Every rail-rapid transit proposals in Metro Vancouver started off as (mostly) at-grade light rail.


Rapid Transit Project Public Meeting Ad from the 1970s. Picture from rickie22

If you’ve ever ridden the MAX light rail system in Portland, I’m sure this is what the original rapid transit planners had in mind.

We ended up with SkyTrain because essentially the federal government wrote a big fat cheque to help support high-tech jobs in Ontario. Urban Transportation Development Corporation, the creators of SkyTrain, was an Ontario crown corporation. Since that original decision to build SkyTrain, the provincial government has never looked back.


Mark I SkyTrain Car

The Millennium Line was originally planned to be light rail until the provincial government “undertook a comparison of light rail (LRT) and SkyTrain technologies.” In 1998, the provincial government proceeded to unilaterally decide that SkyTrain was the solution.

Rapid Transit Corridors Within Greater Vancouver

From 1995, Rapid Transit Corridors Within Greater Vancouver.

The same thing happened with the Evergreen Line. TransLink was originally going to build light rail, but the province released a completely unbiased business case which proved that SkyTrain was the way to go. The province unilaterally took over the management of the Evergreen Line project, and paid the extra cost of converting from light rail to SkyTrain.

The original vision for getting rail rapid transit to Richmond put both light rail and SkyTrain on the table. Because the Canada Line was a P3, a fully-automated SkyTrain-like system was built instead of the real McCoy, but still no light rail. So, what does this have to do with the title of this post?

The City of Surrey is committed to supporting the construction of light rail along King George Boulevard and Fraser Highway. Surrey’s Mayor Linda Hepner has even promised light rail by 2018 regardless of the failed transit referendum.

While some urbanists and transit geeks will debate the benefits of various transit technologies until they are blue in the face, in Metro Vancouver, it’s really just wasting energy.

Given the history of rail-rapid transit in Metro Vancouver, it is likely that Surrey Light Rail will become SkyTrain along Fraser Highway. In a recent interview, Peter Fassbender hinted at SkyTrain. There is no doubt in my mind that the province is working on a business case for SkyTrain along Fraser Highway right now.

I don’t know why both the NDP and BC Liberals are in love with SkyTrain, but the fact is that rail-rapid transit in Metro Vancouver equals SkyTrain.

I used to spend a lot of effort plugging the benefits of building light rail over SkyTrain, but I’ve come to learn that it is more important to promote the value of funding frequent, fast transit service.