Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for the ‘Railway’ Category

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

The Fight for the Arbutus Corridor

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This post started out as a brief “in other news item” under the last post. It seems to me, as this story develops, that it needs its own space and promotion. More will be added, no doubt

Looking for pictures to illustrate this post – there is a good summary and illustrations on the CBC BC news site and also a useful summary of the background from The Province

CP has started ripping out community gardens in Marpole along the Arbutus corridor.

Fairchild TV crew

I helped Fairchild TV make a documentary about this episode this afternoon.

Quite why CP thinks the City of Vancouver is more likely hand over even more taxpayers’ money to them by holding hostages I am not certain. Kirk LaPointe of course would not be happy no matter no matter what decision the Mayor makes. He was on the CBC TV evening news blaming the Mayor for making a ridiculously low offer, forcing CP’s response. No doubt had the Mayor made a much bigger offer that would have been derided as overly generous. The sad truth of the situation is that the incumbent cannot please the opposition. Maybe voters in general will appreciate a Mayor who stands his ground against a bully even if gardens are destroyed.

CP could easily store trains or train its crews without going to all this trouble: there is plenty of track in better condition but just as unused elsewhere in the City.  If I was a CP shareholder, I think I would criticize management for wasting money on track of little use. Maybe reverting a pleasant greenway to a workable railway with no customers actually lowers its value. And here is a quote from one of the comments (“Naturalmystic”) under that Straight story linked to above which raises a possibility I had not considered

CP has the hammer and they don’t have to run a single train to get their price for the land. To run trains they need to upgrade the tracks. They need to upgrade the level crossings. Imagine you are trying to drive down Broadway and Arbutus at 8:30 am and the traffic is gridlocked. The cause? CP is doing work at the crossing. That entails working in the signals, the track…The city can’t do a damn thing. CP has the right to maintain their tracks, equipment, level crossings at any time without restraint. CP has the right to run their trains 24/7. CP has the upper hand.

You can also read Mayor Robertson’s response at the foot of which is the statement from CP which appears to confirm Maturalmystic’s prediction

“We are testing crossing signals, and assessing pedestrian and vehicle crossings to understand where, if any, maintenance is required.”

And then there is this I have lifted from the CP web site

At CP we know that a railroad may serve as the arteries of a nation, but at its heart is community. That’s why through CP Has Heart, we’re committed to improving the heart health of men, women and children across North America. And along the way, we’re showing heart whenever we can. Find out more@CPhasHeart

Working in a garden and eating fresh fruit and vegetables are a very good ways to improve your heart health. Try to do that, whenever possible, well away from the miasma of diesel exhaust.

UPDATE

There is an article on VanCityBuzz on the lack of ability to expand the Canada Line which mentions a possible Arbutus Line at the very end. When I read it, much of the subject matter and approach seemed very familiar. I am not sure if that is reassuring or not.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Batteries included: Network Rail begins on-track trials of prototype battery-powered train

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‘What’s this got to do with transit in Metro Vancouver?’ you might be asking. Well, it’s a trial of a new technology that does actually have potential impact here.

Network Rail and its partners believe battery-powered trains could be used to bridge gaps in otherwise electrified parts of the network or be used on branch lines where it would not be cost effective to install overhead electrification equipment,

You can read the entire press release, if you are interested. A couple of important bits of information are missing: the weight of batteries and what they do to the power consumption of the train when it is running under the wires. The second bit there is probably one of the key determinants of whether this project goes on to production. There are many prototype tests: many of them have short lives or look very different by the time they get into production.

The technology is the interesting bit, because it does not necessarily need to be confined to trains. Vancouver has an extensive network of electric trolleybuses, but the wires do not always extend to useful destinations. It is very expensive to construct the overhead (back in 2004 I used to use the figure of $1m per kilometre for plain track – more for “special works” like switches and diamonds). So to add enough wire to get trolleybuses from say 41st at Crown to UBC is cost prohibitive.

The “new” trolleybuses – actually entering service at the end of 2006 – have much better batteries than the previous generation, but even so can only run at low speed and limited distances. And someone has to be stationed at each end of the gap to do the pole pulling. So battery power is for short distances and for temporary disruptions. Routes like the #7 Dunbar – Nanaimo have been running diesel buses under wires most of the way for at least a year by my observation. This new technology could see faster, longer operation on battery power for longer distances. This would both reduce the use of diesel – a worthy aim in itself – and cut costs. As long as someone comes up with a automated pole puller. Routes like the #9 could actually terminate somewhere useful, like Brentwood Mall, instead of the traditional loop at the city boundary. The #41 could run out to UBC electrically and use the wires for most of the route.

This is probably more likely than seeing CMBC put poles on hybrid buses to achieve the same objectives.

Translink 2135 on wb 9 Broadway Vancouver BC 2007_0108

In other news

The draconian changes in drunk driving rules in BC have worked to reduce collisions and casualties. No mention is made of why this change in legislation was controversial in this UBC study, so it does not come across as an evenhanded or even objective assessment of the policy change. Were the fears of the restaurant/pub operators justified? Are there any civil liberties concerns about the presumption of innocence lost at the “sobriety checkpoint” or the absence of due process when the police impose penalties without judicial oversight? Or is the unspoken rule any life saved is worth any cost?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2014 at 9:42 am

Cities in motion: transport is as key to urban character as buildings or accents

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I have been very pleased to see the Guardian add a section on Cities, and I am finding the articles posted there very informative. For instance Alex Steffen writing about affordability  and his prescription – build lots of houses. This morning there is a wide reaching review of how transportation defines cities which is written by Colin Marshall who hails from Seattle and thinks London is defined by The Tube. It is an easy mistake for an American to make, and is about as misguided as a Londoner thinking that New York is defined by its subway. He does have a very interesting overview and a wide range of samples, and makes some good points. But both London (and New York) rely very heavily on a much wider network than their inner urban mass transit systems.

The tube, in London, serves mostly the northwestern quadrant – as is apparent from Harry Beck’s geographically distorted diagram. This is the original from the 1930’s. Bank Station – at the centre of the City is over to the right. Note the position of the Thames relative to most of the network.  The District Line through East London is not shown as a line, merely a list of stations.

The historical reason for this is that the mainline railway that served this quadrant was initially not very interested in operating suburban services as it made much more money from long distance trains. Including boat trains to Liverpool that connected to liners to New York, as well as the premium Scottish expresses. The tube was originally built by entrepreneurs looking to make money, and what they found was that the short lines under the central area were not long enough to be profitable and cost a great deal to construct. The companies became profitable when they extended out into the fields which could then be built over with houses for commuters. The first underground line (The Metropolitan Railway) was extended in tunnels to Wembley and then out to Amersham and beyond on the surface. Many of the connections into Central London were made by tacking existing branch lines onto the tube. In Beck’s map above the Central Line stops at Liverpool Street. The service now goes out far into Essex on former GE branch lines – and a new tube under Wanstead built just before the war and uncompleted in 1939 which became a factory until hostilities ceased.

There is only one tube line through South London (the Northern Line). That is because the Southern Railway and its antecedents had much less long distance traffic but were early adopters of electrification for the dense network of lines that radiate out from the series of terminals built to serve both the City (to the East) and the West End. The even built their own tube to connect Waterloo to the City (known as the drain and only relatively recently incorporated into the Underground network).

The main line railways were not allowed to build into the City itself, and were kept in a ring along City Road (under which the Met was built). For the Great Eastern (the same company that built what became to be BC Rail) the need for a larger terminal nearer the City meant they wanted to redevelop a notorious slum called the Jago. As a condition of being allowed to demolish that warren of extremely dense – and very unhealthy – housing, they had to provide workmen’s fares at low cost to allow the displaced to relocate to new suburbs in places like Walthamstow and Leytonstone.

London began to sprawl long before there were motorcars. Development stretched out into the country along the railway lines, railway stations became the centre of towns that grew up around them. In the interwar period with the construction of new faster roads for cars and as unemployment relief – the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue – this development started filling in. Instead of the “beads on a string” pattern of the railway towns, there was “ribbon development’. In the period when people were tasked with thinking out what would happen to London after the Luftwaffe were stopped from flattening so much of it, the idea was to prevent this continuous urban area by specifying a Green Belt. The current boundary of Greater London lies within that Green Belt, which marks the limits of how far the ribbons of sprawl had reached by 1939. Post war there were to have been New Towns, that would be both free standing and self sufficient – providing employment to reduce the need for commuting. That did not work out. Basically the suburbs leapt over the Green Belt and kept on going. Boxmoor (see below) is in Hemel Hempstead – near the station – and has a very fast service into Euston that I used to commute on just before I left for Toronto.

underground111.jpg

One of the stupidest decisions made by the self serving Governor of New Jersey was cancelling the railway tunnel that would have relieved congestion between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan. Penn Station (now hidden beneath Madison Square Garden) is not just the busiest in New York – it is one of busiest passenger terminals in North America. Grand Central is not far behind. Manhattan lies at the heart of a huge megalopolis and depends on railway services to the surrounding region. It would be impossible for the downtown towers to work as employment centres if those people all tried to drive to work. Though Robert Moses did his best to try and accomplish that.

FDR Drive

FDR Drive midtown Manhattan
my picture on flickr

In both Central London and Manhattan most of the people there during the day got there on trains. In the case of London those trains come from an ever widening ring of urban areas – as train speeds have been increased and services improved. I used to think that getting a seat for a 25minute ride into Waterloo so that I could read on my commute was about optimal. Many others travel further and longer. Lord Olivier famously commuted from Brighton (about an hour – and at one time you could get kippers for breakfast on a Pullman train).  Those commuters might need to add a short tube ride from a terminal like Paddington (as you will need to if you decide to use Heathrow Express to get into town from the airport) or Liverpool Street. The current construction of CrossRail is designed to reduce the congestion on that route.

For many people the tube is something to avoid. You do not have to suffer from claustrophobia to find the crowding and depth of the station platforms a deterrent. Fortunately there are always alternatives. In fact in Central London it is nearly always quicker to walk than travel between adjacent stations – or even three or four stops. Especially if a change of lines is needed. The need for a rapid increase in transit capacity created by the congestion charge lead to a huge improvement in bus services. For visitors, I would recommend that using a combination of Boris Bikes, buses and walking is going to be a much nicer experience than the tube – especially at Rush Hour (actually several hours).

When I wrote this I had not seen this article in The Independent ” twice as many people ride the bus each day as the Tube” by the Labour spokesperson on infrastructure.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 17, 2014 at 10:32 am