We should all be quite thankful as South of Fraser citizens that TransLink is in fact considering the provision of rapid transit here in one form or another and is examining that by collecting info and data in the recent Surrey Rapid Transit Study; but some of us here at SkyTrain for Surrey wonder sometimes whether it comes to the minds of the general public whether the people in charge of conducting the study should actually be trusted for their research or doubted for it.
As a component of the future of the city that all of us here at SkyTrain for Surrey work for, the study and the examinations, public opinions set forth for, and results do concern us to quite a degree. We don’t concern ourselves so much about the data collection portion of the study as that is certainly an important factor in deciding on a conclusion, but the potential for issues on the options that are being debated in the study does concern us quite a lot. Ladies and gentlemen, we may have found another one of those issues – and a serious one at hand – that may be seriously affecting public opinion.
One will notice that lately that most of our latest series of posts have to do with capital cost estimates and possible mistakes in those estimates. This article also has to do with possible capital cost estimate inaccuracies but with a different party in question.
Cost is one of the more serious factors helping to decide the implementation of South of Fraser rapid transit, and some of this result has to do with the very large service area that must be explored:
A lower cost technology and implementation type might be able to cover more ground for the same price, hence the multiple-account-evaluation study by TransLink is currently taking place.
TransLink is currently examining two options if the expansion of SkyTrain as an Expo Line extension were to go ahead in Surrey. These are:
- an approx. 16km extension straight down the Fraser Highway to Langley (RRT1), and
- an approx. 5.7km extension straight down King George Blvd to Newton Town Centre (RRT2 and RRT3)
The costs for these alternatives respectively amounts to approximately:
- $1.6 billion ($100 million per km) 
- $900 million ($150 million per km) 
Certainly there is something very seriously wrong with this estimate as it is not in line at all with the actual costs of past SkyTrain implementations.
Whereas both lines will be able to involve the use of only some elevated segments, with the possibility of at-grade operation in some areas such as through the undeveloped Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) along the Fraser Highway, the $1.5 billion ($1.5 billion is the accurate capital cost in 2011 dollars – several claimed and reported the costs as $2 billion but this is inaccurate – [READ MORE]) Canada Line rapid transit line connecting Downtown Vancouver with Richmond and YVR-Airport was a lot more special in that it featured these supposedly cost-inflating segments….
- Nearly 9km of expensive underground alignment – this is nearly 50% of the entire line
- Two major river crossings – the North Arm Bridge and the Middle Arm Bridge
- Significant costs for street- and intersection-scaping and utility movement on Cambie Street in Vancouver as a result of cut-and-cover construction – much moreso than would be necessary for elevated SkyTrain construction
- Significant costs for street-scaping on No. 3 Road in Richmond to account for major changes in the use of road space throughout the corridor section paralleling SkyTrain
- A new operations and maintenance centre in Richmond to cater to a fleet of trains incompatible with the rest of the SkyTrain system
- Enough trains to cater to a 180 second average frequency except on the branches to Richmond-Brighouse and YVR-Airport which operate with even lower 360 second frequencies at this moment
- More stations per km than any other SkyTrain line
- Additional costs related to training maintenance workers in BC who would need to familiarize themselves with the completely different propulsion method and rolling stock used by Canada Line.
- Additional costs related to building in challenging soil conditions in both Richmond and near False Creek in Downtown Vancouver.
The Canada Line was built at a final and actual overall implementation cost estimate of just $80 million per km in 2011 dollars – this half the cost of a Surrey-based implementation to Newton that will require only elevated and at-grade track, no major river crossings, and no major expansions or new construction of any operation and maintenance facility.
- Several kilometres of expensive underground alignments in bored and cut-and-cover tunnels
- Much longer and larger station platforms than necessary with extravagant, costly designs
- A possibly unnecessary new, oversized train yard and/or secondary full operations & maintenance centre (in reality only a small one may be necessary to serve a Langley extension and none at all to serve Newton extension, as a secondary OMC is already being constructed in Coquitlam for the Evergreen Line, and both that and additional track space will accommodate for more rolling stock)
- Enough new trains to cater to a 162 second average frequency on the Surrey branch of the Expo Line
Other elevated SkyTrain implementations not dissimilar at all from the ones being planned for Surrey were implemented at average costs closer to $60-70 million per km .
The inconsistency is shocking. The 200%+ inflated estimates put forward by the Surrey Rapid Transit Study team cannot be followed and make a serious impact on the credibility of current rapid transit option studies in the South of Fraser.
As a result of the lack of an accurate cost estimate by TransLink, researchers for the SkyTrain for Surrey Initiative who analyzed actual past construction costs and have come up with their own accurate formula for estimating SkyTrain costs. We are working on a putting together a new vision for balanced rapid transit expansions not only in Surrey but across Metro Vancouver; this will make use of more accurate capital cost estimates. The vision will split a hypothetical $2 billion in rapid transit investments beyond 2016 and to 2026 between 43km of rail rapid transit in Metro Vancouver – some of which will be Light Rail.
Our current estimates are so far showing that an on-street Light Rail implementation in Surrey will only provide a capital cost savings of 16% vs. a grade-separated SkyTrain-type implementation. We will be publishing our results soon.
- Updated cost in a TransLink Listens Survey about the Surrey Rapid Transit Study – not currently available online
- Remained unchanged from latest cost update – 
- The physical infrastructure of the original extension of SkyTrain into Surrey from Scott Road Station to King George Station, which opened in 1994, cost just $50 million per km (2011 dollars) to build , with the full implementation costs (i.e. rolling stock included) of the extension having cost just $65 million per km 
- The Millennium Line SkyTrain line (2002), which is mostly elevated and does not feature many provisions that can inflate total project cost, was implemented at a similar total per-km cost of approximately $67 million (2011 dollars)