I know that just by quoting from Charlie Smith’s latest piece in The Straight – Bombardier brings Canadian grit and French glamour to European passenger rail – there’s the danger of once again unleashing the pro-and-con, back-and-forth debates over the choice of SkyTrain versus light rail. But readers might otherwise miss some interesting background, as documented by Smith, that is buried late in his piece describing Bombardier’s Francilien – the most colourful suburban train in Paris’s history.
Here’s the excerpt:
Meanwhile in Vancouver, Bombardier has come under criticism in the past for its contracts with TransLink and the provincial government.
Critics contend that TransLink was saddled with outrageous costs because SkyTrain cars were too expensive for the relatively small number of passengers they carried.
This meant huge sums were being taken out of the operating budget to pay down debt when that money may have been better spent expanding service and lowering fares.
In 1999 after the last NDP government had approved the Millennium Line, consultant Alan Greer wrote a scathing report for the B.C. government.
In it, he declared that “the most relevant information advanced in support of the SkyTrain option was misleading, incomplete or unsubstantiated”.
Greer’s report also claimed that the Rapid Transit Project Office high-balled the cost of street-level light rail by tripling the estimated price of a maintenance yard to $110 million,
The company that prepared this estimate, Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, had been Bombardier’s partner on SkyTrain systems.
Back in 1999, a graduate student named Tamim Raad cowrote a paper with one of his professors, Peter Boothroyd, highlighting costs differentials between street-level light rail and SkyTrain. Raad is now director of strategic policy and planning at TransLink.
Depending on the assumptions, Raad and Boothroyd concluded that the gap was between 34 percent and 133 percent.
This meant that in their eyes at the time, the SkyTrain network was $700 million to $1.6 billion more than a light-rail system would have cost.
Perhaps most damning was a Light Rail for Vancouver Committee analysis, which concluded that an order for SkyTrain cars cost $42,000 per passenger space. That was more than double the cost per passenger space for light rail in Denver.
In 2006, TransLink agreed to a $113.2-million contract for 34 SkyTrain cars from Bombardier. That worked out to $3.3 million per car.