Sunday, June 8, 2008

Edmonton provides light-rail lesson, says Sun

The Ottawa Sun wrote today about Edmonton's experience building a light-rail system over the last three and a half decades. The story was decidedly critical of the Edmonton Transit System's attempts to complete the system as planned.

City councillor Ron Hayter leads the charge, arguing that too much money has been funnelled into construction of a line with uncertain ridership -- 42,000 on weekdays, but apparently much less on weekends. Two tunnels were dug to facilitate the line. Hayter says that one of them, which travels beneath the University of Alberta, was a mistake.

The price tag for Edmonton's light rail is said to be $400 million, so far. The Sun story says that some observers expect costs to exceed $1 billion.

- Edmonton's population is 730,000 and its land area is 9,400 km².
- Ottawa's population is about 850,000 and its land area is 5,300 km².

Ottawa is spending at least four times more than Edmonton to build its light-rail line. Although population and land area don't dictate how much a city should spend on its public transit -- there is so much more to consider -- the difference in cost between the two cities begs a question:

If Edmontonians are upset about paying $1 billion for a transit plan,
why are Ottawans willing to spend $4 billion?


Peter Raaymakers said...

I actually liked this story. One thing we can learn from it is that even someone critical of the plans, Councillor Hayter, still sees the tunnel under downtown--similar to the tunnel Ottawa council is planning downtown--was a smart move.

The most important statistic, to me, that was presented in the story was the ridership: about 42k in Edmonton, compared to almost 215k in Ottawa. Ottawans have shown that they are willing to use transit if it suits them.

Anonymous said...

While on the whole they are on the mark, there are a few issues with your observations that I have Nick.

First that the transit numbers that you cite are for ETS only. However, Edmonton's suburbs are much closer to the city and their own transit services provide better service to stops in the main city than the Gatineau transit service does. As a result the ridership numbers are off by not a small amount.

Second, I think the comparison to Edmonton is a bad one to make in Ottawa's case. The cities have very different economies and in my opinion it is wrong to try and compare a very blue collar city where the heavy industry in outside the core of the city with a city that is very dependent on white collar jobs that are located in the city core.

A better comparison would be Calgary where at least you can draw interesting conclusions. Chief among these would be that after years of expanding above ground (including blocking off a street downtown for the C-Train to run down), the City of Calgary are examining building a tunnel to better carry transit capacity. A plan that sounds vaguely similar to Ottawa

Nick said...

Good points, Ross. It looks like the Sun and I are both guilty of making bad comparisons.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps before engaging in comparisons you should start by looking at just what is included in the infamous $4B. First, you'll find that only about $2B is for light rail, $500M for the tunnel and the other $1.5B is for buses and busways. Second, you'll find that the cost estimates for both light rail lines and busways have been inflated by 30% contingencies so that the estimates come in far higher per kilometre than what is being spent on the current construction between Bayshore and Pinecrest (including all that interchange reconfiguring and blasting into bedrock). The tunnel also has a 50% contingency built-in. Third, you'll find that the light rail vehicle cost estimates are about 25% higher than actual. Fourth, you'll find that the estimates for the number of required light rail vehicles don't correspond to the number Calgary possesses for a system that is both bigger (~47 km vs ~23 km) and carries more passengers.

Anonymous said...

another thing that wasn't looked at in this. Edmonton's 400 million, goes back to the 70's, the last upgrade was $100 million for 0.64km of track. So almost $200 million/km

Also cut and cover methods are cheaper in the short run, but overall the costs are higher.

The one benefit for a tunnel, is the fact that snow removal is not required in the tunnel, it is on surface roads.

It was one of the problems in Toronto with the snow fall in '99, the trains couldn't get out of the tunnels that do exist in the ttc subway system.