Special Report: Will BYD’s SkyRail Save Los Angeles Tens of Billions in Mass Transit Construction Costs?

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China’s BYD, a world leader and pioneer in battery and zero-emission vehicles, has proposed building its SkyRail monorail to ease congestion in one of Los Angeles’s busiest and most congested freeway corridors.

Is this the one proposal that could save Los Angeles billions in construction costs and shave decades off the construction timeline? It just may be.

It’s not just speculation. The idea is already under consideration. BYD’s SkyRail proposal is one of LA Metro’s four new refined concepts for the Sepulveda Transit Corridor.

The goal is to create a high-capacity transit line between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside through the Sepulveda Pass that would move some 100,000 people a day off the I-405 Freeway, which is already ranked as one of the most traveled urban highways in the nation.

According to LA Metro, over 400,000 people currently travel through this area every day to commute to work, school, and other destinations along the freeway and beyond.

LA Metro’s four concepts include three standard rail projects, similar to its current Red Line subway, and would either be underground or a combination of underground and above ground, and BYD’s SkyRail Monorail.

The Sepulveda Transit Corridor project would link San Fernando Valley and LAX, including connections to existing and planned Metro bus and rail lines, including the Orange, Purple, and Expo Lines, and is part of the Measure M expenditure plan, with approximately $5.7 billion for new transit service to connect the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, which is scheduled to open by 2035.

Passed in November 2016, Measure M is a voter approved countywide half-cent sales tax increase, which funds a $120 billion mass transit expansion plan.

Approximately $3.8 billion is already allocated to extend that service from the Westside to LAX with a 2057 opening date.

The Elephant in the Room

With public transit, the two biggest factors are always cost and time of construction. Certainly the biggest factor in LA’s case is cost. The standard heavy rail projects would cost tens of billions.

For example, LA’s currently under construction 9-mile Purple extension of the underground rail system that runs from the current Wilshire/Western station is budgeted at $8.2 billion and will take to decades to build.

The project broke ground in November 2014 and is not scheduled to be fully completed until 2035.

However, unlike a subway, BYD is proposing to build its SKY Rail monorail, which would run in a corridor down the middle of the I-405 freeway, saving billions in tunneling costs and environmental concerns.

SkyRail would be a fully integrated, driverless, state-of-the-art straddle type monorail that is far advanced from the monorails people are familiar with at theme parks such as Disney World and Disneyland.

Most importantly, BYD notes that its SkyRail is only one fifth the cost of a subway, and using BYD’s prefabricated track beams can in some cases mean a construction schedule as short as 2 years. That’s not to say LA’s system would be built that fast, but it certainly wouldn’t take decades.

As a public transit alternative to subways, BYD’s SkyRail delivers numerous benefits, including: capital expenditure 80% lower than subways, a construction period two-thirds shorter than subways, excellent topographic adaptability due to higher climbing ability and smaller turning radius, reduced noise to allow travel through architectural complexes, visual integration into the cityscape thanks to transparent bridges and independent right of way, flexible management to allow for capacity between 10,000 to 30,000 passengers an hour (each way) and a high speed of up to 80km/h.

The company notes that SkyRail is an effective complement to large cities’ subway networks, and BYD already has construction contracts in China for Shenzhen, Shantou, Xi’an, Bengbu, Guang’an, Jilin, Tianjin, and others.

Not Just a Concept

BYD put its first SkyRail in service in 2016 with a 5.4-kilometer trial line that connects BYD’s headquarters in Shenzhen with a nearby high-speed railway station.

BYD has landed contracts to build SkyRails outside of China, as well.

BYD is set to construct its first Latin American monorail in the Brazilian city of Salvador. Construction will commence in 2019 with the goal of being operational by 2021.

Like the LA proposal, the system will integrate with other mass transit. Salvador’s SkyRail will move a projected 15,000 passengers a day, connecting them to the public metro network that currently serves over 2.9 million people.

Will SkyRail be the choice of LA Metro? We will know more in roughly six months, as the 20-month study is expected to conclude by fall 2019.

BYD and Berkshire Hathaway

In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway bet on BYD’s potential, purchasing 225 million shares. It’s an investment that has paid off handsomely. Berkshire’s original investment of $230 million has grown in value almost ten-fold, and is now worth roughly $1.96 billion.

For More on BYD, read the Special Report: BYD, Berkshire’s Tesla.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.