“Evergreen” Won’t Be LRT in Vancouver

To no great surprise, Translink has announced that the Evergreen line will be built using Skytrain technology, not as a conventional LRT line.

I have always wondered how this LRT scheme managed to get a foothold in a city so dedicated to one mode and where LRT proposals had constantly been sidelined. Indeed, building one orphan line off in the burbs hardly made sense.

The business case rests on faster travel times for ALRT which translate into higher future ridership (a claim that has been used consistently for modal comparisons in other corridors) and on lower operating costs at least in part because the line would be an extension of an existing system.

12 thoughts on ““Evergreen” Won’t Be LRT in Vancouver

  1. 1.2 Billion for LRT compared to 1.4 Billion for grade seperated ALRT? Am I missing something here? I cannot believe that LRT will cost that much compared to ALRT.

    You can assume that since the Evergreen line will be ALRT, Translink will think about running Evergreen Trains to Waterfront station.

    Steve: Unfortunately, the technical details of the alignments are not available online. One big add-on for LRT would be a separate carhouse and maintenance facility, although that doesn’t explain all of the difference. Similarly, travel time comparisons would include a transfer for LRT to Skytrain trips that would not exist for one-seat rides.

    As for capacity, Translink seems to think that five minutes is the minimum headway one can operate for LRT and this relates to interactions between transit priority and road signals. Their stated capacity, just over 4,000 for 12 trains/hour is well below the projected demand of over 6,000 per hour. I will leave to others comparisons with that city over the mountains, Calgary, and its LRT network.

    One issue that always comes up in discussions of ALRT/SkyTrain is that of elevated structures and stations. Whenever I see sample photos from Vancouver in presentations, they always show stations and rights-of-ways that cross streets more or less at right angles and are hemmed in by buildings. If you happen to have an alignment that suits this sort of construction, it allows you to hide the bulk of the elevated structure. Running down the middle of an urban street is quite another matter, and the impact of a station on a major intersection would be severe.

    Vancouver has many rail corridors suited to commuting travel patterns, no surprise considering that some of them are former BC Electric lines, and these serve radial trips. Vancouver’s is still very much a core-oriented transit network and that travel time to downtown is the dominant factor in the modelled demand. This is very different from Toronto where we are considering ways to improve transit connectivity between suburban areas.


  2. Honestly my response to this is relief. As much as LRT could handle the route (the entire Vancouver system for that matter),the system has been built as ICTS, planned as ICTS and does provide a higher quality service with lower operational cost. The Canada line is bad enough, but it is at the end of the day an isolated system by it’s nature; an Evergreen LRT would be, quite literally, Vancouver’s SRT (up to and including the single track terminal converted from a design for a different system).

    There’s also a reality that this is, even with its higher cost, more likely to get public support. Coquitlam has been promised rapid transit since the Central Park line opened in the Expo corridor in the 19th century, and has yet to see anything more than a glorified express bus. A feeling that the Evergreen as previously proposed was offering them second class transit was ultimately justified; yes, ICTS is more than Vancouver needs, but the rest of the city gets it, why not Coquitlam.

    As for the Translink Plan, it’s great, with one rather large problem. Where’s the funding for the downtown streetcar? It’s far too late now, but this is a project that should have been completed for the Olympics, and really does deserve to be built in it’s entirety.


  3. It is really no surprise to me at all that ALRT finally won-out. Lougheed Station, the planned starting point for the line, was built with all the necessary special trackwork and guideway-takeoffs in place from Day One to allow for fully-integrated service and possible run-through route extensions to Downtown Vancouver. Funding limitations at the time forced study of alternative technologies for the Evergreen Line even though the existing system was obviously prefered for the expansion. It’s really nice to see that all the work and money invested to install a fully functional ‘junction to nowhere’ will not have been wasted. The possibilities for run-through interlining will certainly prove to be of great value.

    Don’t be surprised if the long-envisioned westerly extension of the northern loop of the Millenium Line becomes the planned UBC branch line.


  4. Part of the reason that LRT is so expensive here is that the grade on the preferred northern alignment is so steep and windy that the designers had no choice, but to build a tunnel to offset this problem.

    The problem, at least in Vancouver, is that rapid articulating buses are becoming well established and utilized on many corridors. Studies have been done on both the Richmond-Vancouver and the Coquitlam lines comparing rapid bus to fixed rail and LRT have basically suggested that LRT offers limited advantages over BRT.

    For 4 times the infrastructure price of bus rapid transit, the only real gains from the LRT over BRT from a service delivery perspective are in the form of capacity and reliability; travel time is unchanged. On the Coquitlam corridor, ridership is nowhere near the level where a upgrade in capacity to LRT could be justified.


  5. Hi…it’s Ken from TransLink

    The question as to how LRT got so expensive is a good one. After we did all of the consultation and preliminary design, it turned out that about 40 per cent of the LRT line would have had to be grade-separated: elevated from the Lougheed Station over to North Road, the tunnel from Burquitlam to Port Moody and, due to the traffic volumes, underground at the Lougheed/Barnet/Pinetree intersection.

    The tunnel would be more expensive because of the overhead power lines and, one of the key issues, the design along St. John’s had to be such that no road capacity was lost to vehicle traffic — unlike other places where I understand there are no problems with taking out a couple of traffic lanes to put in the LRT line.

    With respect to the capacity issue, given the growth anticipated in the Northeast Sector, the extra capacity you get from ALRT will be useful sooner or later.

    What are the opinions in this group about the Northwest vs. Southeast corridor?


  6. A few points of clarification:

    This was NOT a TransLink announcement, but rather one by the Provincial Government of BC, much as has been the case with all other rapid transit decisions in Vancouver since the 1970s (SeaBus, original SkyTrain Expo Line, Millennium Line, Canada Line & latest provincial transit announcements). While the is always the illusion of local decision-making, this is once again a case of the Provincial Government of the day imposing it’s will (and especially preferred technology) on the local populace. TransLink had essentially nothing to do with this. The initial technical preference for LRT was overridden, as happened with the original Millennium Line & Canada Line alignments. At this point though the ALRT network is becoming so substantial that an orphan LRT line is problematic, as Steve rightly points out.

    As for the high projected cost of LRT, some of it is indeed due to the long tunnel necessary to get from Burquitlam to Port Moody. However, the proposal also included all kinds of ridiculous and unnecessary elevated sections because the suburban municipalities (Burnaby & Coquitlam especially) refused to reduce roadway capacity. As a result you would have had a massively overbuilt LRT, all because of outdated traffic engineering notions of the primacy of vehicular traffic.

    And Steve, next time you’re looking for an example of the horrible impact that elevated guideways have on the urban environment, look no further than Lougheed Hwy in Burnaby & now No.3 Rd in Richmond. I defy you to find major ‘urban main streets’ equally hostile to pedestrians.

    And lastly for Ken from TransLink, you should well know that only the NW corridor makes any sense. It is the only one with any existing development – development which was built on the assumption of future rapid transit infrastructure. But what am I saying, of course it’s easier to build something as hideous as an elevated guideway far from existing homes (& potential transit riders). Moreover, the SE corridor would be the perfect excuse for the province to sell off RIverview (former psychiatric hospital land for those in Ontario) for redevelopment. Which of course would be completely counter to the regional plan (LRSP), but when has anyone at the Province really cared about that anyway?


  7. Ken

    Given that part of the NE corridor will run in a rail alignment, does this decision limit future possible expansion of West Coast Express or is sufficient room remaining if extra tracks were ever needed? It looks pretty narrow in that stretch.


  8. Well as wonderful as light rail really and truthfully is, in this case going with a technology which Vancouver already has makes perfect sense. They really might as well have stuck with skytrain technology for the Canada Line as well. What ever that technology’s drawbacks, at least Vancouver would have one standard technology that way. We’ll just have to wait and see how this new Canada Line technology compares. Had Vancouver stuck with light rail for the Evergreen line, they’d be dealing too many technologies for the amount of rail transit they’re going to have.

    If I were a city, regional or provincial politician or other official in or from the Vancouver area, I’d be pushing hot and heavy for the Millenium Line to be extended to UBC. There’s no reason at all that an important traffic generator should not be served by rail transit.

    Steve: In Vancouver, the real heart of the SkyTrain is not the vehicles, but the automatic control system. Through some miracle, Bombardier did not win that procurement bid, and so Vancouver will have an alternate propulsion technology (rotary motors rather than linear induction). It will be intriguing to see how the two flavours compete in the same network for reliability and robustness.

    Obviously, Bombardier has a lock on expansion of the existing lines because the combination of LIM propulsion and automatic train operation is their speciality.


  9. The greatest problem with Bombardier’s LIM system is that it is proprietary. Meaning that they can name their price for any future fleet expansion or replacement.


  10. As far as I know the automated system was built by a French company that was involved in building VAL automated systems in France (Lille’s Val started 4 years before Skytrain) so Bombardier can’t have a lock on that one. The French ALRT sytems, and similar ones in Japan, do not use the LIM system. Could vehicles with rotary motors use the tracks on the Millenium and Expo line? how many companies besides Bombardier use the LIM propulsion system?


  11. Follow up to the previous post:

    Lille’s ALRT automated control system is from Siemens. SkyTrain’s automated system is called Seltrac and is built by Alcatel, a French company that has installed similar automated control systems in:

    Scarborough Rapid Transit, Detroit Downtown People mover, Walt Disney World monorail, Tampa and Newark airport people movers, MTRC, Hong Kong, Docklands Light Railway, Ankara rapid transit system, San Francisco Muni Metro, Kuala Lumpur Putra line, London’s Jubilee Central Control Management Centre, John F Kennedy airport access system, KCRC West Rail, Hong Kong.


  12. Steve,

    Just got back from Vancouver where I spent the week working downtown … it was great … got me out using the transit system and I couldn’t help picking out the things I’d like to see the TTC adopt.

    The Zone system for one … I never could understand why a trip from Yonge/Queen to Yonge/Bloor is the same price as someone traveling from Scarborough to Pearson. Vancouver’s time based pass is a great feature … I was able to pick up a trolley from Granville Island to Davie to Denman … run into my hotel grab my bags, jump back on the Robson bus and take it to waterfront and then grab the seabus to North Van and all on one weekend fare saver ticket (<$2) … nice eh!

    I also bumped into the conductor for the Granville historic line which if all goes will become a short demonstration line running to the olympic village and if that is successful could become a nice city run LRT. The vision includes lines from Granville Island to Science World into Yaletown, Waterfront Station, Stanley Park, Kerrisdale and other communities all utilizing currently abandoned rail or trolley lines.

    Have a looksee at the City’s website on the project … I admit that I am jealous of Vancouver’s transit progress.

    Keep up the great writing.


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