The $1.65-billion Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT line will be privately operated

Jun 19 2018, 2:26 pm

Metro Vancouver’s first street-level light rail line will be privately operated, at least initially.

According to a project update ahead of this week’s TransLink Board of Directors meeting, the $1.65-billion, 10.5-km-long Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT (SNG LRT) will use a public-private partnership model similar to the Canada Line.

The public transit authority says it plans to seek private sector interest to design, build, and help finance the project’s construction cost. Additionally, following construction and testing, the successful proponent will also operate and maintain the SNG LRT for a period of seven years as an “extended warranty.”

TransLink plans to assume operations and maintenance responsibilities after the short-term private partnership model.

Similarly, the Canada Line is privately operated by ProTransBC, a division of Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

A joint venture between SNC-Lavalin, the Investment Management Corporation of BC, and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec invested $750 million towards the $2.054 billion construction cost of the Canada Line. It also designed and built the project, which opened in 2009.

This consortium, led by SNC-Lavalin, is now in its ninth year of a 35-year contract to operate and maintain the Canada Line in exchange for a portion of its operating revenue to recoup its initial investment and gain a long-run profit. After the decades-long operating term, TransLink is expected to take over operations and maintenance duties.

Under the Canada Line model, at least 100,000 boardings per day were required to break even on the initial annual operating costs of the system. If operating revenue generated by ridership failed to meet targets, TransLink would bear any shortfalls to the private operator. Fortunately, the Canada Line reached 100,000 boardings per day within a year of opening – about four years ahead of ridership forecasts.

TransLink operates and maintains the Expo Line and Millennium Line through its BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC) subsidiary, and the future Broadway Extension will also be operated by BCRTC given that it is a direct extension of the Millennium Line.

SNG LRT will run on 104 Avenue and King George Boulevard, connecting Guildford Town Centre and Newton Exchange via Surrey City Centre in 27 minutes. It is expected the public transit authority will seek private interest in the project late this year, and if all goes as planned construction will commence in 2019 for an opening in 2024.

Upon opening, SNG LRT’s ridership is forecast to hover at between 42,000 and 46,000 boardings per day – more than three times the existing 96 B-Line ridership of 13,100 per weekday.

Ridership is expected to grow to between 51,000 and 55,000 per day in 2030 and between 71,000 and 77,000 per day in 2045.

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