Friday, April 18, 2008

Light Rail Committee File: Light Rail Transit vs SkyTrain

The following fact sheet comparing Light Rail to SkyTrain is from Malcolm Johnston's Light Rail Committee. - 604-889-4484


The capacity, or ridership potential of a rail-transit system, is a function of headway - that is, the distance between trains. Many LRT/streetcar systems achieve very high capacities in peak hours. This is done by operating cars in short headways. The journal Tramways & Urban Transit has reported that, in Karlsruhe, Germany, trams run every 45 seconds on the main street during peak hours - 80 cars per hour per direction. The passenger-capacity of a three-section, articulated Karlsruhe tram car, is approximately 250. This gives us a total of 20,000 passengers per hour per direction (80 x 250 = 20,000).

Many European cities offer 30-second headways on their LRT/tramway systems during peak hours. Hong Kong's vintage 3'-6" tramway system, using double-deck cars, carries over 84 million passengers per year. That system runs a frequency of less than 90 second headways, and operates on-street in one of the world's most densely populated cities.


Modern light-rail vehicles operate as fast or faster than SkyTrain. In Karlsruhe, Germany, their famous zwei-system LRT operates in excess of 100 kph. This enables it to track-share with mainline railways. Most LRV's, except for the simplest of streetcars, obtain the same maximum speed as SkyTrain, at 80 kph.

'Commercial speed' is based on the time a transit vehicle takes from start to finish on a transit route, and is dependent on the quality of rights-of-way and the number of stops per route kilometre. The commercial speed of LRT lines tends to be slower, simply because there are many more stations or stops per kilometre. It should be noted that the St. Louis LRT has a commercial speed slightly higher than SkyTrain's commercial speed, whereas Calgary's LRT has a lower commercial speed. Calgary's LRT system, however, has many more stations - and more stations attract more transit customers, as proven by Calgary’s very high ridership numbers (now over 250,000 passengers a day!).

LRT, operating on reserved rights-of-ways (HOV lanes reserved for the exclusive use of LRT) at-grade/on-street can obtain the same commercial speeds as an elevated or underground metro, when it has been professionally designed to do so.


The notion that automated driverless transit systems are cheaper to operate than LRT because they have no drivers, was dispelled many years ago. In fact the opposite is true - driverless light-metros like SkyTrain actually cost more to operate than LRT.

In 2006, the Calgary LRT carried 250,000 passengers a day, yet its operating costs were only $32.8 million, of which only $6 million were driver's wages. By comparison, the last reported operating cost for Vancouver's SkyTrain system, which carries less passengers than Calgary's, was approximately $70-million per year

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