The Metro Vancouver mayors council plan, proposed to a 2015 referendum, calls for $765 millions of expenditure on the Expo an Millennium line over the next 10 years. This could result in an increase of 50% of the vehicle fleet and skytrain operating cost: Are those investments justified or just an extravaganza?

As of today, the Skytrain comfortably copes with the demand, thanks to the recently added vehicles in the years leading to the 2010 Olympic games, and should be able to serve the Evergreen line without hiccups, considering the expected addition of 28 cars. In fact the vehicle productivity (measured as rider/vehicle) is 20% lower from its 2008 peak. When the average increase in vehicle capacity is considered (83 passengers, before 1999, to 108 passengers in 2014), Skytrain vehicles productivity is at a 20+ years low (see our spreadsheet for detail).

To define the fleet requirement, Let’s see what the future ridership is planned to be:

Ridership prediction [1]
without a Broadway subway

2041 AM peak hour transit flow (without a Broadway subway)

2041 AM peak hour transit flow (without a Broadway subway)

..and with a Broadway subway

2041 peak hour transit flow with a Broadway subway up to Arbutus

2041 peak hour transit flow with a Broadway subway up to Arbutus

[1] doesn’t give explicit peak hour numbers for year 2021, but we can still infer them from [1] and [5] for the year 2021:

Maximum passenger per hour per direction (pphd).

without Broadway extension 2021 2041
Millenium Line 8400 10000
Expo Line 16000 23100
with a Broadway extension 2021 2041
Millenium Line 10400 12600
Expo Line 16000 19000

Thought the above projections could not have factored other transit investments such as the Surrey LRT or B lines, as contained in the Mayors council plan [3], they are not expected to significantly affect the peak pphpd requirement on either the Expo or Millennium lines.

The actual skytrain fleet is composed of

  • 150 MK1 cars.
    The 114 oldest car are currently refurbished, for an estimated amount of $38million [2], providing them an additional 15 years life span, so they are good to go up to ~2027
  • 108 MKII cars + 28 cars to be delivered in 2016 (Evergreen line).

The below table illustrates the usually used consists and associated train capacity:

4 car MKI train 4MK1cars-consist
332 passengers/train
6 car MKI train 6MK1cars-consist
498 passengers/train
2 car MKII train 2MKIIcars-consist
256 or 264 passengers/train
4 car MKII train 4MKIIcars-consist
512 or 528 passengers/train

We place ourselves in a scenario post Evergreen line:

  • The Expo line operates from WaterFront to King George (one branch),and to Lougheed (other branch): that is also called split-tail service by [2]
  • The Millennium line operates from VCC to Douglas college
The 3 skytrain lines, after integration of the Evergreen line spur

The 3 skytrain lines, after integration of the Evergreen line spur

Thought we are aware that Translink is considering to extend the Expo branch from Lougheed to Production Way, we are not considering it for the below reasons:

  • It doesn’t make good use of the skytrain capacity due to the poor expected ridership on the considered section
  • It creates operational and reliability challenge, due to the meddling of the Expo and Millennium operation
  • It significantly limit the capacity of the Millennium line: this one could be not required in the short-term, but discontinuing a service people get use to consider as granted, could prove to be troublesome in the future

2021 Rolling stock requirement

  • As per [2], we assume a minimum 93s headway and a 87mn round trip on the expo line and 78mn return trip on the Millenium line. Due to the ill designed Lougheed station, headway below 108s on the Millennium line could be challenging.
  • The extension of the Millenium line up to Arbutus increases its round trip by 15mn [1], and increases the pphpd requirement to meet by 2021, from 8000 to 10400.
  • We don’t consider short trains such as Commercial (or Metrotown)-WaterFront. They could still be used to reduce the fleet requirement or increase the spare ratio. Such strategy is not without issues [6].

No ext Broad. ext
Expo line Desirable (2021)
headway 93s 114s 114s 120s
train requirement 56
31 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKI cars
21 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKIcars

9 5xMKIII cars
12 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKI cars

15 4xMKIII cars
26 4xMKII cars
1 6xMKI cars
capacity (pphpd) 19,900 16000 16000 16000
Millennium line Desirable (2021)
headway 150s 120s 108s
train requirement 32
32 2xMKII cars
40 2xMKII cars
36 4xMKI cars
16 2xMKII cars
capacity (pphpd) 3,000 6,000 8,000 10,600
Total Desirable (2021)
train requirement 150 MKI cars
136MKII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
9 5xMKIII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
15 4xMKIII cars
~10% spare ratio 6 5xMKIII cars 8 4xMKIII cars

The Broadway subway extension will involve at least the command of 7 new train consists (6 train consists to operate the segment + one spare)[1] which will be accounted as part of this project. So the extra rolling stock required to continue to meet the demand on the Expo and Millennium line in the next 10 years is:

Without Broadway ext. With Broadway extension
15 5xMKIII cars 16 4xMKIII cars
$262.5 millions $224 millions

the refurbishing of the remaining 36 MKI cars, estimated at $10 millions from [2] need to be added.

In the case of the Broadway extension, all other Expo line upgrades are already financed (federal gas tax subsidiary) and continue to carry on on schedule, so that the non yet financed cost is ~$240 millions (some minor egress improvement could be required here and there, especially on the Millennium line))

Potential additional storage requirement should be seen in the context of the Broadway extension project: The Coquitlam vehicle storage facility should apriori be expanded to accommodate, with the Burnaby OMC, the fleet up to 2031 [7].

Regarding the 5 and 4 cars consists

  • If the Broadway extension is not built, the expo line will require 5 cars train consist before 2041, so it eventually makes sense to consider to start to add such trains on the rolling stock from now, but that supposes also ancillary cost to adapt the line and the OMC, to longer trains it could also require upgrade of Waterfront and Stadium station, which are not yet funded. It requires also an upgrade (stage 3) of the propulsion power to enable the delivering of 25,000pphpd [6].
  • If the Broadway extension is built, there is no need for 5 cars train in the next ~30 years or the usual lifespan of a train: 4 car trains (MKII and MKIII generation) will be able to absorb the 2041 demand, and the line is already prepped out (or upgrade funded).

In any case, what should be ordered are trains able to maximize the capacity at a given length: The idea to order 3 cars train is a flawed one, since it doesn’t allow to realize the maximum train capacity, but more importantly prevent platform door installation (due to train assymetry making train doors location not always the same):

It is more than time to order rolling stock which will:

  • enable future platform screen, since such installation allow much greater system reliability than the current passive track intrusion detection model.
  • minimize dwelling time

That should imposes constraint on the train door location for any future procurement.

4 car MKII train 4MKIIcars-consist
512 or 528 passengers/train
4 car MKIII train 4carsMKIIconsist~540 passengers/train
3+2 car MKIII train 3and2MKIIcars-consist
~670 passengers/train
5 car MKIII train 5MKIIcars-consist
~680 passengers/train

~2030 Rolling stock requirement

Circa 2030, the original 114 MKI car will reach their end of life, as well as the 60 MKII (ordered for the opening of the Millennium line). we place ourselves in a scenario where those cars are still in service, and before a decision is done regarding their eventual life extension or replacement

By that time, the Expo line should be able to carry ~18,000pphpd and the Millennium line, ~12,000pphpd (number inferred of both the 2021 and 2041 projection). The rolling stock could be assigned as below:

Expo line (2030) Millenium line (2030)
headway 108 150
train requirement 48
26 4xcars MKIII consist + 22 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKI cars + 12 4xMKII cars
capacity (pphpd) 18,000 12,000

Considering a ~10% spare ratio, 36 new 4 cars train should be ordered by 2030. More likely 30 in the next 10 years with an option to order 6 more circa 2025. That includes the 7 train part of the Broadway extension project, so the effective requirement could be 29 4 cars train – or 23 train in the next 10 years period, that is ~$320M (with a 6 additional 4 cars-train option to exercise ~2025)


  • the possible availability of second hand MKI car (from the Scarborough RT or the Detroit People Mover), and potential acquisition for refurbishing should be considered
  • the decision to go with 4 or 5 car consist order should be reexamined in the next 10 years, in light of the ridership evolution

The Mayor council plan

In brief the Mayor council plan[4] calls for the below

cost (in $M) % increase
additional operation cost 53.5 50%
additional capital cost 765
145 new vehicles 500 50%

The above doesn’t account for 27 trains to be procured between 2025 an 2029

In the light of the previous sections, this seems to be an inconsiderate expense to

  • address purposeless goals; such as doubling the capacity of the Expo line by 2020 (the main reason for the mayors plan extravaganza)
  • and still failing to address basic requirement, such as the 10,000 pphpd ridership on the Millennium line in the case of the Broadway line (the Mayors council’s plan consider only 8,000).

The Mayors council’s plan implicitly assumes 3 cars train: This is a bad idea as we have seen before

A fundamental reason to put the Broadway subway as the top priority transit investment is to spare the considerable expense to upgrade the Expo line to meet the ~23,000pphpd 2041 demand; which could happen only on the very short section Commercial-Stadium:

A Broadway subway will reduce the Expo line demand at ~19,000pphpd: something achievable as of today, and could save ~$300 million of investment on the Expo line, according to the council mayors numbers [8], and associated operating cost, otherwise necessary.

The fact that the passenger load is much more balanced along the Expo line, in the case of a Broadway extension, make a much better use of the line capacity.It is still possible to operate short train in the other case, between Commercial (or Metrotown) and Waterfront, but it doesn’t come without issues ([6]), such as passenger bunching or platform crowding (due to passenger waiting for the expected less crowded short train)

It is unfortunate the Council of Mayors missed this important point.

[1] UBC Line rapid transit study: Phase 2 Evaluation report Steer Davies Gleave, August 2012

[2] Translink 2013 Business Plan Operating and Capital Budget Summary

[3] Regional Transportation Investment: A vision for Vancouver – Appendices, Mayors council, June 12 2014

[4] Regional Transportation Investment: A vision for Vancouver – Appendices, Mayors council, June 12 2014

[5] TransLink’s Rapid & Regional Transit Model , PTV America Inc. and Translink, Vancouver and Wilmington, DE, February 2007 and December 2008

[6] Expo Line Upgrade Strategy, SNC Lavallin and Steer Davies Gleave, Sept 21, 2010

[7] We estimate the current storage capacity at 114 MKI + 126 MKII at the Edmonds OMC, 36 MK1 and 34 MKII on the main line an the Coquitlam Facilities storage center. See the Translink Finance Audit – Specific Project Approval. Subject: SkyTrain OMC Expansion – Phase 2. October 19, 2007 and an ensuing discusssion on the skytrainforsurrey blog

[8] That is the difference between the Mayors council plan, $765M and our ball pack numbers, $320 for rolling stock expansion/upgrade and ~$150M for infrastructure upgrade, including storage/OMC expansion: Those numbers are in fact consistent with [6]

Sacramento, a LRT success?

November 15, 2011

Between 2 rants, a wellknown blog from time to time, post pictures of empty trains wandering in some soulless NA districts. those pictures are supposed to advocate by themselves for LRT everywhere in BC.

A picture of the Sacramento LRT; somewhat qualified as a success by the LRTA ; gives us the opportunity to shed some light on the claims advanced by some disengenuous LRT advocates.

a train wandering on a deserted k street, once the heart of Sacramento: where are the people gone? (credit phot (5))

Urban renewval.

Usually people cite Portland as an example of urban renewval induced by LRT: one of the main reason is that there is no other example to cit.

The vancouver LRT advocating blog suggests that we should follow the example of Scacramento K street for not less than our Granville mall.

After been closed to motor traffic in 1960, the once vibrant Sacramento K street mall, has started to spiralling into business slump, pretty much like Granville did…In 1987, the introduction of the LRT was eventually the tool supposed to revert the K street bad fortunes.

Alas, the LRT didn’t bring urban renewval in Sacramento. Some other efforts has been put in without success and it appeared lately to the local that the LRT was more part of the problem than from the solution…and, this very week-end, resident of the city was celebrating the reopenning the K street to motor traffic, as the latest attempt to bring urban renewval!

people are coming on K street to celebratre the return of car on a once LRT exclusive corridor (it was Saturday Nov. 12, 2011)

In the meantimes, on Granville Mall, it could be no LRT, but we don’t need car either to bring life…


while people of the Valley complain about bad service, bad service because poor frequency, like 30mn headway…others explain that rapid transit should be available 24h/day.

The Sacramento Gold line extension, connecting the Folsom suburb to vancouver, offer a 30mn frequency…peak day…no service after 7pm on week-end…and the 30km journey will take you 1hour. Enjoy!

In the meantime, on the skytrain lines…

Notice that Park and ride are plentifull along the Sacramento LRT lines:

whereas Vancouver people come by bus to meet the Skytrain, in Sacramento people drive to the LRT…Some in Vancouver believe it is a superior alternative but it is certainly a less efficient use of land and it contribute to maintain a reliance on the car are primary transportation mode, and per way of consequence is certainly not the most efficient way to prevent urban sprawl.

Operating cost

A frequent claim done is that a train is no more costly to operate than a bus, here again, Sacramento provides a resounding rebuttal to this claim [4]:

cost per revenue vehicle hour
bus $133
LRT $239

In short, he same operating cost expenditure can buy a 8.5mn bus frequency where LRT doesn’t offer better than 15mn.

it is more than probable than the Sacramento LRT 15mn frequency can’t be justified by ridership level, but is maintained as a floor frequency to keep some relevance to the service. In despite of this minimum, the Sacramento LRT farebox recovery hoover in the low 30%.

generalized LRT Cost

Sacramento LRT has been built on the cheap, and is still built on the cheap…the latest extension under construction will come-up at 40$ million/km…Explanation:

the LRT follow a track ROW, then a canal ROW

this 40$ million/km give probably a good proxy to evaluate the cost to build an LRT in a BC hydro right of way…for other case, we will refer to a previous post

But do we really get the bang for the buck ?

The Gold line extension

What some lenient LRT fans conveninetly forget is that we need to confront number toward benefit:

A 12km extension of the Gold line toward Folsom has been built at a cost of $20 million/km and opened in stage between 2004 and 2006 and was expected to attract 6,000 more rider at opening. That ends to be an investment of $100,000 per additional customer…

Alas again, after $300 million spent, and in despite of some press report qualifying the ridership as at “healthy level“, it looks like the new rider hasn’t show up as expected, since the ridership in 2011 is virtually the same as it was in 2004 before the openning of these extensions [6]

That is not overly surprising, since the extension also shows the limit of the LRT concept: the LRT needs one hour to travel the 30km between Folsom and Sacramento, otherwise well linked by an Interstate hwy.

The south line extension

How it compare to the Evergreen line? (all number from [3] for Sacramento).

Sacramento South line vancouver Evergreen line
length 6.8km 10.9km (1)
stations 4 5 (1)
inter stations 1.36km 1.81km
Capital cost (in $M) $270 $1400 (2)
Yearly Operating cost (in $M) $8.84 $10.2 (1)
Yearly Ridership forecast(new trip)* 3.5(0.8) 17(8) (2)
operating cost per trip (per new trip) $2.5 ($11) $.6 ($1.27)
capital cost per trip (new trip)** $4.93 ($21.6) $5.86($11.1)
total cost per trip (new trip) $7.43 (33.6) $6.46 ($12.37)

* ridership come from transfer of other transit mode + new customer, trip generated by new customer only are in (), and cost per trip in () generated on the basis of new customer’s trip only.
** Capital cost assuming an amortization period of 30 years at 5%.

On one hand the Sacramento rider, will have a train at frequency no better than 15mn, 30mn after 6:30pm, last train at/around 10pm. On the other hand the Vancouver rider will take for granted a service level which stay the exception in the LRT world, but can come at a marginal operating cost increment in the realm of the automated trains.

When a “cheap” LRT can quickly reveal to be a more expensive proposition than an “pricey” skytrain

Numbers strongly suggest that in despite of looking “cheap” the Sacramento extension will be significantly more expensive than the Evergreen line on a rider basis. When considered new rider only – the eventual reason to go with LRT being it attracts more new customer otherwise reluctant to take bus- the Sacramento extension is a proposition nearly as three time more expensive that the Evergreen line.

Sacramento could have its own reasons to extend its LRT network, but considering that by tyical metric standard, the Sacramento LRT hardly qualify as a success, it is also highly probable that the Vancouver area doesn’t need to follow the path of Sacramento, and can continue to pursue avenue providing more leverage for its scarce transit bucks. This assessment is not based on the love (or hate) of a technology, but on the use of the appropirate technology

…and when a technology is appropriate, there is no need for disingenous and misleading claims as too often read on some rail fan blogs, to make its case for.

[1] Operating cost as reported in evergreen line executive summary

[2] ridership forecast as reported in Translink 2012 Moving Forward plan. notice that this number are less optimistic than the one reported in [1]

[3] number from South Sacramento corridor phase 2

[4] Sacramento Sept 2011 performance report


[6] 2011 and 204 2nd quarter ridership number from APTA