Car gridlock forced city to blaze transport trail
Well-used: Vancouver's SkyTrain. Picture: Supplied

Laying the first metre of light rail line is the hardest.

International experience suggests it usually comes down to political will.

Talking about it is one thing. Building it is another, as we have seen in Perth in recent years with the on-again, off-again MAX light rail project from Mirrabooka to the city and beyond.

In Vancouver, the incentive to build its light rail system was to show off to the rest of the world at Expo 86.

But from this dubious motive has developed SkyTrain, the world's longest fully automated, driverless light rail network.

It carries more than 234 million passengers a year and its key junction station copes with more people every day than Vancouver International Airport.

CARS COME LAST IN PLANNING | LIGHT RAIL BLUEPRINT COLLECTS DUST | BIG MAX NUMBERS TIPPED | AIRPORT REJECTS RAIL LINK PAYMENT | AIRPORT RAIL MOVES FEWER PEOPLE

Sun Fang is considered "the godfather" of the SkyTrain, having worked on the system since its early trials in 1982.

Mr Fang, who is retiring this year, said the system was a world-first and groundbreaking.

"This system was so unique we had nothing to compare it with," Mr Fang said. "We were at the cutting edge then and we are at the cutting edge now.

"SkyTrain has proved to be one of the cheapest and most reliable transport systems in the world.

"We still get visitors from transport authorities around the globe wanting to see SkyTrain as a fully automated, driverless and unattended transport system."

Fred Cummings, president and general manager of SkyTrain's governing body BCRTC, said 258 railcars operated across the 68km of the system's three lines - including one between the city and the airport.

"There is no doubt that we are one of the best performing and efficient public transport networks in the world," Mr Cummings said.

"There are not many other networks that can claim to recoup the full cost of maintenance and operations through fares."

A fourth SkyTrain route is under construction through the eastern suburb of Coquitlam. This 11km line will cost $1.4 billion, which includes the cost of 28 new railcars to service the line - much cheaper than the $2.2 billion forecast to be spent on Perth's proposed 8.5km train line to the airport and High Wycombe.

But this year has not been a great year for SkyTrain. A full-blown shutdown last month - later blamed on a computer glitch - left thousands of passengers stranded for a couple of hours.

In the face of public criticism, BRCTC opened its operations to the media, including The West Australian.

BCRTC is a subsidiary of TransLink, the unique transport agency founded in 1999 to control Vancouver's public transport - on land, rail and sea. It is also responsible for 2400km of major roads, five bridges and has assets valued at more than $11 billion.

Mike Harcourt, a former premier of British Columbia and a former mayor of Vancouver, said TransLink came at the right time for the region.

Vancouver had the highest per capita car ownership in Canada and the road network crossed municipal boundaries, making co-ordination difficult.

"In the 1990s, transport was the big issue in Vancouver," Mr Harcourt said.

"Skyrocketing car ownership and gridlock on the roads made commuting a nightmare.

"The provincial government and leaders of the 20 municipalities making up Greater Vancouver knew the situation could not go on.

"So Vancouver blazed its own trail, developing a regional agency with unprecedented authority to tackle the crisis."

TransLink began with a major overhaul of the city's bus network, different types of buses and different routes. For example, it brought in two minibuses to serve the 3000 people on Bowen Island. To add to the flexibility of the island service, buses stop wherever along the route passengers are waiting. Further out from the city, bigger coach-style buses were bought to improve passenger comfort.

And bicycle racks were added in areas with high cycling rates.

The agency is now responsible for 1871 buses across the region.

MORE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
ALL CHANGE MIDLAND PLATFORM
WAR ON FARE EVADERS
ADS LEAVE NO EXCUSES FOR DRIVERS

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West