Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Independent review of this summer's SkyTrain service disruptions released

Yesterday, TransLink released an independent review of SkyTrain operations by McNeil Management Services. TransLink ordered the review after two major shutdowns of the SkyTrain system this summer left thousands of passengers stranded for up to 6 hours at a time.

McNeil noted that while the SkyTrain system's size, staffing, and operating budget has doubled since the system went online in 1986, the number of passengers served per day has quadrupled. According to McNeil, “SkyTrain needs more operating dollars to serve their growing passenger base.” There is not enough staff to deal with evacuating the system during a major service interruption nor is there enough staff to provide good customer service to SkyTrain passengers.

McNeil also looked at the on-time performance of the SkyTrain system. They found that about 50% of delays on the SkyTrain system are due to “false alarms” from its guideway intrusion detection system.

Many of these intrusions were “false” in nature, as they were related to such non-descript activities as birds flying through, or a section of newspaper blowing past, optical sensors.

One of McNeil's major recommendations was to overhaul the guideway intrusion detection system. This overhaul will cost $10 million and take 24 months to complete.

When there is a major disruption to SkyTrain service, TransLink implements bus bridges to get people between SkyTrain stations. Over the past several years, TransLink has been on a provincially mandated quest to become more efficient. During this summer’s SkyTrain shutdown, TransLink only had 20 “road-ready” space buses across the region with little to no staff to operate them. This is a result of becoming more “efficient.”

SkyTrain is a fully automatic system. It uses the SELTRAC control system. When the SkyTrain system was upgraded in 1994, an additional feature was not purchased. This feature allows the SELTRAC system to automatically get the system up and running when there is a major loss of communication.

The current feature set requires the system to be brought manually back online. If TransLink had the auto-restore feature on the SkyTrain system this summer, the service interruptions would have been significantly reduced. It can take up to 5 hours to manually bring the system back online. McNeil recommended that TransLink spend $5 million to add the auto-restore feature to the SkyTrain system.

McNeil recommended 20 changes that would create a more resilient SkyTrain system, with less service interruptions, while also improving customer information during service interruptions.

McNeil recommended investing $15 million over the next several years to enhance the redundancy of the SkyTrain system. McNeil also recommended spending $5 million to install a new CCTV system to allow SkyTrain Control to have viability over the entire SkyTrain network, not just at stations.

McNeil also noted that many of the SkyTrain operating and maintenance procedures are not written down; it is held in the minds of their senior staff. McNeil recommended spending $2 million to transfer this knowledge to paper.

New SkyTrain Bus Bridge Sign at Surrey Central

The most costly recommendations deal with improving customer communications. McNeil recommended spending $15 million over the next 5 years to improve the PA system at stations and on the trains. They also recommended spending $15 million over the next 4 years to enhance information signage at stations.

There are several other recommendations in the review which deal with improving workflow and communication between TransLink operating companies and even local government.

McNeil details the events that led up to the major service interruptions on July 17th and July 21st.

As you may be aware, TransLink has a funding issue. Last night, the Minister of Transportation was asked if he would provide funding to support the recommendations of this independent review. His answer was that it was up to TransLink to figure out how to fund this.

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