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TransLink 101: Why can’t SkyTrain run 24 hours?

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For February 2013, we’re going back to basics with TransLink 101—explaining TransLink and its work!

SkyTrain at night. Photo by kennymatic from Flickr. (Click the image to go to the original!)

As we’re nearing the end of the TransLink 101 series, we thought we’d talk about something that we get asked quite often: why can’t SkyTrain run 24/7?

We often get this question as SkyTrain is an automated, driverless, light rapid transit system, which provides a lot of flexibility in how we can run our trains.

But even without drivers, there are other key factors that affect how long SkyTrain can run every day. Here’s a quick FAQ!

First, how late does SkyTrain currently run?

The last Expo Line train (to King George Station) leaves Waterfront Station at 1:16 a.m., Mondays through Saturdays and at 12:15 a.m. on Sundays and holidays. The last Canada Line train (to Richmond-Brighouse) departs Waterfront Station at 1:15 a.m., seven days a week. You can see all the start and end times for our three SkyTrain lines on our website.

Why does SkyTrain need to shut down at night?

A lot of it has to do with the regularly scheduled maintenance that’s needed to keep the system running smoothly.

Nighttime maintenance includes everything from station and vehicle cleaning to checking track components as well as wheel and rail grinding to ensure passengers experience as smooth a SkyTrain ride as possible. For more, check out the Buzzer article about the night shift!

On top of regular maintenance work, a number of upgrades have been happening on the SkyTrain system, particularly on the Expo Line, which is now more than 27 years old.  These upgrades include running rail replacement, fibre optic upgrades and power and substation upgrades. If possible, this work is also done at night to minimize the impact on passengers.

Do other train systems run 24 hours?

Generally, running a train system 24 hours is the exception, not the rule. At the moment, New York City and Chicago are the only two cities in North America that have some (but not all) of their train lines running 24 hours. This is largely possible due to the fact that they have a great deal of existing infrastructure and extensive system coordination. For example, New York has duplicate tracks for some of its lines.

How could I get home after SkyTrain shuts down?

After the SkyTrain shuts down, NightBus takes over. In fact, TransLink runs 12 NightBus routes that cover more than three SkyTrain lines put together.

When looking for a NightBus, look for routes that start with ‘N’ on the schedule or Trip Planner. We also have a full list of all NightBus services. The NightBus can keep to a fairly reliable schedule due to low or no traffic.

Any chance we’ll see SkyTrain operating 24/7 in the next few years?

Unfortunately, we currently do not have the funding in place to support changes to our late night transit service. We’re also in the middle of a number of necessary projects and some of this work is done at night to minimize the impact on passengers. So we don’t anticipate any changes to the SkyTrain schedule at this time.

Let us know your thoughts!

And we know you’ve got further thoughts on the subject, so go on: share your thoughts in the comments!


33 Comments

  • By ted, March 11, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    Night time service after the bars close is PATHETIC. How do you expect people to get home? Skytrain DOES NOT HAVE TO RUN ALL NIGHT. Just maybe an hour or two after the bars close. Maybe cut back on the wages of the higher paid fat cats and we could have better service?

  • By Sheba, March 11, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

    Seriously Ted? Many many years ago I used to have that complaint, but nowadays every time I go out to an event at a bar it ends by midnight, 1am at the very latest (and even 1am was awhile ago). While I still think we should have a few more trains running every 30 minutes late at night, complaining about it not running after last call just doesn’t cut it anymore.

    The Expo Line Power Rail Replacement was ‘paused’ before xmas and supposed to start up again in early Jan, then Feb – and now it say April. I was beginning to think it had been cancelled due to lack of funding.

  • By ???, March 11, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

    If people want 24hr rapid transit… they should ask for it during the planning phase. When the question came up on the Canada Line, no one stood up and wanted to pay a premium for a third track. It’s going to cost too much to retrofit additional tracks in now. Do you think the Broadway expansion should be 24hrs? Go tell them now, they will listen more when you open your wallet.

  • By Marvin B, March 12, 2013 @ 12:00 am

    I don’t mind a bit that SkyTrain shuts down. But the Sunday/holiday hours!!!! They’re just awful. Why not keep the same hours everyday. Canada Line does (and has a bus to fill the gap. Why doesn’t expo line?). Please at least make Sunday/holiday hours the same as the rest of the days.

  • By kr2101, March 12, 2013 @ 3:56 am

    It seems as though most people I have met, don’t like the fact that the skytrain closes at 1. It should be close after 3 am. All they need to is have trains switch tracks while the operation is under way. Also have trains run on reduce service (eg. Every 30 minutes.) If skytrain is not the convenience that yo may get, then try the nightbuses.

  • By ???, March 12, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    @Marvin… but the Expo line does have bus that comes on when Skytrain goes to bed. It’s called the N19.
    http://www.translink.ca/~/media/documents/schedules_and_maps/nightbus/night_bus_routes_map.ashx
    http://infomaps.translink.ca/Public_Timetables/85/ttN19.pdf

  • By Emlyn, March 12, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    Night bus is fine but the frequency is terrible. The busses are constantly packed on weekends, there should be higher frequency. Also why does night bus service end at 3? there is a two hour gap until regular service resumes that leaves people stranded downtown after bars close as it is nearly impossible to catch a taxi in vancouver on a weekend night. We need more frequent and more reliable night bus service! Also, all night bus routes go from downtown, there are no cross city routes! It is impossible to go east-west after 2am when the 99 stops running. Why can night busses not just follow regular bus routes? Or keep some regular routes running all night at less frequency than daytime.

  • By Marvin B, March 12, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

    @??? Not exactly. The N10 covers Canada Line past 3am. N19 does not. There are some extras on Fri, Sat I know but not the rest of the week. And again, what about Sunday? Long gap between Skytrain and nightbus. The Sunday service needs to match the rest of the week. This is not 1986 any more. Sunday is a regular working day for most people.

  • By Eugene Wong, March 12, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

    @ Marvin

    Thank you for speaking up on this. I agree that Night Bus needs more service if the buses are packed. People work at all hours. Honestly, each SkyTrain Line should have a matching Night Bus route, with all of the stations as stops along the way.

    I ask that Translink explain why it doesn’t send out more buses. Are the full buses only peaks in demand?

    Also, I agree with the Sunday and Saturday service suggestion: increase frequency, please. I can’t find the latest info, but the Expo Line has 8 minute frequency during some times on the weekend. It is ridiculous for SkyTrain frequency. Imagine having to wait 15 minutes for every connection. That would a total of 30 minutes of waiting in the wind and rain or in the blistering sun for an average trip.

  • By User, March 12, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    I agree that Sunday service should at least match Saturday. Saturday being upped to weekday service would also be great, but not nearly as needed as Sunday upped to Saturday.

    In regards to late night service, I don’t see a problem with how it is now. Heaven forbid you don’t stay out until the very last moment to get your drink on. Show some planning and find an alternate ride if that’s the case. Have a DD if you’re out that late, if it’s a large group all pitch to a hotel and crash. I go downtown probably every other week, and have no troubles leaving the bar around 1 to get the train coming home. You can also try other places such as in New Westminster so you have more time out to catch that last train. Have your DD meet you half way if they don’t come out with you that night. Look into programs where they drive your car home for you and what not. I’ve heard that they can sometimes be cheaper than cabs. It’s not as late as I would like to be, but by the time I get home and such it’s close to 2:30a or 3:00a. Which is pretty good, especially since if I got home at 5a I would be sleeping my whole next day away. If I left at 3 there wouldn’t even be any buses for me to get back to my house in the first place. Which is another problem.

    So let us look at your over-all request:
    Increase Skytrain to 3am. And leave everyone stranded at a station? No, you probably also expect all the N buses or standard service to run even later to compensate for that. This is silly, as the amount of people downtown late night during these few days do not add up to the amount of funding that would be needed to extend all these services. I would much rather see them improve other service area’s first than put money into this. Late night I can justify waiting 30-60min for a bus, but in some areas of Surrey you wait 30min during the evening which is ludicrous. If they improved night server to equal or better than evening service I would wonder what the hell they are doing.

    That being said, I am all for them increasing just N buses as there are people who work at all hours. Granted, if you take transit I imagine you look into bus service first especially for late night. Again, planning does wonders. I’ve never taken the N service but it is nice to know it’s there as a backup to the train or incase I do want to stay out later. Increasing this is a good idea, if not the length buses run to then the frequency. If the buses aren’t the articulated buses, they probably should be based on claims of passenger loads.

    User

  • By Mark, March 12, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

    I think the trains can be open later – 3 am on Fri and Saturday anyways. Even if you scaled back the number of trains, it would be preferable to the Night Bus.

    When I first moved to Van I heard the cab companies fought for the closure at night. I also heard the same cab companies negotiated the higher fare for the airport on the Canada Line, to which they get a cut. Any truth to those?

  • By Chris M., March 12, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

    Maybe we should have higher fares for night buses in exchange for higher frequencies especially on Friday and Saturday nights. More expensive rides are better than having no way of getting home.

  • By Scott, March 12, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

    You can’t discriminate between rides at night and other times. The trains should run later on weekends for sure. Not just for people who are out and about but for the amount of people who work at night and can’t take transit. I know several people who can’t get home on transit when their shifts end. Try taking an N19 as an example. It takes 90 minutes to get to Surrey vs 35 on the train. And it is packed and passes up people. It’s unacceptable that people are passed up by nightbuses and are stranded. We have the Liberal government to thank for their refusal to properly fund translink.

  • By Alan, March 13, 2013 @ 8:15 am

    Scott says “We have the Liberal government to thank for their refusal to properly fund translink.” And we have the NDP to thank for putting the owness of funding onto the municipalities of the lower mainland by taking TransLink out of BC Transit. How about we take party politics out of the equation when speaking of funding?

  • By Cliff, March 13, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    I can think of a few solutions for providing SkyTrain service after hours….

    Store spare trains on the section of track between Waterfront and Granville/City Centre. Run them every half hour outbound only from the current end of service to the current start of service on one track only starting at Granville and City Centre Stations. The trains that finish service would then be stored until start of service where they could be used right away without having to deadhead or start from Edmonds/Bridgeport. Track maintenance could then take place on the other track. Rotate the track maintenance as needed and take care of the switches on Monday nights or how ever many weekday nights is needed.

    Another idea would be to run a single MKII trainset on one track with a driver on each line with security and a driver on each run. A driver could allow for greater flexibility and safety with maintenance teams.

    Another less permanent option is to provide full (15 minute) 24 hour service on specific nights. New Year’s Eve, Canada Day, Halloween, and Christmas Day are probably the most important. Can’t ways be found to provide exceptions for these specific days? Maybe expand it to all long weekends if its feasible and the demand is high enough.

    It IS doable.

  • By Eric B, March 13, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

    @Eugene: The N9, N10/N15, and N19 do parallel the three SkyTrain lines. But I don’t see the need for them to stop at every station (the N9 and N19 at least).

    I also agree with other commenters about equalizing the weekend start/finish times for Expo and Millennium Lines.

  • By User, March 14, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

    @Scott
    “You can’t discriminate between rides at night and other times.”
    “I know several people who can’t get home on transit when their shifts end.”

    If transit was a right you could say discrimination, but it’s not a right. It’s a paid service that needs to make money and be profitable. To my understanding, there is no public service that runs 24/7. A lot of major cities all have gaps from the end to the start of service for various reasons. As for your friends that can’t get home on transit that late at night, I’m sure they were aware of that when they took the jobs. Sometimes you do what you have to do, it may not be ideal taking a late night job like that but if you have to, then you have to. If transit was a make or break deal for the job I’m sure they are job hunting as we speak.

  • By Graham, March 17, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    Whether transit is a right or not, our government cracks down on drunk drivers but hasn’t offered any alternative. Cab services are expensive and very difficult to obtain on a busy weekend night, and there are more than enough people to justify the cost of running the skytrain or a more realistic bus service.

    Regardless, if transit is kept running, which would help people take more 24 hour work, it would improve our economy. We pay plenty in taxes towards translink including a 21% parking tax and a gas tax that goes towards them. everybody who attends university is paying a monthly free out of their tuition. If translink can’t manage their funds well enough to run at convenient times for everyone, they are doing it wrong. They are mismanaging our money and not providing a service that we pay for, when it’s convenient for us. What will it take to change this? I don’t want any more excuses from Translink, and I want to know what it will take to remedy this situation.

    I will be looking into setting up a petition, and website, to strongly encourage Translink to consider the needs to the people who keep it running. Please keep an eye out over the next couple months if you’re interested in signing or getting involved

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, March 18, 2013 @ 9:52 am

    Hey Graham, in addition to the article Sheba pointed out, you also might want to take a look at these items for more context too – hope they help!

  • By Bill brasky, March 21, 2013 @ 8:25 am

    Why cant we just nationalize translink and raise gas alcohol and cigarette taxes to fund it?

  • By Mark E. Markson, March 24, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

    Yes, there needs to be more busses. Why do we have to wait 40 minutes on Hastings at night sometimes? And why is there a last bus? And yes, the Canada line should definitely be running later than 1:20 AM or so.

  • By Nate, April 5, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

    It’s easy to wish for later departures, but look at it from other people’s perspective. Residents that live near the skytrain would be disturbed by later hours. I used to hope the skytrain would be 24 hours, but now I see how ridiculously selfish that would be to the riders. If it were a subway, that might be another story.

  • By Jess, May 12, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    It’s incredibly frustrating that I can’t get to work on time on Sundays due to the poor schedule of transit. I’m currently on the first train westbound from waterfront and it’s packed. Something needs to change for the better. Early and later hours on Sundays and holidays are needed for sure. The train should really be open until at least 2:15 on weekdays/Saturday.

  • By Patrick Calma, June 20, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    I think the sky train should be running 24/7. Population in the lower mainland is increasing dramatically and transits should adapt and prepare for it. Many people works during the nights and it would be very beneficial for many people to have a transit that works 24/7. Translink must find a way to do maintenance etc while the train is running.

  • By Kisai, October 12, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

    While I never really questioned why Skytrain wasn’t 24/7 I did question why it has different hours for the weekend when clearly there’s no drivers contracts to stipulate such hours.

    Skytrain does have cross over tracks (Canada Line does not), so it’s technically possible to operate it 24/7, but It seems like this would be highly inefficient and dangerous to do maintenance at the same time since it’s a third-rail power system.

  • By Diana, October 12, 2013 @ 8:57 pm

    hey guys, great job with the skytrain. will skytrain ever start a 1/2 hour to an hour earlier. I am having to take a cab when i work 6-2 shifts and it hurts the pocket.

  • By Don S, October 12, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

    I don’t expect and ask to run the sky train 24/7 because it’s a single track system and for safety reasons. I do expect that weekend service should start as early as and as late as other days because some of us still have to work the same schedule in the weekend just like any other days. It may not be as frequent but at least we have a few early and late trains. That would awesome!

  • By ???, October 12, 2013 @ 11:30 pm

    I remember back in ’86… Sunday service did not start until 8am or 9am. What we have today is a huge improvement.

  • By Robert Willis - Buzzer Editor, October 15, 2013 @ 11:31 am

    Jess, Patrick, Kisai, Diana, Don: Thanks for your comments about SkyTrain hours of operation. I’ll get some clarification on our weekend hours and get back to you. Thanks!

    ???: Thanks!

  • By Robert Willis - Buzzer Editor, October 21, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    Hello all: So, I have some info.

    As you might expect, running more night service is possible. We’ve actually included some increases to Night Bus service in past plans which haven’t come to fruition for different reasons. In short, when speaking to our planners adding more night service is possible, but under the current financial constraints we’re not entertaining it at the moment. The same goes for possibly having SkyTrain start an hour early on weekends.

    For some perspective, here are what some other large metro areas are doing:

    Copenhagen Metro now provides 24-hours service, except for about 18 nights a year when they are fully shut down.

    There are 2 or 3 lines in Chicago that run 24 hours (the brown and green lines that I cited do not).

    The 14-mile PATCO line from Philadelphia to Lindenwold NJ operates every 45 minutes through the night, except for a few full shutdowns.

    Many of the large cities have an extensive all-night bus network that we do not have at this point. That is not a technical matter, but one of funding priorities and tradeoffs.

  • By Mike Toma, December 10, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

    If not 24hrs. Simply add one hour to last trains for fri Sat
    2:15 Sat Sun morns officially

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