Stephen Rees's blog

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

My first ride on the Canada Line

with 15 comments

Parking meterAs luck would have it, I had to go to the airport today to pick up a package. So with that in the trunk, I drove back to River Rock casino, where I parked. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that parking there is free at present, even though they have the ticket machines in place. They are just not switched on. When they are you simply have to remember your parking stall number and tap it into the machine. $2 a day charges will start on September 7, but right now it is a great bargain. There are signs up saying “No YVR parking” though how they would enforce that beats me.

There is a lot of parking at the Casino – and of course they do not want to deter patrons, but just across the Middle Arm at Templeton Station (the next one down the line) will be a huge long term parking lot for the airport. That will cost more than $2 a day – but the train ride will be free. The extra fare to go from Richmond and Vancouver to the Airport is also temporarily in abeyance so how this all works out will be interesting.

Mounties don't like being photographed

There were none of the crowds that wanted a free ride yesterday. I still think that Translink’s system wide $9 day pass is a great bargain. Yes I could have bought a two zone ticket and used it for 90 minutes – plenty of time for a round trip, but I did not want to be hurried. Conversations with other passengers (my word I am becoming North American) confirmed that many were doing the same thing I was. I rode from Bridgeport to the airport in the back of the train, so I could then get the “driver’s seat” on the way back.

I had, of course, been inside the train when it was on display at the Lansdowne station open day. But running is the real test, and I must say my first impression was very favourable. The Rotem train is much quieter than either a Mark 1 or 2 SkyTrain – I think because it does not have the linear induction motor with its characteristic howl. All the track is long welded, so there is none of the “clickety clack” of old fashioned railway track, and even over switches the ride is smooth and quiet. The seats are not well padded or cloth covered, but since rides are short and smooth this is not an issue. There is plenty of leg room, with the exception of the end row of seats – and there is a rush for the two that have a view. The corner seat is shunned as it has no view front or side. Though I imagine if you are regular commuter with an ipod and a book you will be happy to be isolated.

Oakridge 41st Ave underpass

The stations are rather bland and featureless – all muted beigey colours. There are as yet no adverts – though frames can be seen in many places where they will be installed. I think the stations have a distinctly inoffensive Canadian look – very much like Edmonton’s system. They are currently spoiled by the relics of crowd control from yesterday, and the interiors of the stations will look much better once the temporary barriers are removed.

Acceleration is impressive, but it does not jerk you off your feet when standing. Though I would still hold on if I were you. And for the open sections it is a great view from the front: and I just hope that the maintenance people keep the windows clean. Notable is how the train slows for curves – some of which are very tight. The kink around Queen Elizabeth Park for instance. I would have thought it would have been worth bringing the TBM up here just to get a straight shot under the park in bored tube to cut a couple more minutes off the schedule. It will also cost a lot in future in wheel and rail wear unless they do much better at grinding rails and turning wheels. Right now there are several sections of “roaring rail”

I saw no staff on board any train this morning, they seemed to be at the ticket machines – which seemed oddly unreceptive to my collection of payment cards (credit and debit). I am glad I had some cash on me. There indeed passenger counters – they are, one attendant told me, lasers and are concealed in the direction signage. I rather think infra-red is more likely but no doubt those who are always quick to correct my assumptions will jump in.

Langara 49th Avenue

Which brings to the extendability of stations.  I poked around a bit and now I can see how it is possible to add ten metres of platform even in the underground stations. That will allow a twenty meter centre car to be added, with the ends of the train within the tunnel but all doors against a platform. So no extensive rebuilding but, as with the surface stations, not exactly cheap or quick to do. Again, we will need to see the P3 details to understand how that gets paid for but obviously there is only one source at the end of the day. So fares and taxes will pay for it – but it might be spread out a bit if done early in the life of the deal.

What is less easy to see is how the line capacity can be enhanced because of two long stretches of single track at Brighouse and YVR. The former is also a barrier to further southward extension no matter what happens from Granville to Williams in the way of additional density. What this means is that train frequency can be no more than the time it takes to turn back a train. Present working seems pretty smart and dwell times at terminals are not lengthy. But once trains get crowded, and the airport passengers bags started impeding the fast walkers … well, we shall see. Right now, as I advised one German visitor carried past his stop (Roundhouse) it is no real inconvenience to just stay on and get carried back. So when I boarded my return train at Vancouver City Centre (actually located at Granville and Georgia) I deliberately went the wrong way again – just so I could get the best seat. Waterfront station has two tracks and a crossover, so can clearly handle more traffic. Only one track was in use this morning – with a spare train parked in the other.

Waterfront Canada Line entrance

The walk from the end of the platform into Waterfront Station is level, and enlivened with some large monochrome photographs taken during construction. I would like to see many more of works like this or similar art on the blank walls of the other stations. Of course, in London these have always been prime sites for adverts, though in recent years art and other design elements are more often seen. Perhaps the finest being the stations on the Paris Metro which serve the Louvre. It’s like being in the museum itself.

Vancover City Centre Station

That is another comparison that occurred to me. In many cities the metro has a strong corporate identity – a symbol instantly recognised. In Vancouver you will see many stores have decided to adopted London’s ring and bar sign for their own use, obviously unconcerned about copyright. Vancouver stations have none of this – and frankly not much street presence either. I recall very well a developer telling me, when he was explaining why he wanted an LRT for docklands and not an extension of the tube “I can’t sell a staircase on a street corner”. Which is a reasonable description of City Centre station. It is integrated into the Pacific Centre below ground. But Oakridge is not. There the need to get under one set of running rails to get to your train is awkward  (a bit like Yonge Street at the old Eaton Centre). No doubt there is a long history there, but I do wonder why there is that great empty plaza on the corner of Cambie and 41st.

Oak Ridge 41st Avenue

So now here is the evening peak experience. Trains were lightly loaded this morning, and platforms quiet. That was not the case between 4 and 6pm. Even so it was clear that there were quite a lot of sightseers, and some commuters who were distinctly grumpy that their train home was also a source of entertainment. People were also very reluctant to leave the seats with the best forward view. Judging by the number of people who did not get off at Brighouse, tourists were at least 40% of the load on my train.

On the whole from a scenic perspective, if you don’t care which train comes first, YVR is a better ride. Richmond along No 3 Road is just not that interesting. The view northbound will be spectacular when we are not subject to warm weather and white haze cloaking the mountains. But the centre of Richmond is basically parking lots and low rise, tip up buildings, designed to be cheap and have a short life. A few tower block offices around Westminster Highway must be feeling a bit overlooked – but they all have their blinds shut against the sun anyway.

The surface stations of the Canada Line are even less remarkable than the holes in the ground. They are clearly  functional and there are some recurring themes, like the swooping roof curves seen everywhere – from Waterfront to Brighouse. Which is an odd choice of name – why not Richmond Centre which is what the buses have on the front? Most local Richmond routes ( according to the current Buzzer)  will intersect at Brighouse – Bridgeport being the “regional centre” for the Highway #99 routes. I can see this being a point of discord in future as ridership gets near capacity. People from White Rock and Tsawwassen will find the trains from Richmond are full – at least as far as seating is concerned. So it is probably just as well that peak use from the airport is unlikely in the early morning. The express buses are, of course, still in downtown for the next two weeks, and are still the preferred majority choice I would say. And of course if you are going beyond Richmond the only choice for many. Sexsmith Park and Ride is also still pretty full, unlike the casino’s multi-storey.

According to the CBC news tonight, the ticket machines on the Canada Line have new “chip technology”  which is supposed to explain why none of my cards were recognised – even the ones that have chips!  I get the distinct feeling that the editorial line at the CBC on the Canada line is one of celebration – and much was made of the reported 100,000 people who used the line yesterday. They are simply not interested in a critical appraisal.

One thing I did notice was the the Canada Line has overcome absence of the cell phone signal in the tunnel that affects SkyTrain. I am not at all sure that is a Good Thing – because I really do not like to be an audience to conversations which ought to be private – and in many cases are not in the slightest urgent. And since many of them are in Cantonese – which always sounds like they are having an argument – eavesdropping is out of the question but disturbing the peace isn’t.

It is pointless reaching any conclusions about the Canada Line at this stage. It was not the highest priority, or the best choice, but we are stuck with it. Rather like the Millennium Line. But probably a bit more useful. If the Casino parking price stays at $2 – and is available in the evening, when you only need a one zone ticket – then the time and cost of driving all the way or park and ride is about the same for me. So I will probably use it when I go downtown. I doubt that I can be tempted to use the local bus though, simply because late at night (which is when I tend to be coming home from downtown) the last place I want to hang around is a bus loop – or Richmond Centre. And it is unlikely that service frequencies will get much better off peak – despite some quite heavy loads when there are events on. I did see one in station refreshment place going in – Jugo Juice will be at 41st – but then there are already places just inside the Oakridge Mall like that. There is no sign of any services at the Richmond stations apart from a cabin type building that could be a concession – or more likely a driver’s rest room.

I have a lot of pictures to work on and they will be on flickr and here – eventually. But Comments are now Open

Written by Stephen Rees

August 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Posted in transit

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15 Responses

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  1. Stephen,

    My apologies about the Cantonese. I know it sounds like an argument, but it’s really the regular conversation tone and volume. Thanks for your impressions on the line.

    I agree that our SkyTrains and the new Canada Line need a better corporate identity. There needs to be a logo that is instantly recognizable and draw people into the stations. The word SkyTrain or Canada Line just doesn’t cut it. The iconic circle with the bar is a London classic. When in Hong Kong, I also look for the logos for the surface train and underground there.


    August 18, 2009 at 7:04 pm

  2. You mused about the TBM being brought up to Little Mountain to bore a straight shot underneath. Apparently, “earth-balanced” TBMs are custom-made for the anticipated geological conditions and the one used for the False Creek/downtown bore would not have been suitable at Little Mountaun owing to its unique conditions. It’s very hard rock by Vancouver standards.

    At one point, when the project was on the hot seat from Cambie merchants over the switch to cut-and-cover from deep boring, officials offered this explanation. If the whole tunnel had been bored, within the same timescale, three TBMs would have been needed — the one that was indeed used, another one to do most of Cambie and a third just for the few blocks under Little Mountain. The higher cost of this was a key to the decision to switch to cut-and-cover. In the Cambie context, it was pointed out that this would also have required extra TBM entry pits, which would have been as wide as Cambie itself, thus severing the road completely.

    As for platform lengthening, it’s not in the cards for the underground platforms, which are already 50 metres. Like you, I thought I had detected how this could be done, so I asked a senior source at InTransitBC, who confirmed to me last week that the underground stations are not designed to be extended. The elevated and at-grade stations have 40-metre platforms and those could be extended to 50 metres. Use of a centre car would involve selective door opening, with the doors at the extreme front and rear ends kept closed by the computer control system.


    August 18, 2009 at 7:43 pm

  3. Hi Stephen

    Interesting post.

    Today I rode the line from Waterfront to Richmond and then back to City Hall. Although the stations are smaller than SkyTrain stations, as a regular Millennium Line user I must say some of the Millennium Line stations are too big for the amount of use they receive (e.g. stations like Rupert and Renfrew). I would guess each of those stations would have cost at least a million to design and construct.

    You mention that the Canada Line was not the best choice. I was wondering what think would have been?


    August 18, 2009 at 7:55 pm

  4. In nearly every other city the size of Metro Vancouver, the first thing they look at when they think rail based transit is how to reuse old railway tracks or rights of way. There is still in existence much of the old interurban line – from Granville Island to Steveston. It could also have been used from Marpole to Coquitlam – a lot more railway for a much lower capital cost. No it is not ideal, but it is affordable. And it would work much more effectively as a way to increase the density of what were up until a few years ago “transit villages” along the route. But we missed that train. We might be able to do something out in the Valley, if the freeway builders don’t wreck it first. They are stopping at Langley for now so there is still time.

    Stephen Rees

    August 18, 2009 at 8:28 pm

  5. I also have to ask what would have been the best choice? The evergreen line, of course, is an important one, Surrey needs more transit, but I have yet to see the commitment coming out of Richmond to build density around transit come from any other municipality in the lower mainland, and Vancouver even hasn’t come anywhere close.

    I personally agree with the comments on the station length and the headway, and I also think the single track will come back to haunt us. If selective door opening is the solution, I don’t think this was very well thought out.

    I have to wonder, though, on your comments about the bus loop. When I used Phibbs Exchange I never had a problem with it, they worked fine, and honestly it’s not a large sacrifice, if indeed a sacrifice at all, in order to fully use transit, assuming the bus connections are there in frequent enough times.


    August 18, 2009 at 8:34 pm

  6. There are 40m stations in the tunnel. They are not all 50m, but they are certainly all extendable to 50 without much difficulty. The person who claims to have a “source” is incorrect. Selective door opening when C cars are installed is also incorrect. The C car won’t be that big, but all doors will open onto the platform.

    The system is able to handle the volume that TransLink specified when drawing up the contract for this line. The max capacity is 15,000 pphpd. That is what TransLink asked for the maximum capacity to be. Min headway is 2 minutes on the combined section and 4 minutes on the branches. Additional rolling stock will have to be purchased to achieve those headways.

    Each train can carry 400 passengers. The C car will allow for a total of 500 passengers although this may involve the installation of sideways seating to make maximum use of space to actually fit 500 in the train.


    August 18, 2009 at 11:21 pm

  7. [moderator’s note: a bogus URL was used for this comment. It has been deleted.]

    Not all of the underground stations have been built to the maximum 50 metres. Only Waterfront, Vancouver City Centre, and Yaletown-Roundhouse were built to those lengths, which was a sudden, good change during the construction. For the rest of the underground stations, the shell of the extension is present, so when there is a need of expansion, it only needs tiling, lighting, signage, and knocking out of the wall panels.

    With regards to the Millennium Line, remember that the Millennium Line is really one third complete. When it was built, it was assumed that the extension to Coquitlam and to Arbutus would be finished soon after. Considering the fact that the Millennium Line is only a third complete, it’s actually quite a success as the line has broken-even already and has finally reached projected ridership.

    The C-Car could be any size technically, we may end up buying a 15 metre long car so that all the doors fit, or purchase a standard 20 metre one, as Stephen has said, with the first and last doors of the train closed. This isn’t uncommon in the world, Japanese metros have overhang trains. The West Coast Express has quite a long overhand as well.

    The main constraint with the Canada Line is really the single guideway construction, especially in Richmond. With the airport, it really doesn’t matter as much since there wouldn’t be that much ridership, but I can see Richmond being an issue.

    Adrian Leung

    August 18, 2009 at 11:38 pm

  8. Stephen, if it’s any consolation, with so many Cantonese speakers in Vancouver, you know that someone is eavesdropping on the conversations.

    Let’s hope they redo the instructions for the ticket machines. Seattle’s Link ticket machines are experiencing problems as well.


    August 19, 2009 at 6:31 am

  9. Apparently with the existing users and the lookiloos they reached almost 100,000 riders yesterday.

    Hopefully once the buses start feeding in properly they’ll continue to hit 100,000 or more after Setp.7.

    (stat comes from here:


    August 19, 2009 at 6:47 am

  10. Oh – and excellent photos Stephen. The others I’ve seen make it look sterile (which it kind of is at the moment). I really like the one of Oakridge station.


    August 19, 2009 at 6:52 am

  11. Actually, I believe that is incorrect. Not all of the platforms are designed to 50-metres. All three downtown stations and Olympic Village are already at 50-metres, but the stations from Broadway to Langara are at 40-metres. These Cambie stations are certainly extendable to 50-metres in the future.

    As for the future third-car, it’s not 20-metres long rather it’s 15-metres. The car capacity would still be the same as a 20-metre car as space is used more efficiently, such as not having to use up room for the computers. All the doors for this three-car train would still fit on the platform, but barely.


    August 19, 2009 at 9:55 am

  12. Vancouver City Centre Station will eventually become part of a Pacific Centre expansion onto the plaza – both of the plazas (Georgia and Howe and Georgia and Granville will be filled in).

    Click to access ph4.pdf

    Not sure if Oakridge Mall will be built out to the street over the plaza in the redevelopment project. I know there’s a knock-out panel on the mezzanine level to connect to the north side of 41st Ave in future – prsumably they could also connect to Oakridge Mall underground – through what is currently underground parkade (or overheight ceiling airspace in the underground parkade).

    Ron C.

    August 19, 2009 at 1:10 pm

  13. As a long time resident of Richmond, I can tell you the reasoning behind calling the Station at Brighouse rather than Richmond Centre. It’s a historical name. The centre of Richmond was – and still is by some referred to as Brighouse. One would say that they were going to Brighouse when meaning that they were going to shop in the Brighouse are – the area that is now dominated by the shopping Centre called Richmond Centre. Samuel Brighouse was a Richmond Pioneer.

    Anyway – there was much discussion in Richmond as to the name of the station – and historical reasons won out over the name of the Shopping Center. No one in Richmond says – oh I’m going to Richmond Centre when they mean the Brighouse or area . To Richmondites – Richmond Centre is the shopping Center. Just to clarify that for you!


    September 10, 2009 at 1:25 am

  14. […] found at other blogs – Regarding Place, the Vancouver LiveJournal community, Kim Werker, Stephen Rees, the Transport Politic, John Chow, YVRConnections, […]

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