Laying that steel rail down

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Welding rail for the 2010 streetcar project on 6th Ave.

Crews are hard at work along 6th Ave. between Moberley and Granville Island welding continuous rail for the Downtown Streetcar pilot project. The project is to be completed in time for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. A few days after welding began, the north rail ran like a strip of steel spaghetti for hundreds of feet along the roadbed, which has been prepared for concrete ties.

Bombardier, the project developer, is bringing two ultra-modern cars from Brussels for the Games, each 32 metres long. Together, they are expected to ferry one million riders back and forth between the Second Ave. Canada Line Station and Granville Island in the 60 days between Jan. 21 and March 21, 2010.

The city’s dream of a downtown streetcar began with a council approval in principal in 1999. Ten years later, this $8.5 million pilot program is scheduled for a 60-day trial. (A run all the way to Science World died when the security zone for the Olympic Village stretched across 1st Ave.)

Council after council has endorsed the project, but city staff has warned that the city can’t afford to build the project without senior government funding. Phase 1, from Granville Island to Waterfront Station, would cost $60 million in 2005 dollars. That’s serious money, but the current Translink discussion paper for the next 10 years of transit investment makes no mention of the Vancouver streetcar.

Unless there’s a dramatic change in federal and provincial commitment to greener transporation options, the pilot program could be all the city sees of 21st century light rail transit.