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Blogathon 2009 – Vancouver is not serious about rail

Blogathon 2009 Vancouver for Vancouver Public Space NetworkThis blog post is part of Blogathon 2009, in which I am blogging for 24 hours straight in order to raise money for the Vancouver Public Space Network, an entirely volunteer-run organization who do advocacy and education on the public realm in my home of Vancouver, British Columbia. Please consider supporting by sponsoring me with a pledge, leaving a comment or contacting me to contribute a guest post.

Richard Eriksson is among many other things, the administrator of the Vancouver Transit Flickr Group and documents things in exhaustively wonderful detail, such as his walks along the SkyTrain Expo Line. He blogs at Just A Gwai Lo.

Canada Line 3:59 PM

Looking at Wikipedia’s timeline of the Canada Line decisions, we see that TransLink canceled the project twice and we know that in order to cut costs, InTransitBC changed the construction from bored tunnel along much of Cambie St. to cut and cover. We also know that the Canada Line trains are completely incompatible with existing SkyTrain tracks along the Expo Line and the Millennium Line, and even if they were compatible, the system was never designed to connect trains at Waterfront Station. (An engineer at an open house years ago, before construction even started, assured me that they could‚Äîor would‚Äînot build a tunnel with the radius required to connect.)

Visiting the Vancouver City Centre station as part of the open house today (my set on Flickr), I was shocked with the visual reminder of something I knew already: that trains would not be nearly as long as the existing SkyTrain systems. Roomier, as Jim Pick notes, but shorter. The stations constrain the size of the trains to the two car trains, where on the Expo Line and Millennium Line, 6 car trains can fit snugly, as we found out last winter. The dirty trains and security guards killing me with kindness, asking me in a friendly way where I was going when I just wanted a picture of the tunnel, dispel any enthusiasm I might have had for Canada Line and rail in general in the Lower Mainland.

Dirty train on display at Vancouver City Centre Station

Longish articles in The Walrus and The Tyee by Monte Paulsen detail how Canada missed its chance for a culture where rail transportation co-exists as a first-class citizen in our supposedly modern nation. The humming and hawing about a second train from Vancouver to Seattle illustrates how various levels of government don’t want this anywhere near their electoral constituencies. The recent “cancellation” of the Evergreen Line further puts to rest any claim that the Lower Mainland at its various levels of government is serious about rail. For this fan of rail transportation (I bought the Microsoft Train Simulator game at the height of the popularity of first-person shooter Half Life: Counterstrike) I have to ask myself: do I wait for Vancouver and its surroundings to seriously commit to rail as a viable mode of transportation around and inside the city, or do I move to a metropolitan area that is already serious?

Thanks to Karen for letting me write on her blog. I know she’s passionate about this city and its public transit system, and it comes through on her transit blog TransLinked. I love this city and its buses, trolleys, passenger ferries and yes, its various trains, including the often overlooked and underrated (and popular!) West Coast Express. I’ve even gone so far as to take a trip out to Port Moody for no other reason than to ride Vancouver’s commuter rail. In my capacity as administrator of the Vancouver Transit group on Flickr, I want to document and show my respect and awe for TransLink’s network of transportation methods, and I want the city and its environs to seriously consider streetcar, elevated and below grade rail as well as extensions of the WCE. I’m looking forward to what comes out of Vancouver’s demonstration streetcar project during the Olympics, and see it as the right step towards a serious approach to mass transit in the city proper and the Metro Vancouver region. I don’t have any other signs of this, however with the Canada Line and other proposed extensions to SkyTrain.


  1. Tina

    Just checking in. Hope everything is going well.

    Posted July 25, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  2. great post, richard
    great work, karen!
    keep on keepin on as they say!

    Posted July 25, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  3. Hi Richard

    I have to ask myself: do I wait for Vancouver and its surroundings to seriously commit to rail as a viable mode of transportation around and inside the city, or do I move to a metropolitan area that is already serious?

    Are you serious that availability of transportation modes will dictate where you live?

    Posted July 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  4. It’s a consideration. The odds of my owning a car in my lifetime are extremely slim, and I’d like to live in places other than Vancouver in that lifetime. There are cities on my list that, if I were to move there, I’d find living arrangements close to a major rail system that feeds into my place of employ, or to the cultural centre of town. I grew up 2 blocks away from train tracks on an active railroad, so much of my love for rail has its roots in nostalgia. I’m not convinced that one mode is better than any other, because they all have their benefits and costs. I like rail because of how it feels to ride it, how it sounds, what the trains look like, and so on. My quality of life depends on how much I enjoy it, and when going from one place to another, I get there either by bike or transit. If it’s transit and I have the choice, I’d like to go by rail. (I’ve often gone out of my way just to take SkyTrain.) I love Vancouver and want to stay here: it’s the perfect size, most of my social network is here, low crime and beautiful surroundings and a fairly healthy economy for the industry I’m in, etc. A missing piece, though, of the puzzle is a seriousness towards rail transportation for people. That’s one aspect of the region, if I could, I would change.

    Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  5. I would just like to give my 2 cents because I have my feelings for Translink, SkyTrain, the bus network, SeaBus and everything our transit network has to offer. I often stop transit officals and drivers etc in their tracks with what I know about our system.

    One of those things being the fact Vancouver has the longest Rapid transit rail system on the planet, and if that doesn’t make this city serious about rail transit, then I’m sorry I have to say you are a True Vancouverite; you have massively-insanely high standards comparable to none. I know this because I know myself, and I was born in this city, I was born in the heart of Downtown! I have pretty damn high standards, but it’s Vancouver that brings it out in us. This is the most livable city in the world, the most beautiful city in the world and regardless of how “serious” our Transit authority is about “rail transit”, the city wasn’t voted the best transit system in North America for nothing …wait that was almost 15 years ago! Now it’s 10 times what it was then, if they voted now, We win. Hands down.

    I’m sorry but I completely disagree with the statement “Vancouver is not serious about rail”. I can go on, but I feel I’ve made my point. I’ll look out for any replies.

    Posted August 19, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

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