SkyTrain no slam dunk: Falcon
This is an astonishing reversal – because he is talking not just about South of the Fraser but also in Vancouver to UBC. Gordon Campbell has always been very clear that he wants a bored tube tunnel all the way from VCC (I wish still it was called Glen Clark Station) to UBC – with a price tag of $2bn.
“Light rail could be the smartest, wisest thing to do,” Falcon told Black Press.
“I wouldn’t rule that in or out. But for goodness sakes, let’s do our homework first and make sure we actually know what we’re talking about before we make a decision on what the answer should be.”
Which is also a reversal. Lots of us have been working – on and off – on evaluation of various alternatives, and some of us were on the provincial or regional payroll or as consultants at the time. Not that it made the slightest bit of difference how much analysis was done, or who was in charge. The outcome – expensive, grade separated, automated – was never in any doubt.
Falcon denies the province has settled on SkyTrain.
“That’s subject to further analysis,” he said.
And he says light rail fans shouldn’t blindly champion that technology either.
“I’ve just got to believe people aren’t so woolly-headed about these kind of things that they think we should just plunge forward with a solution they’ve come up with before anyone’s done any homework to determine whether or not that makes any sense for taxpayers and transit riders.”
The cheaper per kilometre cost of light rail is just one part of the calculation, he said, adding capacity and expected ridership are also critical.
Actually there is no such thing as “light rail technology”. There is a whole spectrum of available cars and methods of fitting track on to both existing rights of way or building new ones. And while there is a rough and ready US set of “definitions” usually for regulatory reasons, there are all kinds of examples where the line between “Heavy” and “Light” rail gets very indistinct. Many countries have adopted light rail approaches to such issues as train control and accessibility, and it is not unusual to see things that look like trams running on main line railways, and very train like vehicles on streets.
The Canada Line is not SkyTrain – and it is incompatible with it – but from the perspective of the user it might as well be. And from the point of view of the people who will be paying the bills – us. And certainly adding capacity to that line is going to be very expensive indeed (though they apparently now think they may be able to insert a third car into each set if it does get overcrowded).
And as for “expected ridership” let us hold our chortles for a second. The opponents of light rail – and there are many and I don’t mean here the folks who promote SkyTrain – have for many years made hay out of the unfulfilled demand forecasts made for systems (usually to attract funds) which have never got anywhere near where they said they would. Equally, there are systems such as the built down to a fixed price Docklands LRT that were too small from day one. Using the current generation of transportation models and the usually very suspect assumptions that get thrown into them you can produce almost any forecast of ridership you want to, and very few people will actually ask the right questions to reveal how it was done.
And as for people being “woolly-headed” what you are describing Minister is exactly the way you and your friends have behaved over the Gateway program and its planned freeway expansions.
I will take what he says seriously when someone from his Ministry offers me a job. But even then I wouldn’t take it.