Shutdown response gets ‘C’ from SkyTrain troubleshooter

Tuesday's disruption lasted 2.5 hours, TransLink officials say they plan to do better next time

TransLink’s response to the latest 2.5-hour SkyTrain shutdown during Tuesday’s evening commute is getting a ‘C’ grade from the consultant who recommended reforms in the wake of major disruptions last July.

Gary McNeil said public address communications have improved somewhat and more staff were mobilized quickly to get to stalled trains on the Expo Line.

“I think there’s a marked improvement, but is it good enough? It’s not good enough yet,” he said Wednesday.

“A year ago it took six hours to recover. Last night it was a little over two hours.”

Nineteen trains were stuck on the tracks after an induction motor failed in one train.

TransLink interim CEO Doug Allen said the 100 staff who scrambled were able to get to 15 of the 19 trains within a recommended 20 minutes – a target that minimizes the risk of frustrated passengers forcing train doors open and triggering worse delays.

“That’s not good enough,” Allen acknowledged.

Both Allen and McNeil said technical failures are unavoidable but the key to a good response is having more SkyTrain attendants hired and in position to act quickly to reach and manually drive stalled trains and manage crowds.

An extra 64 staff will arrive between August and October and more work is underway to upgrade station and train speakers and complete other recommendations McNeil made last fall.

Allen apologized to passengers for the disruption but said no fare refunds would be offered because the shutdown didn’t exceed half a day.

TransLink has offered a free day or refunds on the worst of the SkyTrain meltdowns of the past year, the latest of which happened May 21-22 after a fire sparked by a crew grinding the rails burned a critical section of cable.

Allen insisted the system’s overall reliability is “pretty darn good.”

TransLink is now checking more than 500 induction motors on all trains to ensure the same failure isn’t repeated.

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