Skytrain fizzle again

October 2, 2014

A recurring and cherished headline at RailForTheValley : Tought time to be either a Translink or skytrain cheerleader those days, isn’it?

Let’s ignore the disastrous Translink crisis communication and let’s go to the facts:

The facts

The system control lost communication with a group of 10 switches (the one in red in the map below), defacto neutralizing Metrotown, the 2nd busiest station on the network [1], and Patterson:

skytrain-diagram-default-switch

The cause

Some people claim it is due to lack of funding for proper maintenance of the Skytrain system. Either they are right:

    That could mean the reinsurances by both Translink and BCRT officials that they are able to keep the skytrain system in a state of good repair, were lies…proper action should be hence taken to sanction such misbehavior.

…or they are wrong: The cause is not due to a lack of funding.

Some also call for redundancy for each piece and bit of the system they see failing: If we follow this logic we could end up to have a full redundant Expo line 2!

…In fact here we don’t have enough information to dissert on the cause of the failure but we have nevertheless some questions regarding the below items:

  • The time to restore the system
  • The problem switches which don’t need to move in normal operation, but still neutralize the system on a communication failure with them (which apparently can’t be manually overriden).
  • The switches at both end of Metrotown monitored by the same communication device.
    • A different switches partition control, (Switch group East of Metrotown under a card, group west of Metrotown under another one) could have left the 2nde busiest station still open, whether a single communication control card fail.

…But here we touch to the Skytrain system design itself, for which we have already expressed concerns.

The Contingency plan

Skytrain operation

At first they have operated the Expo-Millenium line in 2 different segments Waterrfront-Nanaimo and Edmonds-King George/ VCC Clark with a shuttle train Nanaimo to Joyce (6th busiest station on the system [1]“).

The way this is operated have system wide consequence:

    Frequency on any section of the system is constrained by the fact only one train is allowed on a single track section, either Commercial-Nanaimo or Edmonds Operating Center-Edmonds Station (…and only one track per station was used, as per my observation).

It is apparently for this reason, that Royal Oak was closed (too long a single track section between Edmonds and Royal Oak). Keeping Royal Oak open, could have

  • Drastically reduced the bus bridge length.
  • brought metrotown area/ in walkable distance of the skytrain for many patrons providing well needed relief to the bus bridge

It could be a better operation arrangement that the one in place on “dead end” sections (e.g Edmonds operation center-Edmonds), to enable to preserve or minimize the impact on the overall train frequency on the rest of the system:

tracks on the left side of the switches are used as 2 single tracks with a drawer to preserve good frequency on the double tracks section (right side of the switches)

see also here for other single dead end track operation

Translink/BCRTC should have better Skytrain operation contengency plan, to make the best use of their system, in degraded mode.

Bus operation

The bus bridge was working relatively well – at least in the West direction around 7:30pm – but could have been improved:

    Instead to have a single special bus route serving all the closed Skytrain station, what involve many street detours, when most of the rider are just interested to go to the other end, it could have been better to have 2 routes:

  • A non stop route (Joyce-Edmonds)
  • All skytrain station stop route

In addition, of it, Translink staff should advise existing alternative route – route 106 Edmonds to Metrotown was painfully underused – and beef up some other regular routes – Route 19, the obvious alternative to Skytrain was oversubscribed, but was running as per schedule (no additional buses)

Information

Passenger information could have been much better

  • 22nd entrance station had a sign reading “All trains stop at Edmonds station”…what is true every day…
  • Announce of skytrain station closure should be done on buses before alighting at skytrain stations
  • Announce of alternative regular bus route to reach main destinations should be done both on the skytrain and the buses

We have already noticed the poor reliability of the skytrain, but on the bright side, we are noticing some slight progress in the handling of the recurring skytrain failures.


[1] http://www.translink.ca/~/media/Documents/customer_info/translink_listens/customer_surveys/transportation_improvements_research/2011%20SkyTrain%20Station%20Counts.ashx

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One Response to “Skytrain fizzle again”


  1. I think you bring up a great point regarding the use of Royal Oak Station in future Metrotown-area shutdown incidents. Back when I was in Burnaby, there were times when I would witness an empty train being put into inbound service by wrong-waying itself onto the Royal Oak westbound platform, presumably coming from the Metrotown tail track. Whether the extended use of Royal Oak can be come a reality or not in the other direction, I think we just have to wait and see – it is already October and the commissioned SkyTrain review will be coming out shortly.

    When the bus bridges go up, however, there generally are nonstop runs as part of the fray to maintain efficientcy – and in the July issue I remember seeing the 106 was in fact very well used. At the end of the day, I think we also have to remember that spare bus & staffing provision was reduced due to the provincial audit – and that will have major implications any and every time a bus bridge is needed.


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