Thursday, January 31, 2008

Trains for Victoria

So there is a report out there speaking about the feasibility of running commuter rail on the E and N line for a $16 000 000 initial investment and an annual $2 000 000 operating cost.

I am skeptical about the report for several reasons:

The shorter O Train line in Ottawa was built for $21 000 000 about seven years ago. They needed to make no track upgrades. $6 000 000 of the costs for the O Train was for the rolling stock. The O train is also 100% separate from vehicle traffic.

18 km of rail track is not a cheap thing to build. I walked along numerous section of the existing line and it is in need of a major overhaul. There many years of deferred maintenance is going to cost more than $350 000 per km to overcome. This does not include the need several locations for trains to pass each other.

I can not see any mention of the needs for a maintenance yard/shed - is the proposal to use the existing location in Vic West?

I can not see any mention of all of the level crossings - there are some major problematic ones out there that need some sort of attention before you could run regular rail service. As far as I can tell is that any road costs have been off loaded in the report to local government or the provincial government. The cost of dealing with some of the more problematic intersections has to be addressed before this can go forward.

The suggested schedule of once every half hour seems unrealistic with a single train. The O Train in Ottawa manages an 8 km trip in 12 minutes with a total of five stations. They need three trains to maintain a 15 minute schedule in Ottawa. An 18 km trip with five stations indicates to me that a 25 minute trip is on the upper end of realistic. With a 25 minutes trip you need to have at least two trains to maintain a half an hour schedule. A single train will mean an hourly schedule.

The use of the same rolling stock as Ottawa is highly unlikely. The deal that Ottawa got on them is unlikely to be available again. Given the massive objection to building ferries in Germany, I am sure that people will object to trains being built there.

Ridership seems inflated to me. The O-Train in Ottawa has Carleton on its route and therefore serves a lot of University students. The E and N line has very few offices within 500 metres of the end station downtown. Most office workers downtown are about 700 to 1000 metres from the end of the line. Studies have shown that the relationship between users of transit and distance to their final destination is an inverse square relationship. The only location that seems well located for the line is the Graving Dock.

I have seen some differing numbers on the total number of riders, I have seen 700 to 12oo round trips and 1400 and 2300 round trips. With the upper number, you would need to have 10 trips into town at close to full capacity. With a half an hour schedule you need to have rush hour spread out over five hours to achieve this. The capacity of the line on a half hour schedule is 530 people in an hour. Assuming that the lower set is correct and the media made some errors, what would 1000 round trips mean for revenue? A total revenue of $1 125 000 a year presuming that all the fares are paid on a cash basis. In reality most of the users will use their transit pass and therefore drop the revenue to less than $1 000 000 in one year.

Operation costs seem low to me. I can not see any mention of such things as insurance, security staff, or rail traffic control. The other costs look too low to be able to provide the service suggested. In looking at comparable services, a much more realistic operating cost is in the range of $3 000 000 to $4 000 000 per year.

I can not see how the line would cost at least $2 000 000 a year to operate than what it costs to bring in. It seems to me that the subsidy would be more like $4 per trip taken or $8 per round trip.
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