This weeks column for 24HRS Vancouver: Oversight needed to fix Translink

This week’s topic: Do recent SkyTrain failures show TransLink is failing riders?

With two massive SkyTrain failures and a couple of smaller system incidents creating commuter chaos in Metro Vancouver recently, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for TransLink officials.

The first major breakdown occurred during afternoon rush-hour passenger traffic and was ultimately found to have been caused by a card failure in the system’s main communications computer — a once-in-a-blue moon failure that wasn’t anticipated, nor planned for. With passengers stranded in between stations on elevated tracks, the problem was exacerbated by frustrated riders breaking open SkyTrain car doors and walking along the tracks back to stations. The entire system had to be powered down to avoid any injury or death from a passenger inadvertently coming into contact with the track.

Just a few days later, the system once again came to a grinding halt for hours and the chaos began all over again. Incredibly, the second outage even shut down the public announcement systems and TransLink wasn’t able to communicate with stranded passengers. Again, in frustration and panic, passengers took matters into their own hands and walked back along tracks to stations – a situation that by any perspective is a recipe for disaster.

One would expect that after two major outages, TransLink would have had things quickly whipped into shape, but yet another “minor systems delay” impacted the morning commute between stations in Vancouver just two days later.

To be accurate and fair, SkyTrain is a pretty reliable form of transportation overall. But as any regular rider will tell you, minor “glitches” happen often that never make the news, and questions are being asked whether or not maintenance for the 30-year-old system is being funded properly. Last year, a major failure was blamed on aging parts and a major project was undertaken to replace aging power rails.

While TransLink officials initially said a review wasn’t needed, its CEO Ian Jarvis subsequently came forth in the media and acknowledged several points he personally considered failures to be addressed.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

While I applaud his acknowledgement of failures and commitment to bring in outside experts for a review, concerns about maintenance plans, funding and inadequate emergency response were reason enough for local mayors to call for more governance and accountability – and I agree.

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9 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24HRS Vancouver: Oversight needed to fix Translink

  1. the fact the system would actually have major work done on the sky train system during operation hours is beyond stupid. It most likely was done to “save” money by avoiding overtime pay. Welcome to the brain trust of the lieberals and their fellow travellers. Wonder if the execs will still receive their large performance bonuses????

    The system most likely isn’t adequately funded as little else these days in B.C. except for salaries of those who executives nearest and dearest to “snookie and her snail brains”.

    In my opinion the lieberals can’t see beyond 5 p.m. on any given day. Maintenance on sky train isn’t even on their radar. Giving money to oil/lng companies, film companies, etc. now that they know.


  2. While I understand peoples frustration with being ” stranded” ( a half hour? an hour?).
    Never underestimate the stupidity of the general public.
    Perhaps the idiots that took it upon themselves to “break open the doors” and then walk along a high voltage track should be either
    a) charged with mischief or
    b) allowed to die horribly from electrocution and then post that video on You Tube.

    About 15 years ago after a bad wind storm I watched people early one morning in downtown Vancouver “hopping” over a 12,000 volt power line that was lying on the sidewalk. They couldnt be bothered to take 2 minutes to cross the street. When I warned people as to the danger I was unceremoneously told to “F–K Off” by men and women alike. When the Fire dept arrived . They blocked the street, BOTH sidewalks and yelled at any idiot that tried crossing their barricades.

    People are IDIOTS


    1. I agree,getting the doors open and walking out is not the first option, ever. But this from a reader who was on the skytrain both days when this happened:

      ” I was on Skytrain when it went down…twice. It took me four and five hours to get home and it was very hot both days. There was panic in the eyes of those in control , they had no idea what to do or what was going on. The frustration level of passengers was well warranted. We were stranded and there was no communication. I finally got to Metrotown 3 hours after standing in line for over an hour in a line that was said to have been a shuttle direct to KG Station it turned out to be a bus train that stopped at every Skytrain station en route to Scott Rd Station”


  3. The problem with automatic transit systems is that they cannot think nor cannot see and when a problem occurs, like a train disappearing from the computer (due to a ‘glitch’) the system shuts down. Many times an attendant must walk out to a stranded train to restart it, to check to see everything is OK, especially if a door is opened.

    TransLink employees over 170 full time attendants.

    Evidently, with the first shutdown, a glitch with the computer made a train disappear and the automatic train protection stepped in and stopped the trains. Until this could be rectified, all trains stopped. Because TransLink’s god like structure, they have extremely poor communication skills with the great unwashed (why they have many expensive spin doctors working for them) and the transit customers were kept on sweltering hot trains.

    For safety reason, passengers opened up SkyTrain door to create air flows for the many customers who were near fainting. Of course the next step was to abandon the trains as as the first timid few left, they were joined by thousands of others leaving the SkyTrain cars like rats on a sinking ship.

    In Europe, by law, all automatic trains must have an attendant on board for emergency purposes, just like the ones we recently had.

    There was never any great fear of being electrocuted, as the power rails are protected by plastic shrouds to prevent electrocution. The reaction rail (the wide rail in the centre), is not electrified at all. If the passengers remained on the catwalks, as the many photo’s showed, they were perfectly safe.

    As soon as a SkyTrain door is opened, off station, the power is cut and with so many people escaping being trapped on 40C trains, the power was cut to the entire system.


    1. Right, and here we are being told that computer-navigated passenger vehicles are on the horizon—ON THE QUEEN’S THOROUGHFARE?!!? Holy wow! Will automobile manufacturers be supplying attendants or assuming responsibility for “mishaps”? Will people rich enough to buy one of these toys accept the obvious risks and responsibilities? Neither by human nature nor the bottom line are either so inclined—which leads naturally to public policy and regulation such as is expected of PUBLIC transit. Governments have their bottom lines too: one would think human attendance of public transit systems would reduce the risks of automation down to affordable levels taxpayers can live with.


  4. Images of passengers shuffling in a huddled mass along the elevated SkyTrain track reminds of an Hieronymus Bosch or Mathias Grunewald painting from another era of social decay.


  5. An elected official, the mayor, of the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Canada calls for an independent investigation into two major failures of a key public transit system and the Chief Operating Officer of Translink says none is needed.

    This is not accountability. This is arrogance. And we’re all paying big bucks for it too.


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