I got up in the wee hours of Monday morning to ride the West Coast Express (WCE) into downtown Vancouver from Mission, B.C.!
For those who don’t know, the West Coast Express is our commuter rail service, linking the northeast area of the Lower Mainland with downtown Vancouver. (It takes 1 hour and 13 minutes and runs through Mission, Port Haney, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody on the way to Vancouver.)
WCE customers just love the service—it’s a cushy, two-level train with incredibly friendly staff and terrific amenities (a cappuccino car, and bathrooms!) It costs a bit more to ride, but you should certainly give it a try: just be aware that it only goes one direction in the morning, and one direction in the afternoon. It’s not constantly running on its route like the SkyTrain!
Anyway, for the Games period, WCE is running an unprecedented number of extra trips to accommodate extra crowds. On top of its existing five morning and five afternoon trips, they’ve added six new trips on weekdays, nine new trips on Saturdays and seven new trips on Sundays—they’ve essentially doubled their service.
Let’s take a look at what WCE is like, visit a few stations, and see what staff are doing to bring you the extra Games trips.
Starting out at Mission City
I rideshared out to WCE’s Mission City Station with Jackson, a videographer who’s doing an employee video for West Coast Express. We captured the West Coast Express 6:30 train coming into the station – hardly anyone was out there for the early run at the end of the line!
For the Games, WCE hired 35 more staff to help out with the extra train service, and Deborah, the station attendant at Mission City, is one of them. She wasn’t a usual West Coast Express rider, but her neighbour suggested the job and she’s having a good time. “I think it’s marvelous. A lot of people don’t realize that when they buy ticket, it covers the SeaBus, the skytrain, and other transit in Vancouver. No parking, no hassle, let the train take the strain!”
The Olympics are certainly boosting ridership. Deborah worked over the weekend, and one of the runs on Saturday was completely full—hundreds got on at Mission City, and the train went into Waterfront with roughly 1500 people on board.
“We’re getting people from different nationalities, locals, people who have never travelled on the West Coast Express, before, and of course everyone is excited because of the Olympics.”
The new service for the Olympics is roughly 2.5 times the normal West Coast Express schedule. The extended service was worked out in conjuction with Canadian Pacific Railways (CP), who owns the tracks that WCE runs on and provides WCE with track time and train engineers.
CP, who is also an Olympic sponsor, donated the track time and the crews to extend WCE service for the Games. If you like the extra service and think you’ll use it, WCE would love to know about it!
Since it’s the terminus station, the train waits at Mission City a bit, so I was able to run alongside and snap this photo of the Cappucino Car on this train! How nice to have snacks on board :)
Port Haney Station
Port Haney Station had quite a number of regular commuters on the platform – this is one of the busier runs in the morning, we were told. (They’d already boarded by the time I snapped this shot, sorry!)
For its service, WCE has five trains, which have a different number of cars. There’s one four-car train, two seven-car trains, and two nine-car trains. A car can take about 146 passengers seated, but can carry about twice that when full. The longer trains are doing many of the extra runs during the Games.
However, since WCE service usually ends at 7:30 p.m., but is running until 2 a.m. for the Games, that’s meant some shifting behind the scenes. Since service has to start by 4 a.m., maintenance time has shrunk to a scant two hours for the last train in—and each train needs cleaning, fixing, and a regulated inspection every day. Maintenance procedures have had to change to accommodate the shorter times.
Burt, a four-year WCE station attendant, was at Port Haney Station wearing his Olympic mittens! He’s a former transit operator out of Port Coquitlam and was quite enjoying himself out on the platform.
Maple Meadows Station
At Maple Meadows Station, the platform was getting busy. We were getting down to the later train departures for the morning, which are showing up as the most crowded during the Olympic period. When I rode the last train out, 1,460 people were on board—a 30 per cent increase!
Mike is a longtime West Coast Express attendant and was very busy helping the new folks out with the ticket machines! He also made a very nice station announcement letting someone know that they had left their coffee on top of the ticket machine :)
Mike also worked Saturday when big crowds arrived to take the train.
“It’s all new people, not regular riders, and a lot of them are purchasing tickets,” he said. “I’ve met quite a few people from other countries, from the Netherlands and a few more countries.”
I should mention that since WCE shares the tracks with CP, freight trains can come whooshing through the station at an incredibly rapid pace. It’s so strange after coming from something like the SkyTrain system — you never see other trains running in between them! Anyway, heed the warning to stay behind the yellow line—they’re terrifyingly fast!
Here is a video of a freight train going through Maple Meadows Station!
And here is a video of a WCE train arriving at Maple Meadows Station!
On board the train
I got on at Maple Meadows Station and headed in to downtown Vancouver.
The interior of a WCE car reminded me very much of commuter rail in Europe or Chicago – quiet interiors, comfortable seats facing one another, and two levels of seats to sit on.
I had to sit on the upper level though. (I always love the upper decks of buses and trains!) The upper level of the WCE train car had more seats facing each other, and tables with electrical outlets every second seat or so.
I spoke to Jason, a regular WCE rider working on his laptop at one of the tables. He said he hadn’t noticed Olympic crowds yet, but was planning to work from home over the next few days to avoid the rush.
And I spoke to Chris and Patty, residents of Seattle who were here for the Games and really enthusiastic about our public transit system :) They’re renting a room in Maple Ridge and using West Coast Express to get to the Olympics during the day. Apparently they found that hotel rooms were $500-$700 a night along the SkyTrain route, with a minimum booking of seven days!
I have to say the ride passed in a bit of a blur. The seats were very comfortable, the trains were quite quiet, and the scenery was so pleasant, you could really see why regular riders love the service so much! (I’m told by the WCE director of operations that rider surveys show customers like the comfort aspect of the service the most – it’s not the savings or the environmental appeal, but the fact that the train gives people much needed regular downtime.)
Quite seriously, if the service was offered in my area, I would be on the train in a flash! Thanks for the ride, West Coast Express!
A quick visit to the office
Just two more people to mention: I dropped by the West Coast Express office on the third floor of Waterfront Station. Say hello to Heather, from customer service at WCE, who has been patiently fielding calls from new folks discovering the service, and regular riders who want to confirm how their service will run during the Games!
And here is Lil, WCE’s systems monitor who works in their control room. She was instrumental in putting together the extra service provided for the Games — thanks Lil!