Media Release – Massive Cost Overrun for Calgary’s West LRT Line a Reminder that Rail is Rarely as Cheap as Advertised

Press Release, Transportation, Frontier Centre

Calgary/Winnipeg, 10 December 2012: Today marks the first day of operation for the newly completed West LRT line in Calgary. While the event will be met with fanfare, the cost of the project is staggering. The total construction cost of the West LRT is $1.5 billion. Daily ridership is projected to be 35,000. Most of these riders will be existing transit users, however. The total cost of $42,857 per rider would have made it cheaper to buy each rider a new mid-range automobile. According to Frontier Centre policy analyst Steve Lafleur, the $195 million per kilometre ($313.5 million per mile) is likely the most expensive LRT line ever constructed in North America.

In a 2011 study The 30th Anniversary of the C-Train: A Critical Analysis of Calgary’s Light Rail System, Lafleur noted that the initial estimate for the project was $700 million. At the time of writing the study, the estimate had increased to $1 billion. The final price tag was more than twice the initial estimate, and 50 percent more than the estimate when construction began. While this is a higher than usual cost overrun, urban rail projects typically cost much more than initial estimates. A widely cited 2007 study by Bent Flyvbjerg in the journal Transportation Planning and Technology found that the average cost overrun for urban rail projects in North America is 35.8 percent. Moreover, average ridership was 60 percent lower than projected for the North American urban rail projects analyzed.

Though the cost escalation for the West LRT was unusually high, it is precisely what the literature predicted. Calgarians agreed to a $700 million project, a price that was never remotely probable. The West LRT should serve as a reminder to citizens that rail projects are rarely as cheap as advertised. The West LRT is another case of provincial grants funding lavish, highly visible projects instead of providing pragmatic, affordable, and effective transportation solutions for Calgary.

For more information or to arrange an interview on the subject, media (only) may contact:

Steve Lafleur

Policy Analyst

Frontier Centre for Public Policy