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

Archive for January 15th, 2010

Sneak preview inside the Olympic Line – Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar

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On Thursday, January 21, the Olympic Line – Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar – will begin service following a launch celebration hosted by the City of Vancouver. In advance of the launch, Bombardier and the City of Vancouver invited a small group of media and bloggers for an “exclusive sneak preview” of the BOMBARDIER FLEXITY streetcars and to meet one of the operators who will be driving the streetcars.

from Brussels for Vancouver

Well, exclusive of some but not exactly “an exclusive”. It will be on CTV News tonight, and bloggers Mike Klassen and Rebecca Bollwit will be covering it too. Tomorrow and Sunday the Sun and Province will catch up as well. I cannot say I was impressed by the questions that were being asked by the now in bankruptcy protection main stream media reporter – he seem surprised that a streetcar did not have a steering wheel! But, to be fair, conversation with their photographer showed that there is someone on their staff who understands transit. It’s a shame he does not get to write about it.

Full frontal

For a sneak preview they were not able to actually run the streetcar. This is was great pity – since the other car was running for driver training, which means there will be moving pictures. I suspect that issues of liability and lack of qualified staff might be the reasons. I would like to be able to report that the ride was smooth and quiet – though you can judge for yourselves when  you hear the video of the exterior noise anyway.

Media gathering

It ought to be very smooth indeed. The City of Vancouver has spent $8m on 1.8km of track upgrades. For that money I would expect an excellent ride, and certainly when comparing the old and new track at the east end of station at “Olympic Village” you can see the difference.

Old and new rail

Heavier rail, concrete ties (“sleepers”) and insulated Pandrol® rail clips as well as some significant amount of new ballast. CMHC also kicked in $0.5m – and some money got spent on upgrading the power line and building a new station. But it is still single track, with a 150m passing loop. Another $50 to $60m would be needed to get a workable system going into downtown – and the City is still looking for funding partners. Unlike Portland OR, who were so convinced that streetcars were the answer, they paid the whole lot themselves for the first segment.

Inside the tram

Bombardier were being coy about how much they are spending – but it includes lease payments to STIB the cars’ owner, to cover things like lost fare revenue, as well as the considerable shipping costs from Europe to the Pacific North West. While in town here, Bombardier has invited its customers (and, I bet, prospects too) to come over and experience the ride for themselves. Bombardier are also going to make a donation to the Transit Museum Society – who run the line – to reflect the large number of volunteer hours. 32 people have volunteered to drive the trams including Bernie Eide – a former CN/BC Rail driver who was on hand to talk about the car and the history of streetcars in Vancouver. I will spare you that, but I will be interested to see how much of what he says survives in the MSM coverage. He says that it is “an amazing ride” – but I hope he is not comparing it to his usual ride in a freight train locomotive.

Leather seats, of course, attracted a lot of attention. I doubt that anyone will notice that actually leather is probably a lower life cycle cost alternate to some of the cheap plastic normally seen on North American transit seats. The interior ambience is certainly very pleasant and yes, it does have “that new tram smell”. The cars are actually new and so far unused in service in Brussels – although others of the same type are running there now.

Bench seating

The FLEXITY streetcars will provide a free service, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, between January 21 and March 21, 2010 between Olympic Village and Granville Island. The service starts at 9:30am next Thursday – with, of course, all the usual ceremony and cvic dignitaries, as well as some Olympic athletes. Bombardier were quick to point out that their spending on the project is in addition to their olympic sponsorship, but nicely complements it.

My  video needs some attention before it can be posted here in the meantime here is Mike Klassen’s

Written by Stephen Rees

January 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Transportation