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

Archive for March 22nd, 2010

Vancouver says goodbye to Olympic streetcar

with 26 comments

STIB3050 with the removal truck

"They're coming to take me away!" Brussels tram visiting Vancouver passes the truck that will transport it on the first leg of its homeward journey

I spent an hour or so yesterday on the Olympic Line, despite the drizzle and gloom, to say goodbye myself. The Globe and Mail has an article today that says the Mayor is not enthusiastic about promoting the downtown streetcar.

“I am open minded but we have to be pragmatic here and work with our transportation partners,” Mr. Robertson said

and I must say I agree with him. Suzanne Anton tries to  make the case for a City only P3, but that seems to me – and other commentators – unrealistic. Not that I am against streetcars – for Vancouver or other parts of the region. Just that when the Evergreen Line is the priority and the Province looks likely to step in and force some new local funding formula on the region, I cannot see the City’s taxpayers being supportive of this scheme.

The G&M does not mention the Downtown Historic Railway at all, which I think is a pity, since that will be operating with the old Interurban cars once again, and will have benefitted financially from the Olympic Line. Bombardier made a significant donation reflecting the number of volunteer hours that TRAMS members operated the Brussels cars.

Bombardier's cheque for $22,550 to TRAMS

Bombardier's cheque for $22,550 to TRAMS

While only the section between Granville Island and Cambie Street was upgraded, I hope we will see service restored as far as Science World before too long. Of course, this service won’t be free, or included in any Translink ticket, but it will still be an asset to the City, its visitors and residents. In Britain, community railways are showing how there can be alternative ways of providing services that are not necessarily commercial (the only ones that a P3 ought to be considered for). There are also many preserved railways in the UK, some of which now also provide regular community services as well as what we call “fan trips”.  It may be too much to hope that brand new low floor trams can be financed here for such a service, but San Francisco runs a very successful tourist oriented line using refurbished streetcars. And there are plenty of examples of heritage streetcar lines elsewhere. No one expects these things to make money!

$8.5 million was a great deal of money to spend on a short length of track, and one of the justifications used by the Vancouver engineers was that the line had to be upgraded for safety reasons in any event, and would still be useful for many years for the Heritage cars, even if nothing else happened. And, of course, the Starbucks building still blocks the route that used to connect this line to the Arbutus line – or the tentative extension to Vanier Park shown on the TRAMS map.   Of course, if the same metric is applied to the rest of the previous route to Science World, the probability of seeing any service that far also shrinks very quickly.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2010 at 10:53 am