many cities today in Europe (and a few in N.A. perhaps) with trams where people will voluntarily take the tram over a subway. The migration of young and (relatively) wealthy people to the downtown cores of many cities in recent years isn’t just about convenience; it is also about improving the experiential aspects of one’s life, and enjoying everything that urbanism has to offer.

    From this perspective, taking a tram to the same place a subway like RAV would go is the winner hands down. Riders can easily hop on or off anywhere along the route to do what urbanites do most often – peruse shops, grab a coffee, or just enjoy the ambience of a particularly nice part of their city. In short, do what city dwellers do.

    Subways, on the other hand, require a decent amount of effort to get to, usually have a rather dark/dank atmosphere, and while faster, have fewer stops at which to attract riders. If, as you seem to believe Stephen, that attracting riders is about providing a quality experience, then I very much doubt that a tram – coupled with an attractive urban environment – will fail to attract ridership. (This argument is not directed at Stephen btw)

    I attended Jan Gehl’s talk in Richmond a while back, and this was the point he made. Yes, it may be faster and more comfortable to go by car, but as an urban experience in a quality environment? No competition – the bicycle/walking wins every time. I tend to believe that a tram would offer the same.


    October 1, 2008 at 1:23 pm

  10. I guess one could argue that at the same time people are moving downtown to improve the experiential aspect of their lives, suburbia and the car based lifestyle has largely failed to provide this same thing.

    I would argue that Skytrain/Canada Line have as well. Like Malcolm says, 21st century transportation is an adjunct of land use, and is based on providing a quality customer experience – of which the urban area it’s based in is an integral part. Every mode apart from walking/biking and trams fail to provide this, and account for the popularity of urban spaces that provide users with these options.


    October 1, 2008 at 1:32 pm

  11. Malcolm

    The TTC said the flexity non-compliant as they doubted its ability to negotiate the extremely tight curves on their system. Bombardier disagreed.

    Stephen Rees

    October 1, 2008 at 1:54 pm

  12. Stephen, I find it odd that the TTC would use such an excuse. The Flexity, is designed to operate on metre gauge routes (Halle Germany) and their tighter curvatures. Though I am very critical of SkyTrain, Bombardier’s Flexity is a good product and operating on the right route, raise some eyebrows with the heavy rail crowd, especially all low-floor LRV’s.

    If the PCC’s and later CLRV’s could negotiate such tight curvature, I would expect the Flexity, as well as the Combino, the Citadis, or the Tango, could as well.

    It’s all very strange.

    Malcolm J.

    October 1, 2008 at 2:16 pm

  13. I thought I read that Bombardier’s own data suggested that one flexity trainset would not be able to push another disabled trainset up the TTC’s steepest hill?


    October 2, 2008 at 1:54 am

  14. The industry standard for grades is 8%, with stronger motors and with all axles powered trams can climb 10% grades (Sheffield) and the steepest grades for trams is in Lisbon 13.8% grades.

    Under EEC guidelines a tram must be able to stop and start, fully loaded, on the steepest grade (in Sheffield, the steepest station is on a 9% grade) on the line. Nowhere is there a demand that a train-set be able to push a disabled train-set up a grade.

    With modular cars, vehicles do not operate in train-sets at all, rather to increase capacity, they just lengthen the car. The Strasbourg’s ‘Jumbo’s’ are long enough to handle 350 persons!

    I think that the TTC, should start planning for the 21st century, because I doubt any of the tram suppliers could meet that demand!

    Malcolm J.

    October 2, 2008 at 7:37 am

  15. I may have told you this before, but during the early part of the “process” to evaluate what was then called the RAV line, the project office insisted that they would not consider any grade steeper than 6%. They hoped that this would end discussion of on street LRT, due to the grade at 12th and Cambie. A quick click on the city’s web apge showed that the average grade was actually less than 6% – and of course I gave them pictures of old Lisbon trams going up grades twice as steep.

    But as with all projects run by the province, no alternatives were ever properly looked at.

    Stephen Rees

    October 2, 2008 at 8:23 am

  16. Forgive me, a true story.

    During the the early part of the RAV debate, when Tim Louis was a Vancouver City councillor, he sent me an email concerning the grades on Cambie and the grades LRT could climb, as the city engineer claimed that LRT could not climb the Cambie St. Grade.

    Within minutes, I emailed my contact in Sheffield UK, concerning LRT and grades.

    Within an hour, my contact in Sheffield, who worked for Siemens and the Sheffield Passenger Transport Executive, sent me all the details of Sheffield trams and their ability to climb 10% grades. All information was sent to Councillor Louis who forwarded them to The City Engineer, Dave Rudburg.

    Less than 30 minutes later, Councillor Louis sent me another email saying that the city engineer claimed that the Cambie St. grade (6% – 7%) was too steep for a station.

    Another quick email to Sheffield and an equally quick reply with a photo showing a station/stop in Sheffield on a 9% grade and information (which has been posted earlier) about the ability of LRT to stop and start on steep grades. I quickly forwarded the email to Councillor Louis, who forwarded to the city engineer.

    Later in the day, I again received an email from Councillor Louis, stating that the city engineer did not want LRT.

    Malcolm J.

    October 2, 2008 at 10:02 am

  17. I recall reading that the CITY wanted nothing to do with an in-street LRT on Smithe/Nelson and Granville Steet downtown.

    While the Cambie grade itself may be 6-7%, the installation of a platform (at Broadway, a required station) necessitates that the grade on either side of the station be steeper, due to the relatively level stretch of platform track (and the length of the platform would impact steepness on either side – i.e. the Canada Line essentially follows the contours of the hill except at stations). I recall seeing a evaluation proposal that suggested that an LRT would have an elevated platform above Broadway and then return to grade, although the same could be done underground. While you have provided an example of a platform having a grade of 9%, I seriousy doubt that that would be complaint with handicapped-accessible standards. I do understand, however, that the Canada Line platforms will have a slight grade to them (you can see it on some of the renderings).

    Ron C.

    October 2, 2008 at 12:42 pm

  18. Note: if a tram stop, on a 9% grade is compliant with British and EEC health and safety rules for the mobility impaired, I would see no problem here, where our rules are weaker.

    I also suggest that if Vancouver wants subways instead of on-street LRT, the Vancouver taxpayer pay the difference.

    Malcolm J.

    October 2, 2008 at 3:20 pm

  19. Nothing to do with imposed rules, Malcolm. This is a self imposed policy – that all rail platforms are to be straight and level. This is, as usual, a demonstration of ‘the best being the enemy of the good’. A similar policy means most bus stops in the region will never get the “accessible” sticker.

    Stephen Rees

    October 2, 2008 at 3:49 pm

  20. Accessibility standards originate from the BC Building Code and the Canadian Standards Association, and are applied broadly to indoor and outdoor construction.

    The maximum slope on any surface for pedestrians, including those with disabilities, is 8%. Many designers aim for less if space permits, because 8% is very tough on elderly or infirm people using non-motorized wheelchairs or other manual equipment. The slope for pedestrian ramps must be broken every 10 metres by a level platform. Other rules apply regarding handrails, minimum doorway widths, etc.

    To suggest a 9% transit station platform slope is possible is absolutely ludicrous! That means one end of an 80 metre platform would be 7.2 metres (24 feet)lower than the other. The 40m Canada Line platforms would be 3.6m (12 feet) higher on one end. In both cases, injuries, deaths and lawsuits would prevail.

    To suggest that a platform sloped at 9% results from “weaker rules” than our 8% standard is completely wrong. In such a case our standard is stronger, not weaker. But NO standard would allow anyting but the smallest fraction of a slope (perhaps 1/2 of one percent, if that) on ANY station platform, regardless of the slope of the inboud and outbound tracks between stations.

    This is the main thing that bugs me about many of these discussions on train techie talk. Lots of words fly around from armchair engineers/financiers, but few have any idea what it’s like to build anything, least of all in challenging conditions. Some comments lead mne to conclude that quality of service and public safety are eagerly binned in the zeal to make a point how cheaply light rail can be built. This really detracts from an otherwise intelligent conversation.

    Apparently Ron knows a thing or two about accessibility and the implications of design, like the impacts of grades on station platforms.


    October 3, 2008 at 11:44 am

  21. So do the British and EEC Health and Safety regulators, which H & S rules are at a higher standard than our own. In a perfect world with lots of money, we can build subways with level platforms everywhere, but we don’t and to shovel our precious transit dollars into one or two showcase transit lines, which boast level platforms, means high quality transit is available to only a few and mostly in Vancouver.

    The 6% grades adjacent to Broadway could easily accommodate LRT and platforms and to use the excuse of ‘the need of level platforms is judicious.

    What I see is the anti-LRT crowd at it again, splitting hairs to reject light rail. You rather have Gateway highways and bridges and of course more cars because we can’t afford to keep building with SkyTrain. 2012 will bring this singular fact home with a vengeance when Translink either goes bankrupt or massive new taxes are added.

    Without a final design for a tram station on Cambie St., all this light rail nay-saying is without foundation.

    Malcolm J.

    October 3, 2008 at 12:40 pm

  22. I wouldn’t call proposing a 9% slope on a station platform “splitting hairs.” The idea wouldn’t survive the first cut in the engineer’s review, let alone make to the development permit application. You can have a 100% slope (45 degrees) on an incline railway, but level station platforms are a basic requirement.

    Your continuous fallback anti-LRT conspiracy argument doesn’t wash with Stephen’s readers, and is really quite laughable. This writer is a very strong advocate of public transit and sees great potential for light rail on many road alignments like Kingsway, Arbutus corridor, 41st Ave and King George Highway, and linking every suburb and city that can withstand rising seas together (I really like the Flexity trains introduced in Porto, Portugal). But not with stupid ideas like grossly sloped station platforms and budgets that are so low that people get killed because some beancounter cut the safety features, proper design integration with pedestrian environments, and maintenance.

    Lastly, here’s an idea for the dense Broadway corridor. Consultants could put together two distinct and very detailed graphic and written packages for public display, one for surface light rail, the other for a bored tube. Either would be built to the highest standards. Invite public comment and evaluation submissions on both options, and book several open house meetings along Broadway over several weeks. Then give residents within 1 km of the corridor and users (like UBC students and staff) a vote on which one they prefer. Guarantee the process would be completely open, and that the people, not the politicians or bureacrats, would have the fimal say.

    As one who has lived near or in the Broadway corridor for decades, I could put my biases aside and live with the results which would stem from an especially democratic process.

    Could you?


    October 3, 2008 at 1:27 pm

  23. I’m not an expert – that was just “common sense” talking. Even “funiculars” up steep hillsides have platforms that are stepped into separate level platforms.

    Side Note: The City wanted a separate elevator at Cambie & 10th for access to the Broadway Station ticketing concourse because the sidewalk slope was too steep to be convenient for wheelchairs to access the main entrance on Broadway from the south. That’s what reinforced to me that the slope on Cambie (6-7%?) was too steep. Not sure if the elevator is being built, or not, but pictures show a structure at 10th Ave – could be for an elevator or ventilation.

    Ron C.

    October 3, 2008 at 2:10 pm

  24. Let us ban all cities on mountain sides or hills and only allow housing on flat (farmland?) land. Unfortunately this is not going to happen and people live where they please and go where they please. A city can’t be 100% accessible to everyone. Until recently, even the mighty Skytrain wasn’t 100% accessible by the mobility impaired.

    The real problem is money and the lack there of to do what should be done. To have a 100% accessible transit line including platforms, etc., in a subway means for the vast majority, an inferior transit service because most of the money was spent on one deluxe transit line.

    One stop, on a 6% to 7% grade, forcing the investment in a $2.5 billion subway translates to over $1.5 billion not spent on other transit concerns.

    Now what could $1.5 billion buy? One BCIT to UBC LRT service and a rail link from Vancouver to Chilliwack.

    With the financial rumblings from down south getting ever closer to Lotus land, I’m afraid economic reality is going to hit us sooner, rather than later, leaving many wondering that gold-plated metro systems were not the best choice for transit in the region.

    Malcolm J.

    October 4, 2008 at 6:45 am

  25. The problem was never, is not now, and never will be, a lack of public funds for transportation.

    The problem is the allocation of funds to car-centric infrastructure over everything else. I’m not sure of the exact proportion, but it’s something like 80%-85% for cars, the rest for everything else in Metro Vancouver. The fact we have an annual subsidy of about $2,700 per Lower Mainland car is one of the most important tells regarding the size of this disparity.

    The fact the allotment for transit has historically been a pittance is a matter of political ineptitude and ideology. It is truly shameful that transit — regardless of mode — is always scrapping for crumbs and cannot guarantee 100% (universal) accessibility from the start.


    October 6, 2008 at 12:24 pm

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