Transport Action BC

2017, February 11

Canada Line and Snow

TransLink’s Canada Line experienced two major shutdowns (Feb 3 / 6, 2017). The cause was the apparent inability of trains to travel northbound between Bridgeport and Marine Drive Stations.

 
These incidents are a reminder of a similar incident in November 2010 when an early winter snow storm led to service disruptions in the same location. At that time, Transport Action BC engaged with TransLink over the incident because we felt that the Canada Line’s private operator (InTransitBC / Protrans) should have been better prepared for such storms, which are not unknown in Vancouver.

 
One of our concerns was that there were no public statements about performance penalties to the Canada Line’s private operator. We assumed penalties were in order, based on our understanding of P3 contracts, whereby the contractor receives bonuses for exceeding performance standards and is penalised for failing to meet them. TransLink indicated that performance penalties were not an option because the incident occurred during the contracted two year “learning curve” in which performance penalties would not be applied to InTransitBC / Protrans. Details are here.

 
A secondary concern was that P3 “value engineering” may have designed resiliency out of the system in order to minimise costs and/or maximise profits. This issue was never addressed by TransLink.

 
The latest incidents have received much more public attention, possibly because social media allows an immediate, more voluminous, public response forcing mainstream media and TransLink to respond in kind. The general disenchantment of TransLink as a result of the 2015 Transit Plebiscite’s No Campaign may also be a factor.

 
According to TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond, the cause of the latest delays is a steep section of track to the bridge over the North Arm of the Fraser river . TransLink’s The Buzzer blog  adds that trains require full power to get up the steep track grade and icy buildups prevent trains from reaching full power.

 
This brings us back to Transport Action BC’s secondary concern about the November 2010 incident – did P3 design considerations result in a structure that is subject to operational failure under certain weather conditions? At this point, this issue has not been publicly discussed.

 
Of immediate interest, though, has the TransLink / BC Rapid Transit Co / InTransitBC / Protrans response been acceptable or reasonable? To be fair, it must be realized that the recent snow conditions are unusual and infrequent and we can be certain that front-line staff are doing their best under trying conditions. However, heavy snow falls are not unheard of and Vancouver gets 2 – 3 of them a decade.

 
Several issues for consideration:

 
1. Where are InTransitBC and Protrans in all this? To my knowledge, no representative(s) of the Canada Line’s private operator have met the press or given any kind of a public interview (apology?) regarding serious service disruptions. Does the contract (P3) with TransLink allow its management to minimise its involvement in dealing with the affected public during delay situations? One can understand, TransLink wanting single points of contact when dealing with the media but the severity of these disruptions warrants some response from InTransitBC / Protrans.

 
2. Obviously, de-icing, sanding and other winter operations procedures were not entirely successful in keeping this section of the Canada Line in service. An internal post-mortem will be carried out but will the results be publicised to assure the public that changes will be made to operations to mitigate snow issues in future?

 
3. Performance penalties should be applied to the Canada Line operator for the recent disruptions. However, will the details be made public in order to reassure the public that their interests are met and that Canada Line management is being held accountable for its operations?

 
4. Will  InTransitBC / Protrans be required to pay the costs of operating the bus bridges that were required to get passengers around the delays? Similarly, if fare rebates to compensate riders for their inconvenience are given, will inTransitBC / Protrans cover the costs? Again, this is an issue of accountability and transparency around how taxpayers’ money is being spent.

 
5. Is the organisational structure that integrates Canada Line operations within TransLink effective for dynamic situations requiring rapid decision making (such as a snow emergency)? The Canada Line contractor reports to the BC Rapid Transit Co., the TransLink subsidiary responsible for running the Expo / Millenium lines. Bus Operations, a separate silo in TransLink’s organisation structure, manages Coast Mountain Bus Company, the provider of buses for bus bridges. Does this structure allow for effective and responsive communications between management, front line staff and the public when dealing with emergencies? For example, how far up the management chain does a Canada Line request for a bus bridge go before being passed to the Coast Mountain Bus Company? How are bus bridge set-up and operations communicated between the various transit operators and the affected customers?

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2016, July 25

TransLink Plans Should Change With New Circumstances

Filed under: Rapid Transit, Streetcar-LRT — Tags: , , , , — Rick @ 8:50 pm

Long time Transport 2000/Transport Action member, J. Bakker developed a rapid transit scenario for Vancouver as an alternative to the proposed Broadway SkyTrain extension to Arbutus. He based his discussion on several major infrastructure and political changes that have or will/may occur in Vancouver. The changes are significant enough that he feels a major re-think of rapid transit in the city is necessary. He also comments on the City of Vancouver’s apparent antipathy to Light Rail Transit and the limitations created by the length of Canada Line stations. Mr. Bakker sent his proposals to TransLink and the provincial minister responsible for TansLink, Peter Fassbinder. The responses thanked him for his efforts but were otherwise non-committal.

The proposals are presented for discussion and do not represent an official position of Transport Action BC.

=============================================================================================

TransLink Plans should change with new circumstances.

By

J. Bakker

Professor – Emeritus, Civil Engineering, University of Alberta

Recent Changes

  1. The first change is the relocation of St. Paul’s Hospital to a site North of the VIA/Bus station. Transit access to this site is poor and too far away from the Science Centre SkyTrain station.
  2. The second change is to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.
  3. The third change is the acquisition of the Arbutus Corridor.
  4. The fourth change is the destruction of the track between Olympic Village and Granville Island.
  5. The fifth change is that the Federal Government will fund half of the infrastructure costs.

Present Problems

There is an overload of passengers between Broadway and Downtown. Half or more than half (depending on time of year) of the passengers from the [Millenium] Evergreen Line transfer at Broadway to the Expo line causing the congestion. It is a problem now and will be a greater problem in the future. Students from the East extension of the [Millenium] Evergreen Line are more likely to go to Simon Fraser University.

The Canada Line Underground Stations have been under-designed, allowing only one unit trains. It is too expensive to extend the underground stations to lengthen trains to multiple units. While some capacity increase is possible, the Canada Line will not handle the growth forecasted for Metro Vancouver in the future.

First Solution

Extend the [Millenium] Evergreen Line from Clark VCC north along the VIA/Bus station (south entrance) and the future St. Paul Hospital (north entrance) and then go via a station at Hastings to Waterfront. Interline the Expo and [Millenium] Evergreen lines at Waterfront. Passengers can then reach downtown (Waterfront, Burrard and Granville Stations) without a transfer at Broadway/Commercial . This proposal will relieve the Broadway to Downtown section of the Expo Line. It will also provide better connections to the SeaBus (one instead of two transfers) and the Canada Line.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 1

Figure 1.         Map showing proposed [Millenium] Evergreen Line Extension to Downtown Vancouver and with its connections to other rail transit lines  [Base map by ccmaps]

Second Solution

It would mean that the Broadway Line would not use linear motor technology. If the Broadway line is built underground then it should use the same tunnel dimensions as the Canada Line but with longer stations. However initially a surface LRT line would suffice. The LRT [cost] estimate for a Broadway LRT line was high in comparison to an underground line. I suspect the reason was the requirement of a depot. This depot would take a block or so next to Broadway, an expensive land acquisition. With the purchase of the Arbutus Corridor a better location would be near the North Fraser River.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 2  

Figure 2.         Broadway at Cambie looking West with superimposed green Light Rail.

 

The design of a Broadway Line should be kept simple. Between the Broadway/Commercial and Arbutus, the Broadway right of way is adequate to accommodate a surface Light Rail line. If the line then uses the Arbutus right-of-way to 12 Avenue and then west along 12 Avenue to UBC, costs can be kept down. The stretch between Broadway and 12 Avenue on the former CP right of way is an ideal location for an interchange station with the Arbutus line described later.

The space used by the LRT should be grassed and landscaped where possible. The traffic signals would control the operations but would have to be retimed.

If and when the time comes to go underground, which may occur in stages, and then the infrastructure should be designed for the cross-section of the Canada Line, even if Light Rail units would operate there first. In Brussels staged construction was used. First there was surface line, then portions were placed underground, but tram equipment (or LRT) was still used. When the entire line was underground Metro equipment was used. The process took maybe 40 years.

 

 Light Rail is not a Cancer

It almost seems that the City of Vancouver views Light Rail technology as a cancer that must be eliminated. In 2010 the City and the Administrators of Granville Island invested $8.5 million for associated upgrades to the infrastructure to upgrade a Heritage Line. The two month operation used two Light Rail Vehicles (Bombardiers Flexity) from Brussels for the operation. The City considered the streetcar demonstration “a tremendous success”, with over 550,000 boardings during the two months of the experiment.[8] Bombardier received an award for “Exceptional Performance and Outstanding Achievement” at the 2010 CUTA awards, recognizing its operation of over 13,000 one-way trips with zero equipment failures, zero station delays and zero injuries. Mayor Robertson tried to purchase the Brussels streetcars, but was unsuccessful.

It is astonishing that the City is now destroying this investment. It has removed the overhead wire and is about to remove the tracks. This vandalism shows little respect for the taxpayers’ dollars and it should be questioned if Vancouver really deserves any transit infrastructure investment with this attitude.

The excuse is a housing development. Using air rights it is possible, to have both development and to maintain the tracks. However there has to be a will to preserve this path. Unfortunately the city seems to have a will to block any possible Light Rail path.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 3

Figure 3.             Development above LRT tracks in San Diego.

Light Rail is more Cost Effective

Light Rail will give more rail transit per dollar spend. At this point in time there is a great backlog as to where Rail Transit could be used. Rail Transit has a lower coefficient of friction between wheel and rail, than buses have been rubber and asphalt. Because Rail Transit is electrified it will have fewer emissions than diesel buses. Furthermore because of the rail guidance, productivity can be enhanced by coupling units, particularly in peak hours. To spend billions of dollars because some do not want to see transit and put it underground is waste of scarce dollars at this time. Many opponents seem to be unaware what landscaping can do to improve the visual impact of surface Light Rail Transit.

The Third Solution

Develop the Arbutus Corridor. Ultimately this line should go to the North Shore, but initially should go to the future St. Paul’s Hospital. When the North Shore portion is built the Arbutus to St. Paul‘s Hospital would become a shuttle connector.

 

The Design of the Canada Line Stations

The stations were designed to accommodate one unit trains. To limit the size of stations is astonishing, in light of the London Docklands experience. The London Docklands Light Rail was initially built privately by the Canada Warf Development. They built their stations (on overhead structure) for one unit trains (an articulated car with two sections). I visited the Docklands Light Rail project when it was running under test in 1981. The short stations were the first thing I noticed. In Edmonton the underground stations were built for five unit trains even though initial operations only required two units. I questioned my hosts on it and was told it was a cost saving measure. London Transport for London took over the line soon after start of operations. After a number of years it was found that they needed longer trains and so they extended all stations for two unit trains. Barely completed it was found they actually needed to use three unit train lengths. So they kept rebuilding and extending instead of preparing for growth.

The Canada Line this error was repeated, but it is worse because most stations on the Canada line are underground. Extending underground stations means shutting down the entire line for a few years and has a massive reconstruction job. All the station control equipment is located at the end of the platform.

There are ways to increase capacity somewhat. The present trains can be replaced with a three section articulated unit. Using the 3 metre spare space on the stations and having both ends protruding in the tunnel, capacity per train can be increased.

 

Building a Light Rail Relief Line is a Better Alternative

There is an imbalance in loads between the Airport line and the Richmond Line. Together with the limited ultimate capacity of the Canada Line, a relief line from Bridgeport via the Arbutus corridor is the best alternative. It will also be possible to extend this line further south into Richmond. Right of way should be preserved now.

Initially this line could go to the future St. Paul’s Hospital / Station location. However a study should be made if an LRT line can be placed under the Burrard Street Bridge (Space has been reserved for it in the piers), and then underground under Burrard. Such a line should be deep enough so that it can be extended to the North Shore in tunnel under Burrard Inlet. One of the problems with the Canada Line is that it is at the same elevation as the Expo Line at Waterfront and cannot be extended to the North. A deeper station would have made that possible.

With the City acquiring the Arbutus Corridor from the CPR, there are opportunities but also dangers. The critical portion is the curvy section between where the CP right-of-way bends away from Arbutus until it rejoins West Boulevard. The city must prevent encroachment of this right-of-way by gardeners and keep this portion available for two tracks of LRT.

There is a great opportunity though to combine landscape architecture and the Light Rail line. Such a design should include bike and footpaths with grassed Light Rail right-of-way.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 4

Figure 4.         This picture shows a Light Rail unit on a grassed right-of-way in Bordeaux superimposed on the Arbutus right-of-way.

 

TransLink Rethink-Figure 5

Figure 5.                     Schematic Map of the proposed Vancouver Rail Transit

 

Surrey LRT

In Surrey the transfer between the SkyTrain and the LRT should be made as convenient as possible. Cross platform interchange is the best and could be achieved at King George Station and the proposed line to Langley.

The Real Transportation Solution.

The real Transportation solution in the region remains to use cars in areas where there is no congestion and to use transit in areas where there is congestion. The transition is Park – And – Ride. It is unfortunate that TransLink imposed a charge on the South Surrey Park-and-Ride lot. A free parking structure would be a better solution and far more cost effective than a 10 lane bridge.

 

The Fifty Percent Federal Contribution.

The increased Federal contribution for Infrastructure from one third to one half should be applauded. However it should mean that more rail transit lines can be built, not that projects should be made more expensive because someone else is paying for it. The purpose of these investments is ultimately to serve passengers, not ribbon cutters.

With the many projects being submitted only the cost effective proposals should be  considered.

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J. Bakker was born in The Netherlands in 1929. During World War II he learned what a `no oil’ society was like. In 1946 he went with his parents to the U.K. He went to school in England, graduated from Glasgow University in Civil Engineering in 1954, got his Diploma at Imperial College in 1955 and then went to Purdue University in Indiana. Here he got his M.S.C.E. (Transportation) in 1957. From 1957 to 1959 he was the engineer in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In 1959 he joined the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the University of Alberta where he lectured in Highway Design and Public Transportation. He took early retirement in 1991 but stayed on half time until 1994. He also served ten years on the Council of St. Albert. In that time period it was taken from near bankruptcy to a thriving, financially sound community with controlled growth.

During his career, he consulted on Transit Networks and Timed Transfers with many Transit Systems. He was an advisor to Edmonton Transit and was involved in the construction of Edmonton’s North-East LRT line – the first North American Light Rail Line built since World War II. He set up the transit systems of St. Albert and Sherwood Park. In 1995 he was sub-consultant to Dillon Consulting Engineers and recommended the diesel LRT (O-Train) in Ottawa.

2012, June 1

Canada Line Service Issues

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 4:46 pm

Transport Action BC has ongoing concerns with certain aspects of Canada Line (CL) performance and the seeming unwillingness of TransLink  to hold the concessionaire – InTransitBC  and Protrans BC  – publicly accountable for any shortcomings.

Significant service disruptions occurred on April 16, 2012, inconveniencing customers for most of the service day. The disruptions, centred on Olympic Village Station and affected service on the entire line. Anecdotal evidence from a TABC member indicates sporadic and crowded service. Possible cause(s) of the disruption have not been publicly released and media coverage of the incident was minimal.

Stalled train problems were also experienced at Olympic Village Station on the evenings of April 13 / 14, 2012. Again anecdotally, another TABC member heard that computer control issues requiring staff to monitor trains were, relatively, more frequent, prior to the April 16 incident.

It is unclear if these various incidents are related as there has been no public accounting.

Transport Action BC requested a detailed, open and public post-mortem on the disruptions. The Canada Line’s operating company has passed the two-year “learning curve” allowed in its contract . Performance penalties should be considered as part of TransLink’s response to the disruptions.

Furthermore, evening maintenance has affected Canada Line service many times in the past 18 months. This may be justified, but it seems excessive for a system less than three years old.

We are concerned that the perceived lack of action holding the concessionaire publicly accountable for Canada Line performance jeopardizes TransLink’s credibility and its ability to provide a reliable and attractive service. It also significantly weakens the original rationale to use a P3 model to build and operate the Canada Line.

Transport Action BC sent a letter to the TransLink Board on April 20, 2012 detailing our concerns but a response has not been received. This blog posting is an expanded version of the contents of that letter.

2011, May 22

Canada Line P3 “Get Out of Jail Free” Card?

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 3:54 pm

Transport Action BC members raised concerns about Canada Line service incidents that seriously affected its passengers, with no publicised action taken against the line’s private sector operator (InTransit BC / Protrans BC) by TransLink.

The Canada Line is, possibly, the most vigorously debated of the provincial government’s Public-Private Partnerships (P3) projects. Under the P3 model, a private sector concessionaire may finance, design build, and /or operate a specific project and assumes some project risk, in return for a guaranteed investment return. However, the concessionaire contracts to provide a certain level of service.  Penalties should be considered by the project’s owner (in this case TransLink), if contractual obligations are not met. Essentially, the concessionaire does a detailed risk-analysis and decides how best to do the project while minimising its costs,  maximising its returns and avoiding penalty payments.

There are two incidents that concerned Transport Action BC. Both incidents resulted in significant and lengthy disruptions to Canada Line passengers.

Canada Line train at Templeton Station

The first was the morning-long shutdown of the line on 26 November 2010 due to snow and ice build-up on the line’s 3rd rail. Transport Action BC felt that the Canada Line operator should have been able to handle a snow storm that, while uncommon, can reasonably be expected in a Vancouver winter. The fact that TransLink’s SkyTrain lines successfully operated under similar conditions shows that it could be done. Our concern was that the concessionaire had underestimated weather-related risks in the design of Canada Line elevated structures and inclement weather operating procedures. Under our understanding of a P3 scenario, this should have resulted in a penalty to the concessionaire.

The second incident was a series of late-night, service reductions to Canada Line service for track maintenance in February, March and April. Customers had to deal with reduced rapid transit service, shuttle trains or use the parallel bus route (albeit with more frequent service). This level of maintenance was a concern because the line was barely 1 ½ years old. Was there some underlying design flaw that resulted from the concessionaire’s risk analysis?

Transport Action BC sent letters to the TransLink Board of Directors after each of these incidents and received responses each time.

The first response indicated that the November 2010 shutdown was part of the two-year “learning curve” for the new transit project and penalties were not justified.

In addition to the track maintenance issue, our second letter questioned the rationale for a “learning curve” on a P3 contract. We felt that the concessionaire had made design decisions based on its risk-analysis. It should be responsible for those decisions and held accountable for any significant passenger impacts.

TransLink’s response to this letter stated its contract with InTransit BC / Protrans BC included a moratorium on performance penalties for the first two years (until 2011 August 12). This was a revelation to Transport Action BC and, we suspect, most members of the public are unaware that such a loophole exists in the Canada Line contract.

There are several concerns with this. What is the reason for this contract concession? It certainly violates the spirit of the P3 mantra as presented by P3 supporters. Do other P3 contracts include similar conditions? And, most importantly, how would the customers affected by Canada Line service failures feel if they were told that, other than some bad publicity, the line’s operator was not penalised for its failings?

Inside a Canada Line train on opening day Aug 2009

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