Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Evergreen Line or It's a Numbers Game

I received the following email in my inbox this afternoon. The message is from Jim Houlahan of CAW Local 111 in reply to Patrick Condon from the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at UBC. Patrick Condon was commenting on the business case of using SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line instead of the agreed upon light rail. He states that "without elaboration [the province's plan says], that the light rail will be two cars long and skytrian four, allowing the assertion that skytrain will have higher capacity per train, and that frequency of service for light rail will be every five minutes while skytrain will be every three."

This is what the Provincial Plans says:

Frequency: Peak period headway (minutes): 3.0
Maximum Operating Speed (km/hr): 80
Peak Hour Capacity (2021): 10,400

Light Rail
Frequency: Peak period headway (minutes): 5.0
Maximum Operating Speed (km/hr): 60
Peak Hour Capacity (2021) 4,080

For comparision, here are Calgary's C-Train (Light Rail) numbers

Frequency: Peak period headway (minutes): 3.0

Average speed (km/hr): 30
Maximum speed (km/hr): 80

Maximum PRACTICAL single direction capacity at design capacity of 162 pass./car and 2 min. headway:
3-car train (present) 14,580
4-car train (future) 19,440

Actual maximum peak hour passenger load (pass./hr/dir):
a.m. peak 7,255

Now, this is the email from Jim Houlahan:
It goes beyond depression when you have seen this movie several times. If there wasn’t so much money involved and serious implications for the Region it would be a good script for a Mel Brooks movie. If one goes to Hansard, which I have pointed out to many so called journalists, the debate in the house in the Spring of 1998 has Gordon Campbell as leader of the opposition haranguing Glen Clark about the unilateral provincial decision to switch from an agree LRT Line along the Broadway-Lougheed corridor to Coquitlam to a SkyTrain that never gets to Coquitlam, the Millenium Line. Now his government is doing the same thing. In that argument he makes all the right points about the high cost of SkyTrain relative to LRT and the relative capacities being pretty equal. He also of course notes the stupidity of looping around from Lougheed Mall back the New west and not going to Coquitlam. At that time there was a small scandal as it surfaced the NDP had done just what the Liberals are now doing with their business case. That is to artificially inflate the cost of LRT while artificially downsizing the actual cost of SkyTrain to show a favourable position for SkyTrain relative to LRT. The issue in dispute at the time showed they had clearly grossly exaggerated the cost of the land for the storage facility for the lRT cars.

Also what no one has picked up on yet is the stuypid notion they are selling that SkyTrain will compatible with the existing system at Lougheed Mall and void the need for atransfer at Lougheed Stn., where LRT would necessitate it. But if you walk through it becomes obviously flawed reasoning. If in fact someone wanting to go downtown from the North East Sector took a SkyTrain system to Lougheed and that train didn’t truncate at Lougheed to avoid the transfer they are still going to have to transfer at Broadway and Commercial, which is a long walk and then have to wait to get on the Expo Line at the most packed, congested transfer point in the city. The only way to avoid that and give the person from the North East a transferless ride to downtown is have their train turn left at Lougheed Mall and take the track back through New Westminster to downtown. What hasn’t been noted is if you are going to offer a 5 minute headway on the Evergreen line and not truncate it at Lougheed Mall, sending that train as far as Broadway and Commercial or all the way downtown now requires at least five times as many cars to provide a 5 minute headway over a much greater distance. If it is truncated at Lougheed Station and returns to Coquitlam you need far fewer cars to provide a 5 minute service on that section of the track. It is simple mathematics. The other consideration no one has raised is what happened to the service for people from Surrey when the Millenium Line started up will now occur twice more if the Evergreen Line cars go all the way through to Broadway or downtown. When the Millenium Line opened and had to merge in westbound at Columbia Station with the inbound trains from Surrey, they had to back off the headways, service intervals, from Surrey to let the Millenium Line go through ever third train. People from Surrey saw their service frequency decrease in the rush hour. Now if the Evergreen Line didn’t truncate at Lougheed you will have to reduce the headways on both the Expo Line and Millenium Lines to let the new train share the common track.

Also no one has yet raised the nonsense in Falcon’s so called Transportation Plan about spending almost $4 Bil. To double the capacity on the Expo Line by extending the stations to accommodate six car trains. The original stations were built in 1986 to accommodate six car Mark 1 cars. The reason they never have run six car trains is a technical issue of propulsion and braking that arose right after it opened up and they have never been able to resolve it. Furthermore the original Mark 1 cars are no longer in production, only the newer Mark 11 cars which you almost never see running in more than two car couplings for the similar technical problems. The SkyTrain bridge over the Fraser River is at least a 7% grade which also created technical difficulties for SkyTrain propulsion systems when trying to run six car trains over the bridge. What is fascinating, and we raised this in our presentation opposing the Canada Line and I still have access to the original ridership projections put out in 1985 for the Expo Line, is they projected the Expo Line would carry 20,000 riders per am rush hour measured inbound at Main St. Station by 2003. As of today they are only carrying 12,000 per am rush hour at Main St. and the cars are packed. How is it they are only at 60% of their projections and the cars are jammed packed? It is because the original ridership projections of 20,000 were based on the assumption they would be running all six car trains, which of course they have never been able to do.

There is more to this nonsense but time or energy does not allow me to continue at this time. But this is yet another snow job and the wrong train will be rammed through. There are very questionable assertions made with very skimpy analysis to back it up, and little if any opportunity for the public or experts to challenge their simplistic claims. The mainstream press will bury their heads, as always, not to mention there is no reporter around who knows the right questions to ask, or is given the okay to ask them by their editorial masters. I have watched this happen for the Expo Line, Millenium Line, Canada Line, and now the unilateral shift to SkyTrain for the Evergreen Line. The municipalities just had their control over Regional Transportation Planning gutted by Falcon and except for a few barely raised a whimper and now we have a private board who will simply facilitate Falcon’s wishes, but it will be the municipalities who will have to pay the political price for raising our property taxes, gas tax, and transit fares to pay for a Plan they don’t agree with. I am certain there are better processes in third world countries.

As I said this is the fourth time for this movie for us here at the bus company. Every time a Provincial government has rammed through a billion dollar train that wasn’t in the Regional Plans it has automatically dumped very considerable annual debt servicing obligations on the Region, and in turn to make those annual payments from annual revenue sources the bus system has not kept pace with the growth in the Region as we then become the poor cousin. It is the single most contributory reason we are 500 buses behind what the most conservative Plans said we would need by now. If you look at TransLink’s 2007 annual operating budget you will see out of almost $800 mil total $150 mil. is for debt servicing. Even using a 10% lending rate for rough calculations that is a billion and a half of capital expenditure, and they actually average between six and seven per cent borrowing rate through the Municipal Financing Authority. Now consider they didn’t buy a new conventional bus from 2000-05 and ask yourself what is contributing to all that annual interest payments they are making.

What is even more disgusting is no where at anytime has TransLink’s financial statements ever shown a breakdown of what that 150 million a year in interest is for. I know a journalist who asked Hardie to provide that over a year ago and he is still waiting.

Jim H.

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