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LETTER: Rail expert continues to lobby for light rail over SkyTrain to Langley

SkyTrain the most expensive option for rail through communities South of the Fraser, writer argues
The business case for bringing SkyTrain to Langley has been finalized but some are pushing for another rail method. (Black Press Media file)

Dear Editor,

I have been involved with transit issues in the Lower Mainland for over 35 years. I am advised by transit experts, both in Canada and abroad, and I am the person responsible for the Leewood Study, an independent study by Leewood Projects UK, about the viability of reinstating the former Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban service with modern TramTrain or light diesel multiple units, on behalf of the Rail for the Valley group.

Rail for the Valley:


Leewood Projects:

Leewood Study:

The Lower Mainland has a very expensive transit problem; Metro Vancouver mayors, the province and TransLink have approved $4.6 billion dollars, extending the Expo and Millennium lines 12.8 kilometres.

This massive expenditure, extending the Millennium and Expo Lines a mere 12.8 km will not attract much new ridership, because there will be little improvement for the transit customer.

Premier Horgan’s recent political promise to extend the Expo Line to Langley, has grave financial implications, akin to the FastFerry fiasco, which has followed the NDP as an Albatross around its political neck for two and half decades.

This $4.6 billion investment confirms Bent Flyvberg’s Iron Law of Mega-projects specifically addresses why politicians are obsessed with infrastructure at any cost:

“…the ‘political sublime,’ which here is understood as the rapture politicians get from building monuments to themselves and their causes. Mega-projects are manifest, garner attention, and lend an air of proactiveness to their promoters. Moreover, they are media magnets, which appeals to politicians who seem to enjoy few things better than the visibility they get from starting mega-projects. Except maybe cutting the ribbon of one in the company of royals or presidents, who are likely to be present lured by the unique monumental and historical import of many mega-projects. This is the type of public exposure that helps get politicians re-elected. They therefore actively seek it out.”

• READ MORE: TransLink still obsessed with extending SkyTrain to Langley and beyond

It is time TransLink stops its deliberate game of confusion with Metro Vancouver’s rapid transit system, which has lead to decades of dubious transit projects.

Metro Vancouver’s rapid transit system is a light-metro system, which is called SkyTrain. The SkyTrain system is made up of two distinct railways:

The Canada Line, a conventional railway, built as a light metro and uses ‘off the shelf’ Electrical Multiple Units (EMU’s) currently supplied by ROTEM of Korea.

The Expo and Millennium Lines operate an unconventional, proprietary and often renamed light-metro system, now called Movia Automatic Light Metro (MALM), which cars are only built by Bombardier Inc.

The MALM system uses linear induction motors (LIM’s) and is not compatible in operation with any other railway except its small family of seven systems. Vancouver is now the sole customer for MALM.

A technology bias exists at TransLink. Internationally the MALM system is considered obsolete as it costs more to build, operate and maintain than conventional light rail. Cities that built light-metro, such as Ottawa and Seattle, use light rail vehicles, as they are much cheaper to operate and far more flexible in operation.

“TransLink continues to use this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and thus succeeds in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding,” said Gerald Fox, noted American engineer, retired.

TransLink’s well oiled propaganda machine, churning out ”fake news” and “alternative facts” has created the local SkyTrain myth. The SkyTrain myth has fuelled the SkyTrain lobby, which repeats TransLink’s fake news so much, that politicians and the public have come to believe the SkyTrain myth.

The Broadway subway is testament to the power of the SkyTrain myth. Funding for the $2.83 billion Broadway subway has been approved, yet its foundation is one of half truths and questionable planning.

The North American Standard for building a subway is a transit route with traffic flows in excess of 15,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd), yet peak traffic flows on the 99B Line is about 2,000 pphpd, based on 3 minute peak hour headway’s.

TransLink’s two top planners were fired for their opposition to the subway, by publicly stating the obvious; that there wasn’t the ridership on Broadway to justify an almost $3 billion subway.

TransLink quite happily lets people believe that Broadway is the “most heavily used transit route in Canada”, but claims “This is our region’s most overcrowded bus route.”, instead when there is a threat of professional or legal accountability.

“The problem with TransLink is that you can never believe what it says; TransLink never produces a report based on the same set of assumptions.”

Former West Vancouver Clr. Victor Durman, Chair of the GVRD (now METRO) Finance Committee.

The mayor of Surrey’s flip flop from LRT to SkyTrain was also predictable, as the bureaucrats at TransLink did their best to ensure this would happen.

The well oiled SkyTrain Lobby was in full force with every bit of classic fake news and alternative facts they could muster, yet ignored the fact that MALM is now considered obsolete internationally and only seven such systems have been built in over forty years.

The present mayor of Surrey’s election claim that a SkyTrain extension from King George station to Langley City could be completed for $1.65 billion, was later exposed to be false.

The figure was $1.25 billion lower than the $2.9 billion estimate by engineering firm Steer Davies Gleave & Hatch, yet TransLink, the provincial and federal governments stayed mute.

Now, with the NDP promising to complete the proprietary MALM railway to Langley at a further cost of $1.6 billion, a very costly issue arises.

The aging Expo line is desperately in need of a major rehab. This rehab includes a major overhaul and expanded electrical supply; a new automatic train control system, all the switches being replaced on both the Expo and Millennium Lines to permit faster operation and all stations must be rebuilt to deal with the higher customer flows which come with a higher capacity. The rehab is said to cost between $2 billion to $3 billion and must be done before any extension to Langley is built.

The real cost of the Langley extension will be $3.6 billion to $4.6 billion!

How is this to be funded?

The combined annual operating costs for the Broadway subway and the full Expo Line to Langley will exceed $70 million annually.

How is this to be funded?

Is a $4.6 billion expanding MALM 12.8 km a good investment?

By comparison, 2020 cost for The Rail for the Valley’s Leewood Study, for a 130 km, Vancouver to Chilliwack passenger service, using the BC Electric rail line, servicing North Delta, Cloverdale, Langley, Abbotsford, Sardis and Chilliwack and connecting the many business parks, universities and colleges along the route, will cost $1.5 billion.

TransLink does not support the Leewood Study’s Vancouver to Chilliwack rail service because it would outperform their $4.6 billion, pygmy 12.8 km extension to the Expo and Millennium Lines.

“But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous,” Gerald Fox said.

With the Covid-19 emergency, a major rethink must be done on how we provide an affordable regional rail system. Metro Vancouver’s light-metro system has been well studied, yet those cities who have done so, have invested in light rail instead!

Why, in an era of unprecedented investment in regional rail transit, has no one copied Vancouver’s light metro system, including the exclusive use of the proprietary MALM system?

Of the seven systems built in the past 40 years, Toronto is soon tearing down their version of SkyTrain and Detroit’s version will follow, as both systems infrastructure are near being “life expired”.

Two of the later versions of SkyTrain built in Malaysia and Korea have embroiled both the patent holders, SNC Lavalin and Bombardier in legal proceedings, including charges of bribery.

It is time to put an end to MALM expansion or the provincial government and current mayors, will become like Marley’s ghost, dragging an ever longer chain made of empty cash-boxes, IOU’s, red ink, bare purses and increased taxes wrought in union made steel, election, after election for decades to come.

Remember the FastFerries?

Today, TransLink continues to be toxic with taxpayers and extending MALM to Langley will make TransLink and all who supported the gold-plated extensions radioactive politically, on a Chernobyl scale.

D. Malcolm Johnston, Delta


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