Surrey LRT Plans Halted in Favour of SkyTrain

Watershed Sentinel

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Minutes after being sworn in on Monday, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum voted along with a unanimous city council to scrap the long-planned Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in the city, and instead start work on a SkyTrain extension to Langley, reports the Surrey Now-Leader. The motion also requested Translink and the Mayors’ Council get onboard with the plan, and authorize funding for the project “as soon as possible.”

The Vancouver Sun reports that while McCallum has said that a SkyTrain extension could be built for the same cost as the planned LRT system, experts disagree, describing the SkyTrain as more expensive “by an order of magnitude,” and costing more to do less.

SkyTrain proponents maintain LRT, with no grade separation from vehicles, will cause traffic mayhem, safety issues, and offer no benefit over dedicated bus lanes.

Vancouver has a long and highly politicized history with Bombardier/SNC-Lavalin’s proprietary SkyTrain system. According to LRT advocate D. Malcolm Johnston, “In 1981, instead of the originally-planned light rail transit (LRT) … the then-Social Credit provincial government forced the proprietary SkyTrain mini-metro system onto the region…. For the cost of the proposed 1978 LRT network to Surrey, Richmond and Lougheed Mall, taxpayers received a SkyTrain from downtown Vancouver to New Westminster.”

For a detailed critique of the Skytrain system and Vancouver’s history with it, see Johnston’s article in the Watershed Sentinel.

Light Rail Transit (LRT)

What we call light rail is a family of transit modes all compatible with each other, from the simplest of streetcar or tram operations, to that of a light metro. The modern light rail vehicle has the ability to operate on rights-of-way and tracks of various quality. This gives modern LRT a tremendous flexibility in operation and is the main reason why it made SkyTrain (ALRT) obsolete in the mid-1980s.

The main modes of light rail are:

TramTrain, which is a modern tram or light rail vehicle that can operate both on tram lines and the mainline railways. Costs for TramTrain start at $5 million/km to build.

Streetcar or tram, which is simply a tram operating on-street, in mixed traffic. Costs for a simple tram system start around $15 million/km to build.

Light Rail Transit, which is a modern tram operating on reserved rights-of-way with priority signaling at intersections. Costs for LRT start around $30 million/km to build.

Light metro, which are trams using grade-separated rights-of way, such as subways and viaducts. Cost for light metro starts around $130 million/km.

It is interesting to note that in Karlsruhe Germany, the city tram system has various routes where the tram operates as TramTrain, tram, LRT, and light metro, without the transit customer transferring vehicles.

Modern LRT can carry more customers at a cheaper cost than SkyTrain-type systems, which illustrates why only seven such systems have been built around the world in almost forty years. By comparison, during the same period, over 200 new LRT lines have been built and the vast majority of the existing 350 heritage streetcar systems have been rebuilt to a light rail standard.

—Source: “SkyTrain vs LRT,” D. Malcolm Johnston, Watershed Sentinel March-April 2018


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