The SkyTrain is a two-line urban mass transit system in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It uses Bombardier's Advanced Rapid Transit technology, with fully automated trains running principally on elevated tracks (hence the name). There have been no derailments or collisions in its history. It uses the same linear induction motor-driven trains as the Scarborough RT line in Toronto, the Kelana Jaya Line in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Detroit's People Mover, and the AirTrain JFK in New York City.
SkyTrain is operated by British Columbia Rapid Transit Company under contract from TransLink, a regional government transportation agency. It operates on a proof-of-payment fare system and is policed by the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service. SkyTrain Attendants (STAs) are present to provide first aid, directions, customer service and inspect fares, and they monitor train faults and drive the trains when necessary. TransLink claims to lose about C$6 million in unpaid fares annually, including $3 million from SkyTrain alone.
SkyTrain's 49.5 km (30.8 mi) of track make it the longest automated light rapid transit system in the world. It also uses the longest mass transit-only bridge, the SkyBridge, to cross the Fraser River. There are 33 stations in the system, which carries more than 160,000 to 180,000 people every day on the two lines. The Expo Line was built in time for the Expo 86 World's Fair; the Millennium Line opened in 2002 and further expansions are underway to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Construction of the Canada Line began in November 2005. The Evergreen Line is in the planning stage. The former will be completed in 2009, and the latter in 2014. Translink has also released a ten year plan outlining a Broadway Line and further expansion of the Expo Line into Surrey. The Canada Line will run from downtown Vancouver to Richmond, with a branch to Vancouver International Airport. The Evergreen line will run from Lougheed Town Centre to Coquitlam Town Centre. The Broadway Line, although not confirmed, is said to extend from the Millennium Line at VCC-Clark station and end at the University of British Columbia in the University Endowment Lands, tunneling underneath Broadway a majority of the way. The system has been the subject of several political, social, and economic controversies.
The lack of a rapid transit system was said to be the cause of traffic problems in the 1970s, and the municipal government could not fund the construction of such a system. During the same period, Urban Transportation Development Corporation, a former Ontario-based crown corporation was developing a new type of rapid transit officially known as "Intermediate Capacity Transit System". In 1980 the need for rapid transit was great, and Ontario needed buyers for its new technology. "Advanced Rapid Transit" was selected to be built in Vancouver to showcase the Ontario project at Expo 86 (though there had been plans as early as the 1950s to build a monorail system, with modernist architect Wells Coates pencilled in to design it. The project was abandoned). Construction was funded by the provincial and federal government. The system was ideal for a long-term transit solution primarily because labor costs would be low. Construction of the original line proceeded on March 1, 1982 under the Socred government of Bill Bennett, who inaugurated the system at Waterfront Station. The SkyTrain was conceived as a legacy project of Expo 86 and the first line was finished in 1985 in time to showcase the fair's theme: "Transportation and Communication: World in Motion - World in Touch".
SkyBridge and Scott Road Station were added in 1989, extending service to Surrey. The line was expanded yet again in 1994 with the opening of the Gateway, Surrey Central, and King George stations. The SkyTrain is part of the 1996 Greater Vancouver Regional District's (GVRD) Livable Region Strategic Plan, which discusses strategies to deal with the anticipated increase of population in the near future. Some of these include methods of increasing transportation choices and much higher transit use.
In 1997 negotiations began on transferring responsibility for SkyTrain from the province to the local governments at the GVRD after different visions emerged on how to cope with the growing region and expansion line. In 1999, with the adoption of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Act (now South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Act), responsibility for SkyTrain, and the ownership of SkyTrain's operating company British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd., was transferred from BC Transit to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, branded as TransLink. As part of the deal, they agreed on a limited growth plan with the province taking responsibility for expansion under the Crown corporation Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd. (RTP 2000) and a cost-sharing scheme.
Expansion options for the rapidly growing region that was outstripping TransLink's capacity and ability to cope, included streetcars, rapid buses, and light rapid transit, which were passed-over in favour of new SkyTrain lines. RTP 2000 proposed a two-phase expansion: a $1.2 billion Millennium Line from New Westminster to the Vancouver Community College via Lougheed Town Centre in Phase I and a $730 million Coquitlam line from Lougheed Mall to Coquitlam Centre via Port Moody and a Western Line from Vancouver Community College to Granville Street via the Broadway Corridor, both to be completed before 2006, in Phase II.
The first section of the Millennium Line opened in 2002, with Braid and Sapperton stations. Most of the remaining portion began operating later that year, serving North Burnaby and East Vancouver. Critics of the project dubbed it the "SkyTrain to Nowhere", claiming that the route of the new line was based on political concerns, not the needs of commuters. An illustration of this complaint is that the end of the Millennium Line is in a vacant field, a site that was chosen because it was supposed to be the location for a new high-tech development and is a few hundred metres from the head office of QLT Inc. but additional development has been slow to get off the ground. Vancouver Community College is currently building its north campus close to the station. That station, VCC-Clark near Clark Drive and Broadway, did not open until 2006 because of difficulty in negotiating the right-of-way from BNSF, but it is still five kilometres short of the original proposed Phase II terminus at Granville Street. The second Phase II segment is currently being planned, the line being called the Evergreen Line and is scheduled to start operations by 2014. Phase I of the Millennium was completed under budget.
The SkyTrain runs on two lines: the Expo Line and the Millennium Line, coloured blue and yellow respectively on maps. The system is 49.5 kilometres (approximately 30.8 mi) and feature 33 stations throughout the line.
A third line — the Canada Line — is slated for completion in November 2009. This will add another 19 kilometres of automated rail to the system. Current SkyTrains cannot be used on the Canada Line and vice versa as the Canada Line uses rotary propulsion technology as opposed to SkyTrain's linear-motor technology. Furthermore, Canada Line trains are wider than SkyTrains.
The Evergreen Line is another line that has passed the approval stage; it was confirmed by both the Provincial Government of British Columbia and Translink in February 2008 that it will use ALRT (SkyTrain-like) technology, rather than light rail as previously planned. This line will be completed in 2014. The UBC Line (extension of the Millennium Line to UBC via Broadway) will be completed by 2020 according to the Provincial Transportation Plan
When not in use, the trains are stored at the Edmonds Yard and Control Centre, located between the Edmonds and 22nd Street stations (Southridge and Griffiths Drives) in Burnaby. The current yard is reaching its maximum capacity and a new maintenance centre will be needed. Previous reports show possible locations around Great Northern Way in Vancouver near VCC/Clark station or at Port Moody/Coquitlam, near the future Evergreen Line.
The Expo Line connects Waterfront Station in Vancouver to King George Station in Surrey, principally along a route established by the Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Company as an interurban line in 1890. It was built in 1985 in time for Expo 86 and has 20 stations. It was given its name only after the Millennium Line was built. Until 1989, it only ran as far as New Westminster Station, when it was extended to Columbia Station and in 1990 across the Fraser River to Scott Road once the Skybridge was finished. In 1994 the terminus of Expo line became King George Station in Central Surrey. It was built on a budget of $854 million (1986 dollars).
The Millennium Line follows the Expo Line from Waterfront Station to Columbia Station in New Westminster, then continues along its own route through North Burnaby and East Vancouver, ending at Vancouver Community College (VCC-Clark Station) in Vancouver. It was built on a $1.2 billion budget and the final extension from Commercial Drive Station to VCC-Clark Station was opened on January 6, 2006). The Millennium Line has 13 stations that are not shared with the Expo Line. Unlike the Expo Line, the Millennium Line's stations were designed by British Columbia's top architects, resulting in dramatically different stations from those on the Expo Line. In 2004, Busby + Associates Architects, designers of the Brentwood Town Centre Station in Burnaby, were honoured for their work with a Governor General's Medal in Architecture.
The fully-automated Canada Line will use trains with conventional motors rather than Bombardier's proprietary linear induction technology, as used on the Expo and Millennium lines. This was largely a consequence of the public-private partnership format (a condition of BC government funding), which selected the proposal by SNC-Lavalin/Serco over that of the RAVxpress (Bombardier) consortium. It will use the same fare system as the rest of the transit system managed by TransLink. The line will run from Waterfront Station to Richmond-Brighouse Station, with a branch serving Vancouver International Airport, with 16 new stations: nine in Vancouver, four on Lulu Island, and three on Sea Island.
While the BC government's push for ALRT puts the current plan into question, as a tramway, the Evergreen Line would connect with the existing Millennium line, running from Lougheed Station elevated along the North and Clarke Roads, then through a tunnel under Burnaby Mountain, through Port Moody, and towards Coquitlam Centre where it would run at grade along the Canadian Pacific rail line. would connect with the Coquitlam West Coast Express commuter rail station. Elevated again, it would turn northward along Pinetree Way and end near Douglas College.
As SkyTrain-like or SkyTrain technology would be used, there is a possibility that the Evergreen Line would be running with the Millennium Line, similar to the current Expo Line and Millennium Line. For instance, trains from Douglas College would go to Lougheed Town Centre via Evergreen Line and then continue westbound on the Millennium Line to its terminus.
Statements by government suggest that the UBC line will be an extension of the Millennium Line from VCC-Clark station. This scenario could mean that commuters from Coquitlam to UBC would not need to change trains at all during their commute as Evergreen Line trains would continue on to UBC from Lougheed. And, commuters from the Evergreen and Millennium Lines east of Vancouver would have a secondary route to downtown by changing to the Canada Line instead of the Expo Line.
|Fare class||One zone||Two zones||Three zones|
SkyTrain's fare system is a proof-of-payment system; there are no turnstiles at the entrances to train platforms. Fares are enforced by random sweeps - usually by Police but occasionally SkyTrain attendants or Transit Security - through trains and stations, or at special events such as after BC Lions or Vancouver Canucks games. TransLink estimates it loses $4 million (5% of its revenue) annually from fare evasion on the SkyTrain. The fine for failure to show proof of payment, or fare evasion, ticket reselling or other scams, is $173. Installing turnstiles to prevent fare evasion has been considered, but rejected due to the expense of implementing, maintaining, and enforcing them which would exceed the losses prevented. In spite of this, TransLink directors are considering turnstiles at new Canada Line stations.
The cost of operating the SkyTrain system in 2005, with an estimated 66,292,000 boarded passengers, was $73,381,000. To cover this, TransLink draws mostly from two revenue sources: transit fare ($285,520,000 in 2005) and tax ($254,628,000 from fuel taxes and $216,824,000 from property taxes in 2005), though it must also pay for bus service, certain roads and bridges, and other infrastructure and services. The capital costs of building the system are shared with other government agencies. For example, the cost of building the Canada Line is being shared between TransLink ($335,000,000 or 22%), the federal government (29%), the province (28%), the airport authority (19%), and the City of Vancouver (2%). While TransLink has run surpluses for operating costs since 2001, to cover these capital costs it incurs debt. As a whole, TransLink has $1.1 billion in long term debt, as of 2006, of which $508 million was downloaded from the province during the 1999 transfer of responsibility for the SkyTrain. As the province retained ownership of the causeway, bridge, and certain services, it retained a portion of SkyTrain's debt as well.
SkyTrain attendants provide customer service, first aid, and troubleshoot train and station operations, as well as perform fare inspections alongside the police force. Public controversy was sparked in March 2005 when it was announced that transit police would carry guns. Solicitor General John Les however, defended the move saying that it was necessary to enhance SkyTrain security. Some critics, such as the Bus Riders Union claim that the police frighten youth and ethnic minorities during fare checks, though the union has not tracked any statistics.
Over the years, violence and other criminal activities has been a major concern, but TransLink insists the system is safe. Inspector Kash Heed of the Vancouver Police Department says that little crime takes place in the stations themselves. However, criminal activity becomes more visible outside them.
Stations are monitored with closed circuit television cameras, allowing SkyTrain operators to monitor any criminal activity. Designated wait areas have enhanced lighting, waiting benches, and emergency telephones. Trains have yellow strips above each window which, when pressed, silently alerts operators of a security hazard. On-board speaker phones provide two way communication with passengers and control operators.
Recently, the entire surveillance system was upgraded from analog 2-hour tape recording to digital technology, which allows police to retrieve previous footage for up to 7 days.
Larry Ward, former president and CEO of British Columbia Rapid Transit Corporation told Goliath that the public reaction of the Millennium Line was positive; customers enjoy the spaciousness of the Mark II cars, the brighter station colours, and the general ambiance. The SkyTrain has had a significant impact on the development of areas in which stations are located for several reasons, including the fact residents in the growing suburbs were given an efficient alternative to the Trans-Canada highway for commuting to and from Vancouver. Since SkyTrain began, the overall population of the area rose from 400,000 to 1.3 million people. According to Graham R. Crampton's research paper, the SkyTrain, and San Diego trolley systems were among the most successful in the three arenas:
Vancouver was particularly impressive, according to E. Babalik's paper:
The survey was released to the public eight days after former premier Glen Clark stated his preference was SkyTrain. Deming Smith of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation believed that the use of Bombardier's technology was politically charged; that construction workers would vote for Glen Clark's party, the New Democratic Party of British Columbia, for providing them with employment.
The system has had debt problems in 1998. The debt servicing of SkyTrain was three and a half times the actual operating budget whereas the debt servicing of buses was only one-seventh the operating budget. During the construction of the Surrey extension, the Vancouver Regional Transit Commission, a division of BC Transit was $30 million in debt. The provincial government agreed to cover the debt in 1991 for three years.
In May 2001, protesters halted construction of the Millennium Line in an attempt to save the trees and vegetation within the Grandview Cut. TransLink scrapped the original plan of building a tunnel in favour of a guideway. The bridge over the Cut was consequently out of service from April to December 2001. It disrupted bus service and several local businesses, including Canada Post, a hairdressing school and a restaurant, which experienced a $5000 per month loss of revenue. The owner appealed to city hall, the Millennium Line Rapid Transit Project Office for compensation, and complained to both then Premier Ujjal Dosanjh and deputy premier Joy MacPhail. Dosanjh sent her a polite, pre-election letter which said he would pass her concerns on to Economic Development Minister Mike Farnworth. MacPhail declined her pleas for compensation and said the Nanaimo Bridge construction project was a "necessary evil".
Construction of the Canada Line raised concerns over the disruption of local business near Yaletown, Cambie Street, and No. 3 Road in Richmond. InTransitBC responded by launching an advertising campaign promoting local business on the line. Residents of Cambie Street opposed the building of the Canada Line on their street and advocated for the line to be built down the Arbutus Corridor instead, which is zoned for rail transit. Officials say that Cambie is preferred because the line is shorter, and covers more important and trafficked destinations that can generate more revenue, like Vancouver General Hospital, Vancouver City Hall, Oakridge Centre, and Langara College.
The SkyTrain uses Alcatel's SelTrac signalling technology to run trains automatically. Its use has never led to accidents. The two lines follow a common route between Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver and Columbia Station in New Westminster, serving the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster. From Columbia, Expo Line trains continue through Surrey to King George Station; Millennium Line trains loop back through New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver to VCC-Clark Station. Although most of the system is elevated, SkyTrain runs at or below grade through downtown Vancouver, and for short stretches in Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster. The SkyTrain was one of the first fully automated rapid-transit systems in the world, and remains the longest today.
All stations have elevators. On September 22, 2006, a new entrance to Granville Station was opened, making this previously inaccessible station accessible for disabled patrons, who previously had to board trains at either the Burrard or Stadium-Chinatown stations.
SkyTrain uses the world's longest bridge dedicated to transit services. The Skybridge crosses the Fraser River between New Westminster and Surrey. It is a 616 m (2,021 ft) long cable-stayed bridge, with 123 m (404 ft) tall towers.
TransLink upgraded all Expo Line platform station edges to match those on the Millennium Line shortly after it was completed. The new, wider edges are brighter and have been tiled in hopes of providing a safer environment for the visually impaired.
Both MK I and MK II cars are wheelchair-accessible vehicles, having space for wheelchairs. However three stations have accessibility issues because of nearby construction: Columbia, Scott Road, and Sapperton stations. Bicycles are also permitted on board during non-peak hours in both directions, and opposite the peak direction during peak hours.
SkyTrain cars reach speeds of 90 km/h (56 mph). When including wait times at stops, the end-to-end average speed is 45 km/h (28 mph), three times faster than a bus and almost twice as fast as a B-Line express bus.
Mark I Trains The Expo Line used 12-metre (40 ft) lightweight Mark I ICTS cars from Urban Transportation Development Corporation and similar to the ones used in Toronto's Scarborough RT and Detroit's People Mover. MK I vehicles are composed of mated pairs normally run as 4-car trains, but can be run in 2, 4 or 6-car configuration. The maximum based on station size is a six car configuration, totaling 72 metres. SkyTrain currently owns 150 Mark I trains. One can easily recognize these trains as they have side facing seats, feature a red/white/blue interior, and have two doors per car.
The Mark I ICTS cars which arrived for the opening of the Expo line in 1985 each featured two end-doors; one door on both the front and back of each car. The backside of each car had sections painted in black.
In 1991, additional Mark I ICTS cars were purchased. These slightly newer cars featured only one end door on the backside of each car, and the backside was not coloured black. In the front of each car, there were no end doors; instead, the front window was slightly enlarged and was equipped with a windshield wiper.
Mark II Trains
When the Millennium Line was built, TransLink ordered newer generation Mark II trains from Bombardier Transportation. Similar trains are used in Kuala Lumpur's Putra LRT, New York's JFK AirTrain and Beijing's new Airport People Mover. These trains are usually seen in a two car and four car configuration. Each pair of cars (either two old cars or one articulated set of two new cars) is permanently joined together in a two-car trainset, or 'married pair'. One can easily recognize these trains as they have a streamlined front and rear, articulated joint, white/grey/blue interior, and have three doors per car.
The MKII cars from 2002 were manufactured by Bombardier in a $15 million Burnaby factory. In November, 2006, Bombardier won a contract to supply 34 ART MKII cars with a bid of $113 million. The cars are expected to be in service in the first half of 2009 but will not be locally assembled, they will be manufactured and assembled in Sahagun, Mexico, and Thunder Bay, Ontario. An additional 14 ART MKII cars have been ordered for delivery in early 2010. Canada Line will be using ROTEM (a unit of Hyundai) EMU cars when it opens in the same year.
|Builder||Model||Year Acquired||Fleet size|
|Urban Transportation Development Corporation||ICTS Mark I||1984-1986||114|
|Urban Transportation Development Corporation||ICTS Mark I||1991||16|
|Urban Transportation Development Corporation||ICTS Mark I||1994||20|
|Bombardier Transportation||ART Mark II||2002||60|
|Bombardier Transportation||ART Mark II||2009||34|
|Bombardier Transportation||ART Mark II||2010||14|