February 18, 2021

SkyTrain for LA?

When SkyTrain opened for Expo in 1985, it was hoped it could become a popular alternative for rapid transit.   Other than in a handful of cities, like Kuala Lumpur, it hasn’t.   But maybe a technology of the 80s, like music and fashion, is coming back.

Consider the global impact if a SkyTrain-like transit alternative happened in a trend centre like Los Angeles.

They don’t call it SkyTrain, of course.  When they see an elevated train, Americans think of monorail (cue The Simpsons).  One of the two bidders for the project calls it LA SkyRail Express .  The technology may be different but the scale and purpose is the same.  (The other bidder is for more conventional light-rail rapid transit.The $6.1 billion project would provide a one-way trip from the Valley to the Westside in approximately 24 minutes. But at about every 30 minutes, it’s not quite SkyTrain frequencies.

While comparing social geography is never accurate, the map suggests a comparison to Vancouver.  The Sepulveda project would connect two of the most affluent parts of the LA region.  Imagine the Santa Monica mountains as analogous to the Burrard Inlet, and you can see how it’s kind of like joining our downtown peninsula and the North Shore via SkyTrain.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times takes a skeptical view of monorail for the Sepulveda Pass:

… as long as monorail remains an option, there is a risk that the region’s political leaders will be wooed by expediency and the shiny new object. We prefer they take the long view: If L.A. is going to invest billions of dollars to build transit lines for the next century, let’s build the fastest, most useful and rider-friendly system possible. That’s rail, not monorail.

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  1. Anything with 30min frequency should not be compared to Skytrain. The ‘Skytrain’ concept is small, light vehicles running at high frequency. No need for a schedule, you know a train will be soon. Driverless trains are key to this because labour costs for frequent trains with drivers would be high.

  2. They spend $6 billion on the guideway and stations and can’t afford a few extra trainsets? If they’re unsure of demand then the 30 minute frequencies will just make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. The whole point of an automated system is to be able to provide great service at very little incremental cost.

  3. Skytrain is just a metro. There really isn’t much special about it. They run on standard gauge conventional steel rails. The original cars were a bit small, but so are cars on other systems. Some of the London Tube lines are cramped and Glasgow is minuscule.

    Even the elevated guideway isn’t original or new. The first urban trains were as likely to run on viaducts than in tunnels and there are still plenty of them around. South London has several large viaducts, and this isn’t just for intercity travel but frequent suburban service. The trains going north from Grand Central in New York leave underground but surface and run on a viaduct over Park Avenue for several kms before crossing into the Bronx, and subway lines run on viaducts in Brooklyn. Not to mention Chicago.

    A metro is train running in an exclusive ROW and providing frequent service for intracity travel. (It is capable of automation because of the exclusive ROW, but doesn’t need to be automatic.) Under this definition Skytrain is just a metro, the dominant form of urban rapid transit, not just in the 80’s, but now, and probably for a while. Different manufacturers provide different products, but they are like Mazda and Ford, just different names selling basically the same thing.

    And yes, the proposed frequency for the proposed LA service is just pathetic. Shows just how bad transit planning can be in the US. No roads department would propose a 30 minute light cycle for automobile traffic, but somehow it passes muster for transit riders.

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