Stephen Rees's blog

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

Want One Port Mann Bridge, or a Light Rail Metropolis?

with 12 comments

The Tyee

When I spoke in Surrey recently at the NDP/ Bus drivers’ union transit forum, I did not use PowerPoint. But there was one image I wanted to use and this is it

 region could be transformed for $3.1 billion

region could be transformed for $3.1 billion

The diagram was created by Patrick Condon and Kari Dow, and it shows the amount of light rail system you could buy for the same price as the freeway widening and the replacement Port Mann Bridge. (By the way the province just gave itself an environmental certificate for that project on the grounds that “there will not likely be any  significant adverse effects”)

If half of the roughly 40 million annual trips anticipated for the new bridge were shifted to such a tram system, it would amount to a reduction of the roughly 10,000 metric tons of GHG per year, a reduction equivalent to taking more than 21,000 cars off Lower Mainland roads completely.

…while building a bigger Port Mann Bridge reinforced commuting patterns in the region, building a robust light rail network likely would change how development occurs in the region, eventually shortening commutes as businesses elect to locate at various new public transit nodes.

“The Port Mann project is propelled forward by assumptions that are 20 years out of date. Commuting patterns are changing rapidly. The commute from Surrey to downtown Vancouver is relatively rare and getting even rarer each day. Jobs continue to move closer to housing all across the eastern part of the metropolis. What is needed is a system that gets us out of the car and serves our emerging complete communities, not guts them,” said Condon.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 25, 2009 at 8:26 am

Posted in Gateway, Light Rail

12 Responses

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  1. Where did the unit cost for light rail come from? Is the $15.5 million/km realistic? This is less than one third of the cost of the latest extension in Portland. Don

    Don Buchanan

    March 25, 2009 at 3:25 pm

  2. Comparing light rail costs in different places is very tricky. How long is a piece of string? The range of costs for light rail is very wide indeed, depending on a number of factors but mostly the degree to which it is a separate right of way and the way that is achieved

    Stephen Rees

    March 25, 2009 at 3:35 pm

  3. The base cost for LRT or a tramway is about $6 million/km., including track and overhead – not cars.

    The more engineering required, such as underground services relocation, culverts, etc., drives up construction costs. Add in cars and maintenance facilities and the per km. cost again increases.

    Seattle’s streetcar costs about $50 million a mile, but it is just slightly over a mile long! So if the line was, say, 5 miles, the cost would be a more realistic $15 mil. (including cars) per mile.

    Of course, by putting LRT on a viaduct or in a tunnel, greatly increases costs and the LRT, defacto, becomes a light-metro, with costs equal to that of SkyTrain.

    A ‘reserved rights-of-way’, using (as an example) King George Highway, would be quite cheap $5 mil./km. to $10 mil./km., (without cars) while going ‘Greenfields’ could cost double or triple the cost. Of course using the existing Southern R.R ROW (Interurban), could see costs as low as $2 million/km. to $5 mil./km.

    Portland’s newest extension has a lot of engineering works, including bridges and viaducts, so it doesn’t surprise me that the costs are higher. Also, American costs may be the total cost, including debt servicing over a 40 to 50 year period. One has to be careful in comparing ‘Vancouver’ transit costs with “American ‘transit’ costs and miles are used in the USA, not km. here.

    I was stunned by the cost of Seattle’s new LRT, which in fact is a light-metro, until I was told that the cost was based on the total cost over a 50 year period and were not the direct costs. We do not know SkyTrain’s total costs, the taxpayer is not privileged to know this information.


    March 25, 2009 at 4:24 pm

  4. zweisystem – very informative rundown, thank you.

    The map is used to illustrate a point, but on what basis is it prepared? That was my question when I first saw the map.


    March 26, 2009 at 8:50 am

  5. Total projected cost for the Downtown Streetcar here in Vancouver work out to $20 million/km.

    One extension (I forget which) is around $26 million/km, with others being much lower.


    March 26, 2009 at 10:03 am

  6. The problem with streetcar planning in Vancouver is that the Engineering dept. uses on-street LRT as a tool to hide their ongoing street and utilities repair costs.

    Around 1998 (or there abouts and I have the study somewhere), the City and TransLink put the costs of LRT built on Broadway, at $50 million per km.! This cost also included a major sewer rebuild and a massive street scape change, all lumped onto the cost of building LRT.

    One transit expert who worked for ABB at the time told me that putting LRT down Broadway could be done much cheaper, using a ‘slab’ track formation. I believe ‘slab’ track construction was used in Helsinki.

    ‘Slab’ track is prepoured concrete track components (not unlike sectional toy train tracks), that could be fitted in place quite easily at far less cost than tearing up the entire street, laying track and repaving. One would only need to cut out small sections at a time, then lay the ‘slab’ track.

    He said the because Vancouver’s streets were long and straight, slab track would be a very useful tool for reducing track construction costs.

    Malcolm J.

    March 26, 2009 at 10:24 am

  7. Sounds like the precast slabs are similar to post-tensioned concrete segments used for viaducts.

    Here’s a thread at UrbanToronto on the St. Clair Ave. streetcar right-of-way construction (these pages have good photos):

    That last page has this photo of what lies under their streetcar tracks. Not sure what the conduits are for, maybe lighting for shelters, but in theory those could be fed from the side of the road and don’t need to follow the tracks unless it is an independent system?

    Ron C.

    March 26, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  8. Ron C. very very interesting post..
    Have a look at I have some photos of my own but no idea how to post them on this thread.
    In Europe, at least in France, the cost of a LRT is given for the tracks, vehicles, service sheds etc. only. Whatever money is spent on re-routing utilities, changing streets to accommodate the trams, cleaning up all the buildings along the tram routes and, in many cases, doing archeological digs, is not included as most of it would have to be done anyway at one time or another.

    Red frog

    March 26, 2009 at 10:00 pm

  9. In France, one third of the cost for new tramway’s is for ‘environmental’ projects adjacent to the line. This includes lawned rights-of-ways, parks, shrubbery, bike lanes and sculptures. And still some extensions come in under $20 million/km.

    Malcolm J.

    March 27, 2009 at 5:21 am

  10. Maybe due to the newer infrastructure in North American cities, the rerouting of utilities, sewer and water mains is a “wouldn’t be required (in the near future) ‘but for’ the construction of the transit line” – so the cost is considered part of the transit project. It would also depend on the agencies involved and the funding available to them and timing of that funding.

    I think that some “local improvements” (neighbourhood beautification) are considered municipal projects. The City of Vancouver sponsored workshops and open housing regarding “station precincts”.
    On the other hand, some neighbourhood improvements are transit project sponsored, such as the Sapperton Landing park built in association with the M-Line and the BC Parkway bikepath built with the Expo Line.

    Ron C.

    March 27, 2009 at 1:14 pm

  11. In Vancouver don’t we call this stuff “neighbourhood integration” work?


    March 27, 2009 at 2:52 pm

  12. Global TV is about to run a story on Condon’s report. Fantastic!


    March 27, 2009 at 5:17 pm

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