2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line

REALITY CHECK: B.C. Liberal claims vs. the facts on The Millennium Line SkyTrain

2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line

2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line
Based on photo by sillygwalio on flickr – CC-BY

In a guest posting on the Vancity Buzz blog [CLICK HERE], B.C. Liberal spokesperson Simrath Grewal (Vice President of the Young Liberals) wrote that:

The Millennium Line commissioned by the NDP during the 1990s was delivered late, over budget and it only made stops in NDP held ridings.

And claimed that this was part of a line of a dismal record of transportation projects that was had with the B.C. NDP government of the 1990s.

In this election, the main opposition (the B.C. NDP) have often criticized the B.C. Liberals for inaccuracy, and it looks like they have a really good reason to. People can only be expected to believe what they’re told, and it seems they’re being told a lot of rhetoric. It’s showing in the above comment on the Millennium Line SkyTrain project.

Simrath Grewal is completely incorrect on claiming that the Millennium Line SkyTrain project was late and over budget. In fact, the team that oversaw the construction of the Millennium Line (Rapid Transit Project 2000, Ltd. or RTP2000) won a National Award for Engineering Achievement from Engineers Canada for completing the Millennium Line both on time and UNDER budget. Engineers Canada is the national organization of the 12 provincial and territorial associations that regulate the profession of engineering in Canada and license the country’s more than 250,000 members of the engineering profession. The award is viewable on the Engineers Canada website at [CLICK HERE]. Its message is pretty clear to me.

Engineers Canada award with link

The financial statements of RTP 2000 Ltd. [CLICK HERE for the latest] make it clear how much was spent on the Millennium Line: $1.1 billion, meaning that the line was well within budget. In terms of per-km cost, the Millennium Line was the least expensive SkyTrain project ever constructed, save for the SkyTrain section running from Scott Road to King George Station (see: Historical SkyTrain Costs, [CLICK HERE]). This is reflected in other claims on the project reference pages on websites of companies that helped work on the Millennium Line, such as the Cement Association of Canada [LINK HERE].

The other claim that interests me is the one that alleges that the Millennium Line was designed to cater only to NDP ridings, by only stopping in them.

This overlooks the fact that the Millennium Line was never fully completed. The current portion of the Millennium Line in service is a Phase I portion of the route. It was brought forward because it was the least expensive portion of a multi-phase project that would have integrated several kilometres of new SkyTrain with the existing SkyTrain system. Not a lot of people who then labelled the Millennium Line the “SkyTrain to nowhere” probably know that. The Millennium Line project came across a rather unfortunate turn of government: with the B.C. Liberals’ step up to power in 2001, the Phase II portion of the line (which was in planning & development) was cancelled.

The cancelled Phase II portion of the route would have extended the Millennium Line into Coquitlam (now moving forward as today’s Evergreen Line project) and westward into the Central Broadway district, building off of the inexpensive track infrastructure of the Phase I line and an expansion of the sole operations/maintenance facility in Burnaby. That would have made the entire Millennium Line a bargain, in the sense that with SkyTrain, better transit could be provided at a significant discount thanks to existing assets.

1998 SkyTrain plans for the Millennium Line

1998 SkyTrain plans for the Millennium Line

The cancellation of this had to do with a report released by a consultant named Alan Greer, which attempted to refute a revised study that lead to a change in decisions with the NDP government and the build-out of the current SkyTrain Millennium Line rather than an original at-grade LRT proposal, based on stakeholders’ wishes for more grade separation (for better transit). Greer used his report to claim that the new report endorsed by the NDP supporting SkyTrain was shady, but did so with an equally shady report.

In late 2012 I did a review of this report as part of my work with the SkyTrain for Surrey Initiative (now called Better Surrey Rapid Transit at skytrainforsurrey.org) and found several inaccuracies that were not reviewed at the time, because the report was kept confidential for two years. [READ MY FULL ANALYSIS – CLICK HERE]

From original PRESS RELEASE on “Debunking the Greer Report” [CLICK HERE to read]

In my analysis of the report, I found that Mr. Greer is significantly lacking in his knowledge of the SkyTrain system. For example: some of Mr. Greer’s assumptions completely exclude the ability of higher operating frequencies with driver-less systems compared to driver-manned systems such as at-grade Light Rail Transit. There are a lot of unsubstantiated claims, and there are also several places where the information in the document contradicts itself.

The “primary flaw” in the RTP’s new SkyTrain-favouring study that was outlined in Greer’s report was that the new cost estimates were only done for the part of the full project that was to go ahead (to allegedly “create the appearance of favourable costs for SkyTrain”), and that analysis for the remaining portions (Phase II) was neglected and put-off solely due to the expenses of building out those po rtions with the preferred SkyTrain technology. The new analysis by SkyTrain for Surrey points out that this contradicts the reasons (stated in the same document) that the RTP made the change: the neglect of an immediate and costly analysis for Phase II likely did not have to do with the high cost of SkyTrain, but with the high cost of a better LRT with more grade separations (as was requested and mandated by community stakeholders).

According to this report by CBC [LINK HERE], the B.C. Liberals during the 2001 election used Greer’s report to claim that the Millennium Line project was to be another “fast ferries” fiasco. This is completely untrue not only for the reasons I state in my counter-report (linked above), but also because the first phase of the Millennium Line was delivered under budget, meaning the tie-in second phase (which would have extended the Millennium Line to the big ridership centres) would have likely made both projects very successful if the B.C. Liberals had not cancelled it as they came into power after 2001.

Clearly, the B.C. Liberals will use rhetoric and forego reviewing the facts when criticizing transportation projects by other governments. It happened in 2001, and looks like it is happening again in 2013.

So, what do you think? Will you continue to believe in the Liberals’ lies?

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