SkyTrain shutdown caused by "one-in-a-million" loose rail problem

Image: TransLink

Tuesday’s SkyTrain service disruptions were caused by a piece of replacement rail that came in contact with the ‘power collector shoe’ of a passing train.

Just before 3 p.m., a train near Main Street-Science World Station came to a full stop due to an electrical issue. Witnesses reported seeing smoke coming from the train before it came to a halt.

Regular service into downtown Vancouver, west of Commercial-Broadway Station, did not resume until 11 p.m. as maintenance crews initially struggled with determining the cause of the problem.

After further investigation, crews discovered that the power collector shoe, a piece of the train that collects power from the guideway’s electrified third rail, collided with a piece of stored rail that was in the path of the train.

Image: Canucknic / Twitter

SEE ALSO: Photos of public transit armageddon due to SkyTrain shutdown

“The actual piece, the collector shoe, that made contact with the piece of rail that was stored on the main line,” Richard Sykes, the Vice-President of Maintenance for SkyTrain, said in a press conference. “We’re currently running rail replacements, and that piece of rail came to contact with the outer edge of the collector shoe assembly.”

Over the past year, rail replacement work on the Expo Line has been undertaken at night when trains are running at reduced frequencies or not operational. This project particularly focuses on replacing aging sections of rail installed 30 years ago.

Sykes said the piece of rail that touched the passing train was safely located within the storage pocket the day before. It is believed that the piece of rail was moved by the vibrations of passing trains.

“We’ve stored a piece of rail that dislodged itself or bounced its way out into the guideway and managed to capture that shoe in passing,” he added.

“I’ve been in the rail industry for 20 years plus. This is the standard practice to lay rail out in a guideway, from a time efficiency and effective perspective worldwide… it’s a common practice to store rail in a location where you are going to replace the rail.”

Each power collector requires a positive and a negative to operate, and if one is lost this will be detected by the automatic computer control which will shut down the train and system as a safety measure.

There was a “one-in-a-million” chance of this occurring. “It was caused by an incident that is unprecedented.”

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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]

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