Affordable Streetcar: Vancouver's Olympic Line

February 19, 2010 25 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Vancouver's 1.12 mile modern streetcar demonstration project proves that through creativity and opportunity, rail systems can be developed at a low cost, with a short implementation period, and still be considered attractive. Jacksonville should take note.


The Olympic Line – the streetcar returns to Vancouver

The City of Vancouver, in partnership with Bombardier Transportation, is showcasing a modern streetcar demonstration during  60 days of celebration.  

The Olympic Line – Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar – is a state-of-the-art, accessible and sustainable transportation project that connects Granville Island to the Canada Line Olympic Village Station (Cambie Street and West 2nd Avenue) between January 21 and March 21, 2010. Transit trips on the Olympic Line are FREE. Operating hours: 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily (18 hours a day).

Vancouver’s partner in this project, Bombardier Transportation, brought two modern, accessible streetcars on loan from Brussels, Belgium to Canada. Bombardier is operating and maintaining the vehicles during the demonstration project. The Olympic Line runs about every six to ten minutes on approximately 1.8 kms (1.12 miles) of dedicated track. The demonstration streetcar will extend the regional transit network during the 2010 Winter Games and decrease the number of private vehicles, motor coaches and transit diesel buses to and from Granville Island.

While TransLink, the regional transit authority, is responsible for public transit in the Metro Vancouver region, the City of Vancouver is leading the Olympic Line project.

The City of Vancouver has invested $8.5 million to upgrade the Downtown Historic Railway (DHR) infrastructure, which includes a $500,000 contribution from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation(CMHC), owner and operator of Granville Island.

This funding has been used to replace the aging DHR rail infrastructure between Granville Island at Anderson Street, and West 2nd Avenue at Cambie Street (which is also the location of the Olympic Village Canada Line rapid transit station).

The investment creates the opportunity to demonstrate Bombardier’s modern low-floor streetcar technology in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Games, while ensuring the continued future operation of the heritage railway after 2010 and making an investment in a future potential streetcar service along the alignment.

This sustainable transportation showcase is an important first step in realizing the City of Vancouver’s vision for the future of the streetcar – a clean, sustainable public transit option for which Vancouver believes the day has once again come.


Image by miss604 at

The Olympic Line is project by the City of Vancouver in partnership with Bombardier Transportation.  A major goal of this project was to implement a transit system that includes the following features:

- modular design
- passenger comfort
- functional appeal
- visually appealing
- easy accessibility
- proven reliability


Type of Vehicle - BOMBARDIER FLEXITY Outlook
Model - bi-directional
Owner - STIB (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles)


Length of vehicle - 32m
Height - 3.4m
Width - 2.3m
Percentage of low-floor area - 100%
Aisle width - 630 mm
Maximum speed - 70 km/h
Seated passengers - 50
Standing passengers - 128
Bicycle & wheelchair locations - 2


1. No/low ROW Acquisition Costs

The Olympic Line was constructed on a partially abandoned and seldom used existing rail corridor.  With no money needed for the purchase of additional right-of-way, local funding was used to completely rebuild the corridor to support frequent modern streetcar use.

Image highlighting corridor conditions before demonstration streetcar project by Google Street View.

2. Simple Stations

The Olympic Line's Granville Island station illustrates that simple and affordable can still be attractive.

Granville Island station image by Matthew Buchanan at

3. Single Track

The Olympic Line is a single track line a passing siding, which significantly reduces the cost of implementing a starter rail system. Despite being a single track line, trains still run on six minute head-ways.

Image by miss604 at

4. Basic Catenary

The Olympic Line's catenary costs were reduced with the use of typical utility line poles.

Google Street View image from Olympic Line's construction phase.


The Vancouver project is 1.12 miles in length and cost about the same as the amount of money Mayor Peyton plans to dump into Metropolitan Park this year.  If applied in Jacksonville here are four options of what you could possibly get for nearly the same amount of cash.

1. Five Points to Prime Osborn (Red) - 1.12 miles

2. Five Points to JTA Skyway O&M center (Yellow) - 1.19 miles

3. Prime Osborn to Cathedral District (Blue) - 1.13 miles

4. Skyway Central Station to Stadium/Metropolitan Park (Green) - 1.07 miles to APR Blvd; 1.40 miles to Stadium/Metropolitan Park entrance


We don't have to make getting a viable rail system off the ground in Jacksonville more difficult, expensive, and time consuming than it really has to be.  By focusing on cheap, yet attractive "no-frills" solutions, getting a decent starter project off the ground could cost no more than the amount of money the city plans to sink into Metropolitan Park.

Article by Ennis Davis