Wednesday, June 10, 2015

SkyTrain’s 1980s infrastructure showing its age

SkyTrain Real-Time Information at the Operation Centre

UPDATED: Angry birds and power technicians pulling the plug at the SkyTrain Operations Centre aside, the performance of TransLink’s SkyTrain system has deteriorated in the last few years.

Yesterday’s service disruption was a result of an induction motor failing on one of the SkyTrain cars. This failure, combined with people breaking out of SkyTrain cars, resulted in the section of the SkyTrain network between Waterfront and Edmonds Station needing to be powered down for safety, then restarted when people were off the tracks. The SkyTrain system is split into three sections of control. These sections are operated by three different clusters of redundant computers. Edmonds Station to Waterfront Station is controlled by one cluster, the rest of the network is managed by another cluster. The SkyTrain Operations Centre yard is managed by a third system.

The BC Rapid Transit Company Ltd. 2015 Business Plan was obtained by Bob Mackin. The is the operating subsidiary of TransLink that runs the SkyTrain network. That plans states “In 2013, SkyTrain’s infrastructure began to show its age leading to an increase in the frequency of service disruptions. By the third quarter of 2014, on-time-performance dropped from a historical five year average of 95.2% to 92.8%, after hitting a lower of 89.3% in July 2014 when two unprecedented outages shut down the Expo and Millennium Lines.”

While last month’s freak bird malfunction and one of the two major meltdowns last summer were not caused by aging infrastructure, I have noticed an increase in the frequency of control and SkyTrain car problems. Control and SkyTrain car problems are related to the system's age.

Beside yesterday’s disruption, a control system failure at one of the track switches on May 20th, two days before the bird fire, shutdown Expo Line service for Surrey riders in the AM peak period. There has been an increase in the amount of control system failures in recent years. This is just one example, there have been several so far this year.

There are also other “disabled trains” which cause system delays. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these trains are from the original 1980s fleet.

TransLink was going to buy new cars to replace the aging fleeting, but in an effort to save cash as mandated by the provincial government, decided to refurbish the old cars. Unfortunately these refurbished cars won’t have air conditioning. When a breakdown occurs in the summer, unlucky passengers in those refurbish cars will be stuck in sweltering heat. This leads to people doing unsafe things like breaking out of the SkyTrain cars.

Now it’s not like TransLink isn’t aware that the Expo Line is in need of major upgrades. According to that same business plan service disruptions “will continue into 2015 and without proper attention to the renewal programs currently on/around SkyTrain, customer could be negatively impacted.”

On the tech side, BCRTC is working on a plan to migrate line of business applications to a modern platform. Many of the applications are using software that is no longer support by the software vendor.

$71 million in funding is needed to perform critical upgrades as outlined in an independent review of SkyTrain operations by McNeil Management Services. Also, the Mayors’ Plan includes $765 million to make sure the Expo and Millennium Line can meet the needs of the region going forward.

One of the critical upgrades to the system would allow the SkyTrain system to restart faster after a system power-down.

We will know in the next few weeks, when the results of the plebiscite are made public, if we can look forward to a renewed SkyTrian system, or SkyTrain breakdowns becoming a routine occurrence.

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