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Archive for the ‘Railway’ Category

The Case for Ultra-high-speed Rail Across Cascadia

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An article in the Georgia Strait summarizes a report to Washington State Department of Transportation which examines the case for a new very high speed rail link between Vancouver BC and Portland OR. The potential for hyperloop is also mentioned but quickly discarded as the technology is not yet ready for implementation.

Happily the Strait includes a link to the report itself – a 94 page pdf which includes some very general maps but no actual alignments. Instead it shows where the freeways are, and also suggests that a link between Seattle and Spokane needs to be assessed as well.

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 12.29.54 PM

This appears to be the favoured choice at present. Though I was struck by the apparently quite small advantage in terms of ridership between the MAGLEV and HSR model results

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 1.06.27 PM

Of course a lot more work needs to be done, and the report identifies these next steps. Not the least of these is the analysis of what needs to happen at the border. This is, of course, completely outside of the state jurisdiction and we can only hope that by the time any of this comes to pass, that a more sensible approach to border “security” between Canada and the US will have also come about. I won’t hold my breath on either account.

And here is a picture of a High Speed Train – which was not included in the original report

TGV 4409

My photo on Flickr

Technology Differentiation Results

7. In 2035, maglev seems to cover O&M costs in most alternatives; a small subsidy may be needed in the earlier period (2035) for HSR. By 2055, all corridor technological alternatives cover O&M and assist in capital carrying costs to various degrees.

8. While maglev and HSR have different capital and operating benefits over time, the CONNECT tool does not provide sufficient data to choose a specific technology at this time. More detailed technical analysis is required to select among the feasible technologies being examined.

Intercity Travel Mode Share Results

9. Both technologies have the potential to shift a significant share of the intercity travel market torail. For these technologies at 12 round trips, 12 to 17 percent of the travel market by 2035 could be diverted to UHSGT.

10. Conversely, the utilization of capacity is relatively low, indicating an immature market or a model input limitation. As noted in #1, a more detailed analysis of how the market economies are changing needs to be completed to adequately predict future ridership and revenue.

POSTSCRIPT

For context, the introduction of a direct high speed rail service between London and Amsterdam shows why trains can compete with air. In this case the flight time is around an hour and the new train will be closer to four. But add in the security line ups and this is actually competitive. Plus the train is actually comfortable, and the stations are usually much closer to where you are or want to be compared to the airport. But read through to the end to see how the British have managed to make getting in to Britain much harder – long before Brexit.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Friday round up

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Three tabs are open in my browser right now. All about transport and relevant to this region. But none actually qualifying for the full blog post treatment since I have nothing much to say about any of them, other than my readers ought to be aware of them.

The Auditor General has released a report about the Evergreen Line

Moody Central Station, Evergreen Extension

In his audit, Doyle said that the business cases developed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, TransLink and Partnerships B.C. and reviewed by the Ministry of Finance omitted information needed to understand the costs, benefits and risks when comparing SkyTrain, light rail and bus rapid transit options; did not explain ridership forecasts were based on assumptions that placed them at the upper end of the estimated range; and did not describe the risks from changes in complementary and competing transit services.

Actually no-one is going to be very surprised by the report. The idea that Translink might actually consider different options for the technology based on actual data seems to be quite foreign to the way things are now done in BC. The line itself was part of the regional transportation plan for years, but the NDP decided to only build the Millennium – which served Burnaby – but not the long promised link to the TriCities. Of course, in places where they do these things rationally, the line would have been built before the area was opened up for massive population growth, so of course it has been, up to now, car oriented. And there have been significant expansions to the road system – including the expansion of Highway #1 and the replacement of the Pitt River bridge. The Evergreen Line was the highest priority for the region, but the province decided to build the Canada Line instead and tied that to the Olympics.

“Meaningful consultation with the private sector and significant due diligence is required and we are taking the time to get it right,” the province said.

Which seems to me to be an admission that it was not done right, and that consultation with anyone other than business is not important.

Crosscut takes a look at High Speed Trains between here and Seattle as result of Jay Inslee (the Washington state governor) announcing a budget request for a $1m study in response to pressure from the private sector.

Freccia Argento

This one happens to be Italian – they developed the Pendolino tilting trains after British Rail abandoned the Advanced Passenger Train after attacks by the press on the “vomit comet”. BR did build a very successful 125mph HST forty years ago which did not tilt and runs on conventional tracks unlike the French TGV or the Shinkansen which need purpose built rights of way – fewer curves but can cope with quite steep grades – to achieve higher speeds. Indeed the current Cascades Talgo sets could run faster, if they did not have to fit into slots between slow freight trains.

Unid GWR HST through Exeter St Thomas

And of course the cost of a new railway is going to be the biggest issue (“$20-$30 billion to build and equip the system”) but that does not mean that much better passenger train service is not entirely feasible at lower cost, and hopefully some kind of incremental strategy will be identified, rather than blowing the budget on the unachievable “best” when “good enough” is going to win plenty of people away from terrible traffic on I5 and appalling inconvenience and discomfort of short distance international air travel.

Needless to say, others think that self driving cars are going to be the answer, although realistically are probably further off into the future than self driving trucks  as this graphic piece makes clear.

As for the hyperloop, that seems like science fiction to me and even more claustrophobic than space travel. How do you get to your seat? Or use the bathroom?

HyperLoop 2

UPDATE Feb 21 The Seattle Transit blog has taken a long hard look at what a high speed rail line might look like – the link takes you to the first of four parts

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Passenger Rail in Whatcom County

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Amtrak Cascades Mud Bay Surrey BC 08-04-2005 10-28AM

Yesterday I went to a meeting of All Aboard Washington “a consumer transportation advocacy group, comprised of nearly 500 people who have a goal of preserving and expanding passenger rail service in the state of Washington”. They had invited Transport Action BC to attend the meeting, as much of it concerned the operation of Amtrak Cascades. They meet monthly and the meeting at the University of Western Washington in Bellingham had around 50 people, I estimated. Invitations had also gone to BC officials but only one attended, Councillor Grant Meyer of White Rock, who gave a short presentation on the proposed real relocation project. Surrey MLA Marvin Hunt had been expected to attend, but he sent his apologies. Speculation was that he had been instructed not to appear, and certainly speaking of a looming election here (next May) when one is happening next month in the US seemed inappropriate.

I have managed to find some of the materials from the presentations, so that you will not have to rely on my rather rusty note taking.

Lloyd Flem AAW’s long serving Executive Director opened the meeting with a short history of Passenger Trains to Bellingham. Much of this will be familiar to readers here, so I will just mention some highlights. The Washington State talks of an objective of 4 trains a day between Seattle and Vancouver BC by 2035, but 13 between Seattle and Portland OR. The challenge lies in the capacity of the single track line from Everett through Mount Vernon to Blaine, and the lack of investment north of the border. BC did spend $7m on a slip at Colebrook as a contribution  to get the second Cascades service in time for the Olympics. Unlike Washington and Oregon, BC provides no operating subsidy for the service. Considerable work was achieved on the line due to the reallocation of High Speed Rail funds after Florida decided not to proceed. The route between Vancouver and Portland is identified by the US as part of its desired HSR initial network, and that has been endorsed by both the BC Premier and WA State Governor.

The Asia Pacific Gateway was cited as an example of Canada’s commitment to infrastructure spending. Nine rail overpasses were built over the Roberts Bank corridor as part of the billions spent on port expansion. The use of P3 funding was also mentioned. The future of the passenger rail is that there will be no further HSR money, and no capital funds from Olympia but it might be possible to upgrade the capacity and provide some overpasses through the colocation of utilities such as water mains and fibre optic cable in the right of way.

Bruce Agnew of Cascadia Academy and Bob Lawrence of AAWA spoke about the possibility of a third train to serve the line between Bellingham and Seattle. This would replace the current bus and would increase the utilisation of existing equipment. Ridership from Bellingham is currently 51,000 by train, 13,000 by bus and is the 6th busiest station on the service, and the 7th highest revenue. There has been a decline in travel in recent years on the bus service.

Laurie Trautman, Director of the Border Policy Research Institute (WWU) spoke about the proposal to introduce pre-clearance for passengers in Vancouver. There is a pdf of the study as a research brief. Currently there is pre-inspection for immigration only as the result of an informal agreement: pre-clearance requires legislation. This is mainly about protection and liability issues affecting armed TSA staff operating in Canada and requires Congressional approval. [Nothing specifically was said, but I was left with the impression that this is highly unlikely.]  The five border crossings between Point Roberts and Sumas are some of the busiest crossings on the border, but travel has been much affected by the exchange rate. 80% of the cross border trips are made by Canadians, with shopping the primary purpose of 31% of them.

There was a presentation on student travel at WWU which I think is of little interest to readers here. Essentially, use of transit has been increased by the introduction of a UPass which has also seen increases in local transit services to meet demand. There is an identified need for a better connected passenger rail system across the state to better meet the needs of post secondary students – and others.

Students at WWU have conducted a feasibility study of adding an additional stop at Blaine station. There is a pdf of their report on the AAWA site. 

There is a population of over 1m living south of the Fraser River who have a shorter drive time to Blaine than Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, shown by the red line on this map

city-map

The train schedule time is currently 4 hours 25 minutes compared to 2 hour 50 drive time. The train departure time of 6am is also unattractive to people facing a two hour drive and the need to arrive early for immigration inspection. Train departure time of 8am from Blaine would be more attractive and parking would be easier and cheaper. SkyTrain does not provide a service which integrates conveniently with Amtrak. The students used an on line survey which had 1,000 responses. 70% of Canadian respondents said they had not used the train as it was too far to the station in Vancouver, too expensive and inconvenient. Unfortunately this was a self selected sample and therefore cannot be held to be representative of the broader population. [It made me wonder if there had been similar issues with stated preference surveys used to support the case for tolled road bridges in the same area.]

BNSF 4463

Relocation of rail in White Rock has long been a discussion in the area, but now seems likely to move forward. The cities of Surrey and White Rock have agreed to make an application to the federal government under the Railroad Relocation and Crossing Act. [This article in the Peace Arch News gives some insight into the provincial attitude and is fairly recent.]

The current shoreline route is vulnerable to sea level rise and more extreme weather events due to climate change. There have been landslides (4 to 5 a year) and erosion along the route and the increasing number of trains, between 16 and 20 day some with 120 or more cars, gives concern for pedestrian safety. The carriage of dangerous goods is also a concern in the light of the Lac Megantic disaster. The community in Crescent Beach gets physically cut off when a train stops on its crossing, and an overpass there is both cost prohibitive and would have a huge impact.  Trespass on the railway is frequent but may be reduced by the extension of the walkway from its present 2.2km to 3.3km: a lease amendment request has been made to BNSF.

whiterockrailroutes-12

The four possible routes shown here have three options which would require rail relocation in Blaine, which may be a significant issue there. The fourth, westernmost alignment, while requiring expensive tunneling would avoid the need to relocate track in Washington. While the initial studies have been done more work is required to produce the full cost benefit analysis required by the CTA. Prime Minister Trudeau’s interest in increased infrastructure spending was cited as a reason for optimism.

The relocation of the track would produce at least 15 minutes of travel time savings on the passenger service. The loss of the scenic ride along the current route seemed a reasonable trade off.

UPDATE  December 10, 2016

The Bill to allow preclearance has now passed both House and Senate

 

Written by Stephen Rees

October 9, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with

Mr Robertson, take down this sign

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This sign, and more like it, was put up by the City of Vancouver along the Arbutus Corridor, in anticipation of the resumption of rail traffic along the CP railway line.

The Arbutus Corridor

This particular image was taken on King Edward Avenue eastbound, just west of Arbutus Street. There is a full set of railway level crossing signals here: no barriers, of course, because the frequency of trains when they were running was so low they were not needed. But CP is required by law to maintain the signalling equipment as long as they have not formally abandoned the track. So if there was to be a train, lights would flash and bells would sound. If the equipment is, in fact working, of which I have seen no evidence. When CP’s contractors were operating rail mounted equipment near other crossings, nothing happened. Nor were flag persons present

Anyway, since these signs first appeared, no trains have run.   So the sign is not necessary. In fact, redundant signs tend to reduce compliance with signs in general. Which is not a Good Idea.

The Arbutus Corridor

This image is taken looking south at the point where the line crosses King Edward. You will notice the post and sign in the middle of the tracks, put there by the contractor to show the limit of the refurbishment work they had performed. From here down to Marine Drive/Kent Avenue track had been lifted, ballst added and graded, ties replaced, level crossings cleaned and so on. From this point north, only some desultory vegetation removal – plus the enthusiastic destruction of community gardens – had taken place. But it is clear from the state of the track that it could not support train operation in its current condition.

The Arbutus Corridor

At crossings south of this one, the flangeways have been cleared, and in some cases timbers inserted parallel to the rails to make subsequent cleaning easier. Obviously nothing was done here.

The Arbutus Corridor

On the other side of King Edward the blackberries are returning.

The Arbutus Corridor

From here northwards the track is once again dissapearing under the growth.

CP were bluffing. You do not need the signs: you can start with the ones one King Ed and work north from there confident that no trains will run. It seems pretty unlikely that they will to the south either, but theoretically they could. I doubt they will.

UPDATE May 7, 2016

The City of Vancouver announced today that they had finally got a deal with CP to take over the line and turn it into a Greenway: the potential for future light rail in the longer term is not ruled out.

Gary Mason of the Globe reveals how the deal was done

July 15, 2016

The City of Vancouver’s latest update on track removal and construction of the greenway

and more photos on my flickr photostream

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2015 at 4:04 pm

“so it’s a third of the cost for two-thirds of the benefit,”

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The title is a direct quote from Yves Desjardins-Siciliano who is the CEO of VIA Rail. The story comes from the Huffington Post citing the Financial Post and the Windsor Star. It sets out the case for a separate passenger only railway between Toronto and Montreal, which would significantly increase the speed and reliability of rail service but would not be as expensive a full blown High Speed Rail (HSR). Given the financial position of VIA, and the nature of the demand in the corridor, this proposal would be Good Enough. HSR is a good example of the best being the enemy of the good.  It has been studied extensively – I worked on one such study as a consultant back in the 1990’s – and so far nothing has been done in terms of improving VIA rail’s current service or winning people back to rail from short distance air or driving. It did surprise me, when I first came to Canada, that intercity buses were often faster than passenger trains.

It pains me a little that electrification is still seen as a dispensable option but actually I have to admit that a modern diesel electric locomotive  can be very energy efficient. I just happen to think that since Ontario has done such a good job of getting rid of its coal fired power stations, the greenhouse gas reduction argument should be given much more weight. There are also a couple of considerable advantages of an electric train. First, electric trains can climb much better than diesels: they don’t weigh nearly as much, as they don’t have to carry the generator or the fuel. So lines purpose built for modern electric trains can have steeper grades, and often that means they can be straighter, which also helps increase speeds. Secondly, the energy used in braking can be captured and returned to the power supply line for the the use of other trains. Regenerative braking captures a lot of the energy that is otherwise lost as heat. Electric trains can also decelerate and accelerate much better than diesels, so dealing with intermediate stops is not such an issue in overall travel time. I would hope that the design of intermediate stations would permit fast trains to pass stationary ones, so that even if it is not actual HSR, there could still be some non-stop service between the two major centres, to improve  competitiveness with air. However, given the way that the population is distributed across sprawling suburbs, centre to centre may not be the most important tool to attract traffic. Large Park and Ride lots, on the other hand, will be essential.

I have not seen any of the analysis that VIA has used to come up with the costs of its proposed separate line compared to a HSR, but there has to be a lot in common between the two. Land costs will be very similar, I think. It also seems sensible to eliminate level crossings – and to fence the entire line – just to increase safety.  You have to do that for HSR, but if those components were omitted for a conventional speed line that might explain some of the price difference.  While I am in favour of getting the costs down, this would seem to me to be very hard to defend when it comes to public consultation.

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 5, 2015 at 8:20 am

Granville Bridge

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It’s huge. Eight lanes wide, it was the only bridge in the region which was never associated with congestion. Until the even wider Port Mann opened. There have recently been some proposals to dedicate the centre lanes of the bridge to a linear park.

These pictures are of course all from my flickr stream where they form an album or set. I have the feeling that people there no longer read the set description – if they ever did. So I make no apology for repeating that here. By the way the set is called “Vancouver’s High Line?”

There is much talk in urban circles of finding similar linear structures to the High Line capable of being converted into public space. In Vancouver, that has centered around the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. Which in my view should simply be removed altogether to create a new development opportunity.

On the Granville Bridge people have been suggesting a new pedestrian area in the centre lanes. This seems to me to be even sillier than the viaduct idea. If I am going to walk over a bridge, I want to see what I am crossing over not three lanes of traffic on either side. And no doubt a pair of solid, unclimbable safety barriers too.

This set is of the views from the Fir Street off ramp, where there is a sidewalk on the west side, overlooking Kits and Granville Island. An elevator directly down to the Island would be good too.

Fir Street

In the foreground the CP railway (Arbutus Line) crossing and then the other Granville Bridge off ramp to 4th Ave. That’s West Van in the distance.

7th Ave

The High Line in New York is actually midblock – it threads itself in between buildings, which used to be the factories and warehouses it serves. So neither this bridge nor the viaducts will work in quite the same way. But they do provide a view down the streets – sorry Avenues in our case – they cross. Much quieter than the streets of Lower Manhattan.

A view of distant snow capped mountains

Just as the High Line there are good views off to the distance. And I happen to think the Burrard Inlet is a lot more picturesque than the Hudson River, but your view may be different.

Playground

The playground is a very happy addition to this corner site.

6th Avenue West

The CP Arbutus tracks are off to the right, hidden by the trees

Six lanes on West 4th

Count them – six lanes – on West 4th Avenue. That makes it a stroad: a major arterial road and a shopping street. I would suggest that it is a candidate for traffic calming – or maybe bus lanes for the #4, #7, #44 and #84 – but of course that would set off the same outrage we had to weather from the Point Grey Road changes. Which of course have not actually lead to the decline of Western civilization as we know it.

Starbucks on 2nd

At one time the CP track along Lamey’s Mill Road went through here, crossed the road at an oblique angle and then swung right up towards Burrard. But then Starbucks was built which in some people’s mind ended the possibility of reopening the Arbutus Line for trams, which would connect with the now abandoned Olympic Line. But the old Sockeye Special did not come through here. That line crossed False Creek at an angle on a long gone trestle. Anyway there’s a better alternative: I will get to that in a bit.

Duranleau Street

The Fir Street ramp leaves the main bridge around here. Granville Island is immediately below. One of the features of Granville Island is the large amount of space devoted to car parking. On a sunny weekend, the line-up of cars trying to get on to the Island backs up to the 2nd Avenue intersection and sometimes beyond. Traffic on Granville Island of course moves very slowly because of all the pedestrians, the service vehicles and all those people either hunting for a parking space or trying to get in or out of one. I think a pair of elevators either side of Granville Bridge with their own bus stops would be ideal to improve transit accessibility. I am not a great fan of the #50.

6th Avenue West

This shot down the length of the railway track next to 6th Avenue West illustrates my other great idea. The Fir Street Ramp could be taken away from cars altogether and repurposed for light rail/tram/streetcar – chose your own favourite term. As you can see the trains/interurbans had to climb from here to get up to Arbutus. The alignment could be used for a level rail structure that would connect onto Granville Bridge. That also allows for grade separation of the crossing of Burrard Street. On Granville Bridge the line would use those two centre lanes with a straight shot off the Bridge to the Granville Mall (does anyone still call it that) for transfers to the Canada Line, Expo Line, SeaBus and West Coast Express. The old CP Arbutus right of way could be turned back into an interurban as a cheaper alternative than expanding the stations on the Canada Line. It could also connect to a future conversion of the little used CP tracks to New Westminster and Coquitlam, via Marine Drive Station and the new riverside developments.

new line

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2015 at 2:59 pm

The Arbutus Corridor Dispute

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I was back on the CBC TV suppertime news last night. CP have sent in the bulldozers again to restart the work on their long disused track from Marpole to Burrard Bridge. They are down at the south end of the line now, back where they were ripping out gardens last year before the the City tried to get an injunction to stop them. Unsurprisingly, the courts were reluctant to stop CP from trying to make their tracks capable of carrying trains again. Except, of course, there is no reason for CP to do so: not one that makes any commercial sense that is. CP are not interested in carrying people: they are freight railway. There are no customers now on the line. That is why there have not been any trains: for years. The track has simply been left to return to nature. CP is obliged to maintain the road crossings as it has not formally abandoned the track. But the only reason it is clearing away encumbrances is to try to get the City to raise its offer. The corridor is designated for transportation use in the City plan. That also was established in court. CP is not able to sell the land to developers, so the City is the only potential buyer. And they do not put the same price on that strip of land as CP does.

UPDATE

I have been out taking photos of the ongoing work by CP and putting the images on my flickr stream

SPEC has a very interesting history of the line on their newsletter this month

“Gardens started along the tracks as “Victory Garden’s” during WWII and were tolerated by BC Electric Railway Co until 1952 when CPR took over the line and continued to permit those gardens and, over the decades, allow others to be built. For as long as they ran trains on this line, gardens thrived along many stretches of the Arbutus Corridor – What happened to that CPR?”

Community Garden Destruction

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm