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Archive for March 10th, 2010

Mayors fear being railroaded on transit financing

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BC Local News

Speculation about what the province intends to do about financing the Evergreen Line continues.  The Mayors think they ought to be consulted – but it looks rather like legislation is in the offing

The province’s solution is expected to be contained in a new overhaul of TransLink, with legislation possible as early as next month.

And, so far at least, Victoria is not returning the Mayors’ calls. Instead heavy hints are being dropped – as I noted in my most recent comments. It does seem to be a very odd way of going about a big decision making process. Conducting an exchange not directly, but in the pages of the press – with all sorts of nods and winks, but no actual information. I suspect that it could be an officially sanctioned “trial balloon” – something not at all unknown elsewhere. The government faces a tricky decision so leaks some information in the hopes of getting an early indication of what the reaction might be. If the response is muted, full steam ahead: if hostile, then a quick rethink is possible  since it does not look like a “flip flop” as no actual decision was announced. And it’s all very deniable so far.

The problem of course is all of the province’s making. On the one hand they hog tie the regional authority and accuse it of inefficiency, and limit its funding. But on the other hand they did promise to build both the Canada Line and the Evergreen Line and the project to build the latter as a SkyTrain extension has been rumbling along for a while now. And, as Frank Luba was pointing out last night on CBC radio, the problem is not just the financing of the missing $400m capital, it is also Translink’s inability to pay for the operations and maintenance costs of another rapid transit line, since the extra fares they collect will not cover anything like those costs.  It does seem highly improbable that there are savings of the scale required within Translink, which is what the province appears to believe. And there will be howls of rage if the whole region has to pay more for transit which many of them will not be able to use. Places like Surrey, with low transit mode share now and only a token rapid bus project on the way, will much more annoyed than the residents of the Tricities will be pleased. This political accounting is what will, in the end, make the difference. All the figures for deciding what to build and where were long ago set into a form which cannot now be changed without all kinds of embarrassment. Do not expect any change from SkyTrain – or the route. It is going to be all about how to raise $400m. I would bet that a P3 partner would be produced if times were normal – but P3s are not easy to fund these days. So maybe the Mayors Council gets the chop after all?

UPDATE Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail, Monday March 15 with a useful summary of the current state of play

Written by Stephen Rees

March 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Posted in regional government, transit

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Bombardier presentation to the Transport Action Group

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Transport Action Group at the Firehall Library March 9

Steve Hall of Bombardier

Steve Hall of Bombardier

I was invited to attend a presentation by Steve Hall of  Bombardier. The group is the former Transport 2000 which has now adopted a new identity nationally. Before transcribing my notes I looked at what I wrote on January 15 after my sneak preview, since much of the material he presented I had already seen from that event. I hope I have avoided any duplication.

His topic was entitled “Light rail” but what he addressed were the current sate of the rail business and the trends trends that are now shaping it. Bombardier has a turnover of around $20bn pa with 96% of revenues come from outside Canada. The business splits roughly 50/50 between aerospace and rail – in fact they are now the largest rail equipment supplier in the world. The two businesses are counter cyclical: business jets are mot much in demand due to the recession but rail spending is increasing due to the  “climate change push” and US federal stimulus funding. The rail business employs 34,000 people across 50 engineering sites, which collectively have a 2 -3 year’s backlog of orders to deliver worth  $24.7bn. They have delivered over 100,000 railcars to 60+ countries. The customers are governments, with 73% of the revenue from Europe and only 10% in North America. The fastest growing part of the business is the service sector – that is running and maintaining trains and signalling systems.

The most significant trends influencing the business are urbanization, population growth, road traffic congestion, oil scarcity and rising energy costs. 23% of the world’s manmade greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation – only 1% of which comes from rail. In Metro Vancouver it is estimated that costs of congestion exceed $1.2bn a year. The US is seeing the highest demand for transit in 50 years. In Europe demand doubled in recent years, and there is huge growth in the Asia/Pacific region.

The specific trends influencing Bombardier’s approach to the rail business are

#1 push towards full automation – eg Madrid – driven by reaching the maximum capacity of the existing infrastructure: automation allows for the closer spacing of trains and also produces operational cost savings.

#2 push for High Speed Rail – US investment in ten corridors – China is planning 6000km of HSR – $155bn – for speeds of up to 350km/h. Bombardier has 3,000 employees in China and now has a huge order for its Zefiro 380 which will begin deliveries in 2012.

#3 unprecedented expenditures in Research & Development. In Bombardier this includes MITRAC energy storage – essentially a bank of super capacitors that are more efficient than batteries and the development of Primove – a no catenary, no contact induced power delivery system which is currently on a test track in Bautzen, Germany.

#4 rebirth of interest in streetcars and light rail. There have been 30 new projects in Europe in last ten years. These have been driven by the question “How do you get people out of their cars?”  Most projects in North America take 10 to 15 years in planning, but one major order has been for 204 replacement cars for the Toronto Transit Commission. These cars have to cope with 11.2m curves (the sharpest in North America) they are single ended with doors on one side only and use the non-standard TTC gauge. There are options for 400 more for new lines, and it is expected that expansions to the light rail network in the Toronto region will be at standard gauge.

Bombardier’s Flexity tram as used on the Olympic Line is aimed at delivering a capacity of 2,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd) to 6000 pphpd at average service speeds of between 12 to 34km/h. He emphasized that there is no single answer – no technology meets all needs. The Brussels design has older trucks with motors on the outside of the frame. This produces the narrow car cross-section over the truck but newer designs now offer a wider flat floor area.

trams in Valencia

Valencia, Spain

The choice of technology and vehicle is not driven by technical issues but rather the clients’ view of the kind of city they want to see int he future. Their vision determines design and materials. For instance, research shows that there is a perception of a health risk of using transit (concerns about contagious diseases like H1N1 or SARS) so they now use materials in the interiors that kill all germs for a year.

In many European cities  there is growing interest in the “tram train” which operates at higher speeds on main line railway track for longer distances in the outer suburbs,  then goes to onstreet running in city centres. This could be the solution needed for Rail for the Valley [and indeed exactly describes how the interurban was running 100 years ago!].

What Bombardier now offers is the “empty room concept”. The technical components are standardized to keep costs down but the operator can specify exactly what they want for the interior. This is based on their design concepts and reflects local values. It is worth noting that Brussels had been plagued for year with graffiti and vandalism on its trams but the introduction of the Flexity with its leather seats and high quality interior fittings has produced a dramatic decline.

Trans in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey


Talent diesel multiple units are not now being sold in any number (most recent Talent deliveries have been electric). There is not enough demand to develop a car that could meet (US) FRA standards.

Bombardier have delivered over 1,000 bi-level commuter rail cars – a design that is now 30 years old.

SkyTrain: they  have sold over 700 cars “that’s a successful product for us”. He acknowledged that it is a “niche market”.  “It wins on operating cost. On the original SkyTrain cars the linear motors are now 25 years old have never been touched.”

The streetcar gets positive public reception wherever it is proposed. This is in strong contrast to almost every other type of rail project

He also acknowledged that P3s are complicated but they are interested when there is a need to get smaller amounts raised. He pointed to the original  McQuarie studies. He also emphasized that the point is risk transfer not cost savings – Bombardier cannot borrow money as cheaply as a government.

Asked about rubber tyre solutions he pointed out that they started in the rail business with the Montreal subway. “We bet the company, since snowmobiles went in the tank”.He pointed out that Taipei works at 30 deg every day but dealing with ice and snow is different.

“Nobody has taken the bicycle into account successfully. We need to look at that in a different way. Biking and walking are the fastest growing portion of trips. What would a BC car look like? People respond to what they are offered.”

Written by Stephen Rees

March 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Light Rail, Railway, transit