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

Archive for July 8th, 2009

Port Metro Vancouver steams ahead

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Globe and Mail

This story appears in the paper’s real estate section – and shows how the region’s land use strategy is being ripped apart by the port. The people who run the new combined port do not report to anyone. Like the airport they are a publicly created agency but there is absolutely no oversight or control by any level of government. While nominally federal, the government of Canada now takes little interest in their activities, and there is absolutely no local or regional input. Metro has expressed its concern about the Port buying up agricultural land in Richmond, but it might just as well have saved its breath. Expansion is going ahead – even though there is currently no need for any expansion – traffic is down – but the port is confident it will recover.

It does not matter if the people of this region decide that they want to live in a place that has long term sustainability – or even livability. Because the port has decided that its interest is best served by expansion and they will do that no matter what. The tail is now wagging the dog – because both the PM and the provincial Premier have bought into the notion that the port will lead economic growth.

No one at the port (or either level of government it seems) is able to grasp the reality that continued economic growth cannot be pursued indefinitely on a finite planet. That the present economic dislocation is not simply a temporary set back in a trajectory of expansion – but a result of the fundamental flaws  of recent economic and political strategies. Capitalism has failed as badly as communism. The earth cannot support the way the rich countries now live – and which the developing countries wish to emulate. The carrying capacity in many important respects has already been exceeded. The temperature of the planet is increasing – and doing so more rapidly than anyone cared to acknowledge until recently. The growth that we have seen was predicated on lots of cheap oil – and we no longer have that. We are rapidly running out of fish – and a lot humans depend on fish for their diets. There is a serious crisis in the supply of drinkable water. Droughts threaten many of the places that we depend on for agriculture – as do rising sea levels.

But none of this bothers the port. As far as they are concerned “There’s just one hitch.”

Regionally, a study for the province last year found that 2,700 acres of land are required to support port capacity over the next 20 to 25 years. These sites have to be large enough to handle traffic volumes, have adequate servicing and be close to transportation infrastructure – both highways and airports.

“There’s probably only approximately 600 acres of suitable industrial land,” Mr. Winkler said. To protect its interests, the port has started buying up available properties.

What the Gateway program did was distort our transportation priorities. Now the land use priorities will be distorted too. Forget whatever we may have decided regionally or locally – the port has enough resources and no need to defer to any level of local government. Even if it is completely wrong and traffic levels do not start to climb again – which does not seem to be a possibility that they have even taken into consideration.  And cannot be required to.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 8, 2009 at 10:42 am

Posted in port expansion

Follow up to recent rail stories

with 3 comments

BART saw circuit problem at center of Metro probe

“Railway Track & Structures” in their Breaking News feature provide some more information on the probable cause of the fatal crash on the Washington DC subway.

Metro officials said the malfunction that appears to be at the heart of last month’s deadly Red Line crash was traced to “flickering” in a track circuit that seemed to be a “freak occurrence” they had never before encountered or knew was possible, The Washington Post reports.

But that type of transient, intermittent failure is known to experts who work with automated transit systems and was flagged as a hazard by the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco. Officials there installed a separate system as a protection against flickering track circuitry.

BART is considered a sister system to Metro because it was built about the same time using similar designs, technology and suppliers. Metro never installed the backup system, known as the sequential occupancy release system, that is used by BART.

The signal system used by both BART and Metro is quite different from that used by SkyTrain (and the Docklands LRT) which I referenced in my original story. It also seems that “intermittent failure of track circuits most often occurs when there is poor electrical contact between the steel rails and the wheels of the train.” This means that the equipment itself may not be the problem but the state of the track and the wheels. This wheel/rail interface has been found to be critical in a number of railway crashes – and is one of the reasons that the break up of British Rail into separate track and train operating companies was so much opposed by my former colleagues at HM Railway Inspectorate.

I am still bothered by the fact that the stationary train was being driven manually while the one that hit it was under system control. That seems to be a mix that ought not be allowed.

Alberta sees LRT, not HSR, as provincial priority

Light rail transit expansion for Calgary and Edmonton trumps provincial needs for high speed rail, according to Alberta provincial government officials, despite rising clamor for linking the two cities with intercity service. The stance follows the release Monday of a feasibility and ridership study, evaluating HSR service between the province’s two largest cities. “At this time, when we’re a little short of cash, show me the money. That’s what I would have to say because we’ve got a lot of other needs that will have to come first,” said Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans.

source  Railway Age Breaking News

There is not much more to add. And in fact the link does not provide much more detail. That is in stark contrast to the wealth of information provided by the full report of the passenger demand analysis for HST which I provided a link to. I think it would be a very good idea for some of the most frequent commenters to this blog actually take the time to read that report – and indeed make a practice of actually referring to the source of any story before launching into comment mode. Even when a report is in the public domain, if it is available on the web I will not reproduce much of it here, though I will, of course, selectively quote the bits I am commenting on. But that does not mean there is not a whole lot of other information available from the same source -and often that would actually obviate the need for the some of the questions and comments I have seen – but not replied to – recently.

“A little short of cash” is a bit hard to swallow – Alberta may not be in the middle of a boom any more but it is a lot better off than most places. Intercity High Speed Rail should also not be seen as a competitor for funds with urban light rail – the markets are quite different. If HSR is – as the proponents seem to be saying “of investment quality” there should be private sector funds for it. Not that I would allow that to make my mind up but then I am not the Alberta Finance Minister. And if I were I would be looking at the longer term public interest – not just the short term cash flow.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 8, 2009 at 10:15 am

Posted in Railway