With a SkyTrain network that spans from UBC to Langley, one mayor in Metro Vancouver wants TransLink to consider getting faster trains for its upcoming new fleet order.
“Looking at how huge this network is going to end up, is there any conversation on the speed of rains? Are we going to have the ability to buy faster rolling stock?” Port Moody mayor Rob Vagramov asked TransLink staff during the Mayors’ Council meeting today.
“At some point, the speed of these things is going to be a factor, whether it be a train or a car to get them to a place sooner.”
Currently, the vehicles on all three SkyTrain lines have a maximum operating speed of 80 km/hr. The average speed is 40 km/hr on the Expo Line and Millennium Line system and 32 km/hr on the Canada Line.
These speeds generally align with most fully grade-separated subway systems in the world. For instance, newer trains on the London Underground have a top speed of 80 km/hr and an average systemwide speed of 32 km/hr.
Most of the trains on Hong Kong’s MTR subway have a maximum speed of 80 km/hr as well.
Some systems do operate far faster, such as San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System, more commonly referred to as the BART, which doubles as a local service and a longer-haul commuter rail — just like SkyTrain. Its top speed is 130 km/hr, and the average speed is 56 km/hr.
The maximum speed of the Montreal Metro, which uses rubber tires instead of steel wheels, is lower at 72 km/hr, but its average speed is relatively high at 40 km/hr.
In the meeting, Geoff Cross, the Vice-President of Planning and Policy of TransLink, explained there may be fewer long-distance trips as Surrey sees more development.
He also added that TransLink could look at other higher-speed options besides SkyTrain, such as more commuter rail opportunities — like the West Coast Express and Toronto Go Train — instead of extensions of SkyTrain or a mix of both. Some conventional commuter rail systems in the world reach speeds as high as 160 km/hr, but commuter rail expansion options are currently limited by the lack of railway corridors in the region.
There are a number of factors that determine train speed, other than the design limited by the manufacturer.
The level of grade separation determines whether trains can have flexible travel on their own speeds. Street-level LRT, for instance, usually needs to follow motor vehicle speed limits because it runs through traffic.
The design of the laid-out infrastructure is another major factor, such as station spacing (SkyTrain stations are about one km apart on average) and the route of the rail system. Trains typically have to slow down at sharp turns, as is the case for the Expo Line just west of Main Street-Science World Station.
On the Canada Line between King Edward Station and Oakridge-41st Avenue Station, at least several minutes of travel time likely could have been shaved off had the tunnel been built in a straight line through the westernmost edge of Queen Elizabeth Park instead of following Cambie Street. This resulted in four sharp turns in this span next to the park, resulting in far slower speeds, although the routing was also done to preserve the possibility of a future station at 33rd Avenue and avoid hard volcanic rock.
But there are some key technological differences that do make the trains on the Expo Line and Millennium Line faster than the Canada Line trains. The former uses the magnetism from linear induction motors (LIM) to propel trains, which offers higher acceleration and deceleration capabilities in and out of stations. In comparison, the latter’s conventional technology depends heavily on the friction of the steel wheels, which can be prone to slippage.
When it comes to system capacity, Cross says the Expo Line is nearing its maximum frequency capabilities, and the method of increasing the system’s capacity will be primarily from operating longer trains that occupy the full platform length.
On the Millennium Line, there is still “quite a bit of room” to increase capacity.
New additional cars and other infrastructure upgrades as part of the Phase Two transit expansion plan will boost the Expo Line’s capacity to 17,500 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) and the Millennium Line’s capacity to 7,500 pphpd. These increases represent a 32% and 96% boost in carrying capacity, respectively, over existing capacities.
Previous reports by the public transit authority indicate the Expo Line will need to reach a system capacity of 25,700 pphpd by 2041 to support ridership levels. This is just shy of the system’s capacity of 26,000 pphpd.
In contrast, Toronto’s Yonge-University subway has been running 11% above its capacity of 28,000 pphpd in recent years. This year, a full conversion of this subway line into automatic train control — will allow trains to run closer, resulting in higher frequencies and a capacity increase to 36,000 pphd.