South end of the Canada Line at Richmond-Brighouse Station
Richmond-Brighouse station, photo by indyinsane

The Vancouver area’s newest Sky Train addition, the Canada Line, will open a couple of months ahead of schedule: August instead of late November. The Canada Line was built in two parts, the first is a mostly cut-and-cover, partly deep-bored subway from Downtown Vancouver to almost the Fraser River, with seven new subway stations and one new subway platform at an existing station. The second part is a mostly elevated segment from the Fraser River toward the Vancouver Airport and Richmond, with eight more stations. The total line length is 19 km (11.8 miles).

All-in-all, it’s been pretty impressive how the line has gone from approval to near completion in just over four years, but obviously the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics have helped the project get quick approval. The $1.5 billion price tag for the line is mind-bogglingly cheap. For comparison, the University Link project has a $1.8 billion price tag.  However, the line’s construction has not been without controversy, especially because the cut-and-cover construction for the subway line has much more invasive on the surface than the deep-bored solution that Sound Transit is using for our subway tunnels.

The Canada line is also a lower-capacity system compared to both Link and to Sky Train’s Expo and Millenium Lines. Canada Line’s station platforms are only 40 m (131 ft) long, and can only accomodate one long car at a time. For comparison, Portland’s Max has platforms that are 60 m (200 ft) long, and Link’s platforms are 110 m (370 ft) long. Portland’s stations and trains feel short, I anticapate that the Canada line will run into capacity problems in the future.

Even having said all of that, it’s remarkable that Translink, Vancouver and BC have been able to build a line that’s mostly underground and elevated with 16 stations with a price tag in the $100~$150 million per mile range. Shows that they are definitely doing something different up there than we are here.

26 Replies to “Canada Line Opening in August”

  1. Frankly, I think the capacity problems will rear their ugly head sooner, rather than later.

    1. The maximum capacity of the Canada Line is 15,000 riders/direction/hr. The Expo Line between Broadway and Main Street currently carries about 13500 people/direction/hour, so I think well have to wait awhile until its maxed out! On the other hand I have a feeling they’ll be ordering extra cars sooner than they thought.

  2. OK dumb idea but–
    Why couldn’t the train make two stops at each platform? First stop lets the first car(s)’ passengers deboard, lets some passengers board, then the train moves up 40 meters, repeats the process, and then it’s on its way. Definitely not the most elegant solution, but I imagine it’s cheaper than running more trains more often.

    1. Human nature, being what it is, would panic when the first doors started to close, creating a huge safety problem at each stop as everyone tried to force their way onboard.

    2. The cars appear to be more like metro EMU cars rather than LRVs. So each trainset could in theory be lengthened and allow riders access to the full length of the train.

      If they need to run trains longer than the platforms I assume the trains could be programed so only the doors along the platform open, riders would be able to access the rest of the train via the gangways between cars.

      Still limiting the system to 50m platforms seems rather silly. Even though automated operation should allow for extremely short headways if needed.

      The Canada Line seems very much built on the cheap. Much like the compromises the Monorail project was forced to make prior to being killed.

      Still the speed which they went from approval to completion speaks to some of the advantages of design-build, and design-build-operate-maintain contracts. The Gold line in LA, Las Vegas Monorail, and Tacoma Narrows Bridge also had a relatively short period between approval to completion, at least in part due to using DB or DBOM contracts.

      I’m not sure if Sound Transit could use similar methods due to the way their financing works. A design-build contract for an entire line requires the ablity to pay for the line in large chunks. Typically 50% up front and 50% upon completion. Sound Transit tends to issue smaller contracts as they have financing available. I’m also not sure how using a design-build contract would work with obtaining FTA funding.

  3. How hard would it be to later (When the system is at/over capacity) double or tripple the size of the loading platform?

    1. Very good question, Lor! That’s what everyone up here in Vancouver would like to know ! The trains are too short in my opinion, and why they didn’t buy trains with longer and larger capacity is something we Vancouverites are still scratching our heads over !

  4. Canada Line is kinda unique the way it was designed. The platforms are expandable to 50m which would allow an extra car to be added. For now, they’ll run in a A-B configuration. In the future, the trains will expand to a A-C-B configuration, thus the 50m length.

    They (Canada Line) have been testing the trains pretty aggressively which is probably one of the many reasons why they will be opening early, along with the fast construction, along with the completing the tunnels ahead of schedule. Also, the time is still under its $2 billion dollar budget.

    As for capacity issues, they are planning on running the trains every 5 minutes, every day. I don’t foresee any issues in terms of capacity.

  5. Just keep in mind that they have an automated/driverless system, with moving block signal controls. For this reason they can run trains economically at 30-45 second headways.

    1. Really? Don’t you need at least 20 second dwell times? I guess with smaller trains you dwell for a shorter period?

      The only way you can build a driverless system is if the line is entirely grade seperated, as this is. So how do you build that for <$150mn/mile? I have no idea, but they’ve done it.

      1. I’m sorry I wrote the wrong thing. Headways including dwell time are closer to a minute. The dwell time is what limits station capacity.

    2. Speaking of being driverless, I love how SkyTrain abandoned that during the snowstorm, and all trains were manually operated on the Expo and Millenium Lines. Worked well, except the case where a train left the station with the door open!(Turned out to have been maintenance disabling the system that would have alerted the attendent that something was wrong, while they were doing a quick repair of, a malfunctioning door).

      1. They weren’t actually manually operated, and it was only on the Millennium line I was up there during that time. The problem was, the “intruder detection” on the tracks was being set off constantly by the snow on the Millennium line. What that meant is that they needed to have operators on the trains *just in case*. The trains were still running in Auto mode, with their normal automatic blocking system.

  6. Correct Adam,

    With the moving block signals, they could at peak run 45 seconds but they don’t have the vehicles for that =P

    That is one of the many beauties of a fully automated Metro system. While they can only have a maximum of a 3 car train, they can increase the frequency of the trains to prevent the overcrowding at a moments notice. No need to call a driver or anything of that nature.

  7. I really appreciate Seattle Transit Blog’s reporting on other urban rail systems, especially to get a sense of how Sound Transit’s main Link will compare with systems in Vancouver, Portland, Phoenix, and elsewhere.

    Before reading this blog and its links, I had some vague sense all light rail was about the same. You have really helped me see that in Seattle we are getting a significantly robust, and expensive, system later this year.

  8. I don’t know why everyone’s freaking out about the platform lengths. I used Lyon’s automated Metro D line for a year. It only has 2-car trains but it still handles almost 300,000 pax a day with ease. They recently renovated the interior trains so all the seats line the walls to further increase better flow. I doubt the Canada Line will carry that many passengers and I doubt the platform sizes will cause problems.

    1. It’s not the number of cars as much as the length of a platform that is a good measure of how many people a system can carry. A two-car train with 30m cars might have similar capacity as a three car train with 20m cars.

      I don’t know the length of the platforms in Lyon, but I think you get the idea.

  9. I can’t WAIT to ride this into Vancouver. I’ll probably get my parents to drop me off, but I can even walk to the Richmond Centre station from their house. :-)

    SkyTrain’s automated system is something to behold. I learned quite a bit about it during the monorail project days. Grade separation does make the difference for safety, although there are other systems here in the States that run automatic and just have drivers as a fail-safe.

  10. Jojo,

    Truthfully, most people don’t know the true capacity or ability of a automated Metro system since only a few exist in North America. It’s kinda like HSR, we don’t know what its really like unless we have experienced it. We are too used with the old ways and need to modernize. =)

  11. The system is open and is overwhelmingly successful. There may be initial capacity problems (close to 100,000 people rode it on the 8 hrs of opening day) but many of the riders are lookie-loos in the fist week or two. The real test will come when the suburban commuter buses are re-routed after Labour Day to funnel the commuters to the Canada Line. As for expanded capacity, the stations can handle 3 car trains (currently 2 car) by expanding the stations into the partially finished platforms and by increasing frequency so the capacity will be able double from its current capacity. I have also heard that they can have the end trains slightly overlap into the tunnels and only open 2 of the 3 sets of doors on each of the end trains in a few instances.

    Which would you rather have, a 3 car train that comes every 2-3 minutes or a 6 car train every 6 ?
    I think the benefits of an automated system far outweigh the extra cost.

  12. Interesting to read the budget projections.I was involved with the system integration design on the communication systems (Scada,CCTV,guideway intrusion etc).
    The easiest way I can describe the project is the Canadian tax payer thought he was buying an Audi – in fact he was given a standard honda accord.
    In other instance he paid for the Audi but never got to go take the Audi out on to the open road.
    Take for example the PA system.The PA system was specified/understood to be a alarm voice activated system – in the end it was just an audible alarm with various alarm rings.The speaker feeds where supposed to be seperated for redundacy in fact they were placed in the same conduit and seperated.Still means failure on both legs if there is a fire or short in the conduit.Big bucks paid for a half hearted solution in this one example.
    Another case was the stations were built before proper external civil works interface analysis was done. So the station walls get put up only to find that they have be knocked down again- many examples !Look at how many time Cambie was dug up.

    So the tax payer has forked out alot.Including a design based on the 1980s format sky train ! Most people will not be able to look behind the gloss of the finished product !

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