Greater Vancouver Metro

From Dominion of British Columbia
Greater Vancouver Metro
Owner BC Hydro Railway
Operator BC Hydro Railway for the
Greater Vancouver Transit Authority
Locale Greater Vancouver
Transit type Light rapid transit system
Number of lines 6
Number of stations 95
Began operation 28 November 1985
Character Underground, at-grade, and elevated
Train length 2-, 4- or 6-car trainsets
System length 79.0 miles
Track gauge 4' 8-1⁄2" in standard gauge
Electrification 25kV 60Hz overhead

The Greater Vancouver Metropolitan Railway System, marketed as the Greater Vancouver Metro (GVM), is a light rail urban transit system managed by the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (GVTA) and operating over six lines in the municipalites of Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Moody, Coquitlam, and Surrey. Although managed by the GVTA, the infrastructure is owned by the British Columbia Hydro Railway (BCH), which also operates the system under contract to the GVTA.


Map of GVM lines displayed on board trains

The Greater Vancouver Metro operates over six lines connecting the municipalities of Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Richmond, and Surrey.

Expo Line

Main article: Expo Line

The Expo Line connects Waterfront-CPR Station in downtown Vancouver with Dyke Road-Britannia Station in Steveston, Richmond mostly following the route of the BC Electric Railway's Lulu Island Line, which the BCER had used for freight and interurban passenger services until the 1970s. Together with the Airport Line, it was the first line of the Greater Vancouver Metro, opened in 1985 shortly before Expo 86 for which it was named. Running in a north-south direction, it is 17.1 miles long with 28 stations, six of which connect with other Metro lines. The section between Waterfront-CPR and Bridgeport Stations is shared by trains of the Expo and Airport Lines, with trains of each alternating; the stretch between Waterfront-CPR and Vancouver City Centre Station is also shared by Central Line trains in peak periods, and between Marine Drive-70th Avenue Station and Marpole Station the track is shared with trains of the Fraser River Line.

Airport Line

Main article: Airport Line

Although technically the Airport Line name refers only to the 3.8 mile branch of the Expo Line from Bridgeport to Grant McConachie International Airport, all Airport Line trains run between the airport and Waterfront-CPR Station, alternating with Expo Line trains between Waterfront and Bridgeport. Between Bridgeport and Aylmer Station the Airport Line is, like all other lines, double tracked and unidirecational; from there, trains run on a single-track loop between the three terminals of the airport in a loop that returns to Aylmer. Not including Bridgeport Station the line has five stations, of which three are at the airport's domestic, continental, and international terminals.

Fraser River Line

Main article: Fraser River Line

The Fraser River Line was the second Metro line to be built in Vancouver, and like the Expo Line, the Fraser River Line follows much of the route of a former BCER interurban line; specifically, the Westminster–Eburne Line. When it was opened to the public in 1987, it was 10.4 miles long and had twelve stations, running from Marpole Station on the Expo Line to New Westminster Station. In 1994 a 1.6 mile long extension from New Westminster to Liverpool Station, which it shares with the BC Hydro Railway's Fraser Valley Line along which Interurban services are operated. The following year a second extension was opened, running 4.1 miles west from Marine Drive-70th Avenue Station on the Expo Line to UBC Centre Station; between Marine Drive-70th Avenue and Marpole the track is shared with the Expo Line.

Central Line

Main article: Central Line

The third line to be opened was the Central Line, which like the first two, followed an existing BCER right-of-way, the Central Park Line. In technicality, the Central Line proper runs 10.6 miles with 14 stations from Vancouver City Centre to New Westminster station, but in peak hours all Central Line trains continue from Vancouver City Centre to Waterfront-CPR over the tracks of the Expo Line. Opened in 1990, it forms a diagonal connection through the city of Burnaby from Waterfront-CPR, northern terminus of the Expo Line, to New Westminster, which at the time was the eastern terminus of the Fraser River Line.

Evergreen Line

Main article: Evergreen Line

Opened in 2009 at the same time as the Olympic Line, the Evergreen Line runs 11.0 miles from Columbia Station in New Westminster to Rugby Ground Station in Coquitlam with a total of 13 stations, connecting to the Fraser River Line at Columbia and to the Olympic Line at Lougheed Town Centre Station. Although the line proper ends at Columbia Station, all Evergreen Line trains travel to New Westminster Station in order to permit direct, single-transfer connections between the Evergreen Line and the Central Line.

Olympic Line

Main article: Olympic Line

Named for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Olympic Line was opened in 2009 in advance of the Games together with the Evergreen Line. An east-west line running 16.9 miles - only two-tenths of a mile shorter than the Expo Line, the longest - it links the University of BC with Coquitlam with its 22 stations; its termini are UBC Centre on the Fraser River Line and Lougheed Town Centre on the Evergreen Line; it also connects with the Expo Line at Broadway-Bessborough and with the Central Line at Commercial-Broadway. Since its opening, it has become the busiest of all Metro lines, with ridership particularly heavy between Commercial-Broadway and UBC Centre when classes at the University are in session.


The Greater Vancouver Metro offers frequent service on its lines between 04:45 and 02:00, with trains running with frequencies of two to five minutes in peak hours, and three to six minutes outwith them. In order to better reflect ridership patterns, in peak hours trains do not necessarily run the entire length of a given line, or may run on to continue further on another line. Services are:

  • Start of service to 19:00, zonal fares apply
Airport Line: Bridgeport – XVR International, every 3 minutes
Central Line: Waterfront-CPR – Liverpool, every 3 minutes
Evergreen Line: New Westminster – Lougheed Town Centre, every 4 minutes
Expo Line North: Waterfront-CPR – Bridgeport, every 3 minutes
Expo Line South: Bridgeport – Dyke Road-Britannia, every 5 minutes
Fraser River Line: UBC Centre – New Westminster, every 3 minutes
Olympic Line East: Commercial-Broadway – Lougheed Town Centre, every 4 minutes
Olympic Line West: UBC Centre – Commercial-Broadway, every 2 minutes
  • 19:00 to end of service, single-zone fare applies
Airport Line: Waterfront-CPR – XVR International, every 6 minutes
Central Line: Vancouver City Centre – New Westminster, every 3 minutes
Evergreen Line: New Westminster – Rugby Ground, every 6 minutes
Expo Line: Waterfront-CPR – Dyke Road-Britannia, every 6 minutes
Fraser River Line: UBC Centre – Liverpool, every 4 minutes
Olympic Line: UBC Centre – Lougheed Town Centre, every 4 minutes

Security at stations is provided by the Royal BC Constabulary; aboard trains, security and periodic fare checks are conducted by Metro staff.


Originating in 1890, by the 1920s the British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) had built a railway network in the Lower Mainland on which it operated interurban passenger and freight trains, along with an extensive network of trams in Vancouver and South Vancouver, in New Westminster, and in North Vancouver. Although by 1958 the last of the tram lines were closed (other than those in North Vancouver, which run to the present day), the interurbans remained an important part of public transportation in Greater Vancouver into the 1970s.

Planning for what became today's Greater Vancouver Metro system began in the first half of the 1970s, envisioning the conversion of most of the BC Hydro Railway network north of the Fraser River into a dedicated light rail commuter transit system, with work to be done in several phases. Planning of the first two phases were begun at once, with the first foreseeing the conversion of the Lulu Island Line from downtown Vancouver to Steveston, Richmond and the Westminster–Eburne Line from Marpole, South Vancouver to New Westminster, and the second phase to see a similar conversion of the Central Park Line. Several design options were considered by a joint commission consisting of representatives of the Dominion government, the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority, and the BC Hydro Railway, with the most important consideration being that there were to be no road crossings over the new line.

The commission eventually settled on the same approach that BCH took on Vancouver Island with its Victoria Metro Line 1. What this meant is that for the first phase, as much of the existing rights-of-way of the original lines would be reused; consequently, the majority of both the new lines would be at ground level: 12.3 miles of the 17.1 miles of the Expo Line and 5.9 of the 10.4 miles of the first stage of Fraser River Line (Marpole–New Westminster) remained at grade level using the original rights of way. Fulfilling the requirement that there be no road crossings meant that over- or underpasses were built at most crossings; in a few cases, mostly on crossings with smaller streets, they were simply closed.

Plans for the construction of the Greater Vancouver Metro system were finalised in the autumn of 1978, and through 1979 necessary preparatory work was undertaken along the Lulu Island Line prior to the start of actual construction. Prior to the beginning of construction work on the Expo Line, freight operations on the Lulu Island Line was discontinued in February of 1980 with the trackage and operations on the south shore of False Creek and on Granville Island being transferred to British Columbia Railway, which designated it the South False Creek Line. Passenger trains remained in operation until March before being replaced by a replacement bus service; this remained in operation until the line was opened to the public.

Work on rebuilding the existing right-of-way, boring a new tunnel for the section from the Canadian Pacific Railway station at Waterfront to the south side of False Creek, the construction of a new, high bridge to replace the existing swing span over the Fraser River, and of a new depot in Marpole, began at the end of April. South of the river, part of the line was built on an elevated guideway. Additionally, from Bridgeport Station - the first on the south side of the river - a branch was built to the Vancouver International Airport. This branch, named the Airport Line, followed the the right-of-way of a branch line that had served the former De Havilland, but was built entirely on an elevated guideway.

Even before work was completed on the Expo Line, construction of the Fraser River Line began in April 1984, from Marpole to New Westminster. The same construction methods were used, though only 4.5 miles of the new line were built on an elevated guideway, the rest used the existing right-of-way. Construction of the Expo and Airport Lines was completed in October 1985 and was opened to the public in November, a few months before the start of Expo 86, while the opening ceremony of the Fraser River Line, conducted by Prime Minister Grace McCarthy at New Westminster Station, took place on 4 April 1987.

The second phase of the development plan envisioned a line from Vancouver to New Westminster cutting diagonally from northwest to southeast through Burnaby, mostly along the right-of-way of Hydro's Central Park Line. From the mid-1970s, this line had been truncated in stages; by 1979, it ran from New Westminster to Central Park in Burnaby, and by 1983, it had been cut back to its present length. Conversion of the closed section, from Vancouver to Royal Oak Station, began in 1985, with a tunnel being cut to allow the remaining section to continue operating as a freight-only line, and from Royal Oak eastwards a tunnel of just under 2.5 miles was built, and from there to New Westminster, an elevated guideway. This line, called the Central Line, was opened in 1990.

The Fraser River Line as initially planned was to have continued from New Westminster across the Fraser River to Liverpool, Surrey, over a new cable-stayed bridge for the exclusive use of Metro trains, but due to financial reasons this was postponed. The initial plan also foresaw an eventual extension from Marpole west to the University of British Columbia, and the Liverpool extension was grafted on to this project when the decision was taken to proceed in 1990; construction began in 1992. The Liverpool extension, which added a new station at Columbia, was opened in July 1991, whilst the much longer UBC extension, running underground for almost its entire length, was opened in August 1993, with trains of the Expo, Airport, and Fraser River Lines sharing the section between Marine Drive-70th Avenue and Marpole Stations.

With the realisation of both stages of the original Metro plan, the GVTA's attention was for a number of years turned towards the expansion of other services, notably busses and the 1996 acquisition of the AquaBus operation on False Creek. Nevertheless, long-term planning began almost immediately, the initial step being to identify the routes over which new Metro lines would be most needed. This study, published in 1997, considered several possibilities for new lines, eventually settling on four: first, a line running northwest from New Westminster to Coquitlam; second, an east-west line along the Broadway-Lougheed Highway corridor through the middle of Vancouver and Burnaby; third, a line from Liverpool to the city of Langley; and fourth, a line along the waterfront of the North Shore from Horseshoe Bay to Lonsdale Quay or Deep Cove, North Vancouver.

The last option was quickly set aside to consider separately whether to develop it as a dedicated Metro line (which, due to the density of industry and railways along the waterfront of North Vancouver, would need to be underground for much of the route in North Vancouver), or whether to engage BC Rail to introduce a frequent EMU service, similar to the Interurban operated by BC Hydro between Liverpool and Chilliwack, on the North Shore, which would make use of existing railway infrastructure (possibly with an extra track added) between Horseshoe Bay and Dollarton. Initial consultations with BC Rail were made in 1999, 2004, and 2016, but so far no commitment has been made to the project.

In 2000 the GVTA, after consultation with the municipalites in its jurisdiction, opted to pursue the first two options simultaneously, and in August 2003 the finalised plans for the construction of two new lines was revealed: the Evergreen Line from Columbia Station on the Fraser River Line to Coquitlam via Lougheed Town Centre in Burnaby, and the Olympic Line - named in honour of the 2010 Winter Olympics awarded to Vancouver the month before - from UBC Centre, western terminus of the Fraser River Line, to Lougheed Town Centre.

Construction of both lines began in 2004 with the goal of having them open in time for the Olympics. For the Olympic Line, a tunnel was bored from UBC Centre to Fraser-Great Northern Station, and from there an elevated guideway was built for the remainder of the line to Lougheed; for the Evergreen Line, from Columbia to just past Hume Park Station the line was built underground, continuing from there through Lougheed to a spot just east of Burquitlam Station on an elevated guideway. From there to just beyond Cassin the line runs underground, with a new interchange station being built at Port Moody, to be shared by the Metro, the West Coast Express, and mainline trains of the Canadian Pacific Railway. From Cassin to the terminus at Rugby Ground Station in Coquitlam another elevated section was built, with a joint-use interchange station like the one at Port Moody being built at Coquitlam Central Station. Both lines were opened in November 2009, successfully meeting the goal of putting both lines in service for the Olympics.

Rolling Stock

  • 20000 series: Standard gauge derivative of the Japanese National Railways' (JNR) 203 series electric multiple-unit trainsets, 108 cars (20001–20108) delivered from Kawasaki and Kinki Sharyō in 1985 in time for the opening of the Expo Line, and a further 80 cars in 1986 (20109–20188), also from Kinki Sharyō. Retirement began in 2016, with the last cars being withdrawn in February 2020. Two three-car sets have been set aside for preservation purposes.
  • 30000 series: Standard gauge derivative of the JNR 205 series EMUs, 160 cars (30001–30160) delivered from Hitachi, Kinki Sharyō, and Nippon Sharyō between 1990 and 1992. In service.
  • 40000 series: Standard gauge derivative of JR West 223 series EMUs, delivered in three batches. First batch (40001-40112) delivered from Hitachi and Kawasaki in 1994–1995, second batch (40201-40310) in 2006–2007 from Hitachi and Kinki Sharyō, and the third and final batch (40311-40450) between 2009 and 2011 from Hitachi, Kinki Sharyō, and Kawasaki. In service.
  • 60000 series: Standard gauge derivative of JR East E233 series EMUs. First batch (60001–60040) delivered from Kawasaki in 2016, whilst Metrovick BC built a new plant on the BCH's Central Park Line in Burnaby for production of the type under licence from Kawasaki. The first twenty of the Metrovick cars, numbered 60101–60120, were delivered in 2018. This was followed by another forty (60121–60160) in 2019, and the last of another fifty (60161-60210) arriving in October 2020. A final batch of sixty (60211–60270) is to be delivered in 2021.

Future Expansion

Planning for the yet-unnamed Liverpool–Langley line, to run more or less along the Fraser Highway corridor, was begun in 2019. The finalised plan is expected in 2021, with construction expected to begin in 2022 or 2023.