METRO VANCOUVER – TransLink is blaming human error for a massive shutdown of the Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines Monday that left scores of passengers stranded in trains on the tracks and backed up buses during the afternoon rush hour.
A statement issued by the transportation authority said an experienced electrician was installing a new circuit breaker for the Evergreen Line at a power distribution panel when he accidentally tripped the main breaker that feeds into SkyTrain’s main operations centre.
The electrician blamed for the problem has been suspended.
TransLink said it is still reviewing the details of the incident, which was the second shutdown of SkyTrain service in the past week.
It is also offering free transit service to passengers on the B.C. Day holiday.
"Our trains are reliable 95 per cent of the time, but we know that is little consolation for customers who are delayed for hours when we do have a significant breakdown," said Doug Kelsey, TransLink Chief Operating Officer.
"Two major disruptions in one week is unprecedented, and the two incidents are completely unrelated." On Monday, commuters were stranded on trains mid-track, after the shutdown occurred at around 12:30 p.m., prompting dozens of passengers to force open the train doors and walk along the tracks to the stations, while TransLink evacuated the stations.
Meanwhile, Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs is calling for an independent investigation into the two shutdowns, saying the latest incident put many people at risk of death or injury while affecting the economy.
The move, which is supported by Mayor Gregor Robertson, will be raised at the next mayors’ council on Tuesday, he said.
"It’s too serious a matter to hope it gets solved bureaucratically when you see moms carrying their kids down a guideway," Meggs said.
He noted that accidents involving other transportation systems, such as Via Rail or light aircraft, would be subject to an investigation but "here we just get an apology or maybe a refund."
"(The public) has a right to know what happened," he said. "We can’t afford to have shutdowns of this magnitude."
The shutdown was the second in a week for the SkyTrain system â€” passengers were stranded on trains for at least an hour an a half after a three-hour shutdown last Thursday.
Tannis Steele, 18, who was stranded on a train with sister a stone’s throw from Main Street-Science World Station, said her car had air conditioning but it appeared passengers forced open the doors of her car because they were bored. "We just followed the crowd and went with everybody."
Meanwhile, transit police will consider new measures to prevent SkyTrain passengers from illegally popping open train doors and walking along the electrified tracks during a shutdown of the system.
Droves of passengers carrying everything from babies to boxes could be seen walking the guideways near Main and Stadium stations, shortly after TransLink tweeted that the system had been shut down.
Although Transit police and security staff were able to escort some of those passengers along the tracks, many others refused to wait, Transit police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said. Doors on at least two train cars were damaged so significantly that they wouldn’t close, which meant the cars couldn’t be moved and resulted in further delays on the system, she added.
In one case, a SkyTrain security officer struggled to keep passengers on board a train. "He was frustrated and afraid for these people but he couldn’t hold them back," she said.
Part of the problem, it appears, was the computer glitch prevented any communication between SkyTrain officials and the trains or platforms. Most of TransLink’s correspondence with the public was on its website or by tweets, including its requests asking passengers to stay put until staff could manually drive the trains back to the station and evacuate the stations.
The Canada Line was not affected.
Bill Stenner, who was on a train from Waterfront when it stopped with a thump near Science World, throwing his young son forward, said the passengers in his car became increasingly frustrated after they repeatedly pressed the red emergency button and got no response or announcement from TransLink about what was going on.
The passengers remained in the train for about a half an hour, he said, before a woman pulled the emergency strip on the doors and walked out. Everyone followed, including a woman with a stroller and a baby in her arms.
Stenner said he could see SkyTrain staff opening the doors in the other trains. "We saw people leaving the train ahead of us," he said. "It was a question of ‘do you really want to sit there for hours?’
"It was pretty frightening. I had a two-a-half-year-old, there was a lady with a stroller. I was telling everybody ‘don’t touch anything,’â€¯" he said.
Stenner said he expected the tracks would be safe because the system had been shut down, but Drennan maintains a system shutdown doesn’t necessarily mean the power to the rails has been disconnected.
"As soon as we hear people have popped open doors and are on the track we head to that spot right away," she said. "We try to move around as quick as we can . . . if they can hold on and if this happens again, we’ll get there."
For more stories from the Vancouver Sun, click here.