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This Week in 1982 History: Work Begins on Vancouver’s Skytrain

Many civil politicians insisted on a cheaper light rail system

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Forty years ago, British Columbia’s Prime Minister Bill Bennett wore a construction helmet, boarded a backhoe, and launched a scoop to the ground. After years of debate over years of local, state, and federal politicians about Vancouver’s proper high-speed transportation system, work on the Skytrain system has finally begun.

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However, when Bennett took a photo on March 1, 1982, it wasn’t called the Skytrain. It was ALRT — Advanced Light Rapid Transit.

It was controversial, primarily because it was a new high-tech system with no drivers. Many local government politicians, including then-Vancouver Mayor Mike Harcourt, favored cheaper alternatives using proven true technology and regular rail lines.

“The main reason (I opposed it) was cost,” Harcourt said last week. “It had never been manufactured before. It was a brand new technology, such as a linear induction motor. The only place it was used was Bombardier’s test truck in Kingston, Ontario.

“Siemens and a few others (light rail options) had 200 systems running, all of which were successful. We wanted a convenient, reliable, and affordable high-speed transportation system.”

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The estimated cost in 1982 was $ 718 million on the 21.4km route between Vancouver and New Westminster. But by the time the line opened on January 3, 1986, it had risen to $ 854 million.

By comparison, Portland, Oregon spent US $ 220 million (about US $ 300 million at the time) on the first phase of the MAX Light Rail system, which was initially 24.6 km long. It also opened in 1986.

Vancouver’s options were also much more expensive, not as extensive as Dave Barrett’s $ 140 million mass transit plan proposed to Metro Vancouver in 1974 by the NDP government.

NDP’s proposal revives many of the old intercity tram systems, from Horseshoe Bay to Lonsdale on the North Shore, downtown Vancouver to the airport via the Arbutos Corridor, and New Westminster to Langley in Fraser Valley.

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Barrett was defeated by Bennett’s Socred in the 1975 election, and the NDP’s proposal was denied. However, there was still a need for mass transit, and in 1979 the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now known as Metro Vancouver) again considered a light rail transport (LRT) system.

Bill Lane, Commissioner of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, shows a map of the light rail system proposed on July 26, 1979.
Bill Lane, Commissioner of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, shows a map of the light rail system proposed on July 26, 1979.

On July 26, 1979, Judy Lindsay of Vancouver Sun reported that the estimated cost of an LRT between Vancouver and New West was $ 265 to $ 326 million. Expansion to Sally, Coquitlam and Richmond has raised costs to $ 558 million.

Meanwhile, Socred was considering their own mass transit plans. Municipal Minister Bill Vander Zarm was intrigued by the automated ALRT design that came out of Ontario and proposed a $ 650 million plan to city politicians on December 6, 1980. did.

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Federal politicians were furious at Zarm’s announcement of his plans. On December 12, 1980, Federal Minister Ed Ramley said BC was approaching losing federal funding for the system.

Eventually, the federal government raised $ 60 million and Socreds put ALRT into operation. However, opinions about the project were still divided.

“Called lemons, pork pigs, and turkeys on stilts,” Sun’s Gillian Shaw wrote on March 31, 1982. “Urban transportation”.

The system was renamed SkyTrain on November 21, 1985.

“The unique and technologically advanced high-speed transportation system by global standards deserves a different name,” said Grace McCarthy, the state minister in charge of high-speed transportation. “I think it’s best because it glides through the traffic without delaying traffic lights or traffic tie-ups.”

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It was an instant hit with the riders, and Harcourt became a fan.

“I’ve changed my mind now. I think it worked,” said Harcourt, who became Prime Minister of British Columbia from 1991 to 1996. .. “

However, high costs and political manipulation meant a delay. The Vancouver Council discussed the construction of a route to Richmond in 1982. It wasn’t held until August 17, 2009, just in time for the 2010 Olympics.

Called the Canada Line, it ran 19 kilometers and cost $ 2.05 billion. The current 5.7km extension of the Broadway line from Clark Drive to Arbutos is expected to cost $ 3 billion.

jmackie@postmedia.com

Ontario Prime Minister Bill Bennett (left) is shaking hands with BC Prime Minister Bill Bennett after Bennett has signed a contract to purchase a high-speed transportation system developed for Vancouver in Ontario. Looking (from left) is James Snow, Director of Transport in Ontario, Bill Vander Zarm, Minister of State for British Columbia, and Ray Perrault, Liberal Senator. This system is known as SkyTrain.
Ontario Prime Minister Bill Bennett (left) is shaking hands with BC Prime Minister Bill Bennett after Bennett has signed a contract to purchase a high-speed transportation system developed for Vancouver in Ontario. Looking (from left) is James Snow, Director of Transport in Ontario, Bill Vander Zarm, Minister of State for British Columbia, and Ray Perrault, Liberal Senator. This system is known as SkyTrain.
Photographs distributed by Urban Transportation Development Corporation. It shows the ALRT transit car ripping the track. This system became known as SkyTrain. The photo is engraved on February 23, 1981.
Photographs distributed by Urban Transportation Development Corporation. It shows the ALRT transit car ripping the track. This system became known as SkyTrain. The photo is engraved on February 23, 1981.
A photo distributed by the Urban Transportation Development Corporation showing an ALRT transit car with the UTDC logo. The photo is engraved on February 23, 1981.
A photo distributed by the Urban Transportation Development Corporation showing an ALRT transit car with the UTDC logo. The photo is engraved on February 23, 1981.

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This Week in 1982 History: Work Begins on Vancouver’s Skytrain

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