$71-million in improvements recommended to prevent SkyTrain delays

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skytrain systemwide failure

Following this summer’s series of major SkyTrain disruptions, TransLink has announced that it will be implementing a number of improvements to increase the reliability and resiliency of the SkyTrain system.

Malfunctions with the SkyTrain system on July 17 and 21 led to system shutdowns that lasted for as long as six hours. “The outages were not acceptable for customers and not acceptable for ourselves. We are fully accepting and acting on each of Gary’s 20 recommendations,” said TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis. “We failed our customers last summer… we can do better.”

“Customers had every right to be angry and frustrated, especially those who were stuck on trains for a prolonged period in the heat. We must make sure that never happens again.”

The first incident was caused by an overheated computer card while the second incident has been blamed on human error when a worker installed a circuit breaker for the Evergreen Line. According to the review’s findings, the electrician was allowed to work alone and unsupervised.

The improvements are recommendations by Gary McNeil, the former Toronto GO Transit president, who was hired by TransLink to conduct an independent review on SkyTrain service.

While the review largely tackles the causes of the major delays, it also addresses the recent frequency of short delays which have been largely caused by track intrusion alarms.

Last year, an adjustment in the sensitivity of the Expo Line’s aging weight/pressure plate detection system led to a 50 per cent increase in track intrusion alarms. Prior to the sensitivty adjustment, there were 275 to 300 intrusion alarms a month, causing about 125 emergency situations per month.

However, since the adjustments were made in November 2013, track intrusion alarms increased to 450 per month resulting in approximately 275 emergency brake incidents.

Early estimates total the cost of the improvements at $71-million, which are aimed to reduce the frequency and duration of service disruptions, ensure timely and safe evacuation of passengers during a major disruption, strengthen the resilience of the system so it can recover from breakdowns more quickly, and introduce a frequent communication system with customers when problems arise.

The transportation authority plans to implement the changes and improvements over a five year timeline. Some of the major capital items to improve the system include:

  • Installation of an auto-restart component to the SELTRAC train control automation system. This will significantly reduce delays related to computer issues as the system currently requires 3 to 5 hours to return to normal service due to the need to manually reintroduce trains into the system following a major shutdown. Cost: $5-million.
  • Upgrade the guideway intrusion system using the latest technology available with laser and/or video surveillance. The Millennium and Canada Lines utilize laser systems, but the original Expo Line still retains its original weight/pressure plate sensors. Cost: $10-million.
  • Separate important systems so that if one system fails, it does not completely impact other systems and cause further failures. Cost: $6-million.
  • Introduce a single emergency radio band for all of TransLink’s services. Cost: $1-million.
  • Installation of a low profile lighting system along the tracks to assist passengers in the event of an evacuation from stalled trains. Cost: $5-million.
  • Improve the audio quality of the Passenger Address System in trains and particularly stations. The audio at a number of stations is poor, especially during conditions of crowding and confusion. Cost: $15-million.
  • Consider the installation of CCTV cameras both inside and outside station areas to reduce the delays created by track intrusion alarms caused by objects. Cost: $5-million.
  • Installation of programmable-messaging signboards, fixed signage and PA speakers at the entrances to all stations. In addition, when a major delay event is occurring on SkyTrain, a pre-programmed message on the front of each bus serving the stations on the impacted SkyTrain line can inform customers of the delay before they board the bus. Cost: $15-million.

The report also offers recommendations on how TransLink can improve its operational procedures:

  • Allowing multiple, manual train movements in the event of a SkyTrain malfunction. Currently, only one train at a time can be manually driven to the closest station before any other train is moved, which encourages passenger self-evacuation.
  • Maintenance and installation work on any system-critical components should only be permitted during non-operating hours. A failure during work could cause major delays, as it did in July.
  • Increase SkyTrain attendant staffing levels so that non-critical guideway intrusions and stopped train problems can be dealt with more quickly. Cost: $1-million per year.

Both the Expo and Millennium Lines have a combined annual operating budget of $107-million and employ 660 people.

Feature Image: @dale4short via Instagram

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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