With all of the talk about driverless vehicles these days, Councillor Andrew Knack has latched on to the idea of how that concept could be a last-minute replacement for Edmonton’s Valley West Light Rail Transit (LRT) line.
Think of it is a string of three or four — possibly driverless — busses, looking like LRT on wheels and that would be a lot cheaper than what city council is considering now.
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Knack shared his research looking into what a major Chinese firm could supply on Tuesday after signalling at the end of the city council meeting that he will formally ask for a report on Dec. 5.
“This is more than the BRT (bus rapid transit)-LRT discussion,” Knack said about what CRRC, a major Chinese rail transit equipment supplier, is testing. He envisions 43,000 riders a day coming into downtown from the west end.
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“It goes up to, from what I’ve read, 70 kilometres per hour, so you have your high-speed, large volume of people moving and all you have to do is simply paint lines on the road,” he said. “Where the cost likely comes in is you don’t have to do any utility work because you’re not laying tracks in the ground.
“That’s why there’s supposedly large cost savings. We need to see that in the Edmonton market, see if that’s a viable option.”
Knack said he hopes a report will spell out any cost savings in late March or early April, just in time so they can compare prices to what otherwise would be a $1.8-billion LRT line to Lewis Estates.
“We’re not holding up the west LRT,” he said. “But if there’s a better way to deliver mass transit to the west end of the city, if we can do a quick analysis, if we can have that information before we go out to procurement – great. But if the information comes back and says for today, the low-floor LRT to the west end of Edmonton is still the best option – great – then let’s go out to procurement but we’ll keep our eye on it for the rest of the city.”
What worries Knack is how many hundreds of millions of dollars more the driverless buses are expected to cost and do the savings they offer offset that.
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“I’d be worried… especially with the grade separations we’re going to have to do with the West LRT, what the final budget might be. Does that potentially stop us from building mass transit to any other part of the city?”
CRRC says the driverless bus option could be implemented at half the cost of the current West LRT plan. Knack said he is skeptical about that claim, in part because of Edmonton’s winter. However he wants to know some bottom-line cost and performance figures.
“It might be 70 per cent, it could be the same cost, I’m not sure. But if by chance this was 50-70 per cent of the cost, then not only do we get to build the West LRT, we can go southwest, we can go northwest we can go northeast.”
He figures right-of-ways can be set aside to run these vehicles in the middle of Terwillegar Drive to serve the southwest, or be part of the bridge over the Yellowhead from Blatchford to get into Calder and up to St. Albert.