ALERT! : More info
Translink Buzzer Blog

SkyTrain’s snow plan

The snowy 29th Avenue SkyTrain station on Dec. 24, 2008. Photo courtesy kind reader Bill Kinkaid!

The snowy 29th Avenue SkyTrain station on Dec. 24, 2008. Photo courtesy kind reader Bill Kinkaid!

In the comments from the first entry of 2009, readers Dan, Sungsu and Coffee Barista were interested in seeing the snow plans from SkyTrain and CMBC.

CMBC is still working on getting us their plan, but SkyTrain has sent along their plan to me already. So here it is!

SkyTrain’s Snow Plan

SkyTrain has developed its Snow Plan for dealing with moderate to heavy snowfalls based on experience gained in past incidents of bad weather, where post incident reviews have identified ways to keep the system operating as reliably as possible.

Each severe weather incident brings a new set of conditions and, as such, the Snow Plan is constantly under review and being refined.

As a result of this ongoing effort, SkyTrain is more resilient now than in the past, when conditions not as severe as those experienced in recent days resulted in a total shut down of the system.

Purpose of the Snow Plan

SkyTrain’s Snow Plan involves preparations that are made when there is a likelihood of significant snowfalls. It also includes specific responses designed to maintain service.

SkyTrain Snow Plan Summary

Alert I – Applicable if unpredicted snowfall occurs in higher elevation locations but is not predicted to continue or accumulate more than 5cm.

  • Objectives for the system are defined…number of trains targeted to be in service and the frequency of service
  • Plans are made to prepare to call out extra staff for station staffing, maintenance, snow clearing, as required

Alert II – Applicable with 12 or more hours notice of snow or frozen rain

  • Snow clearing equipment and de-icing materials are checked and replenished
  • Additional staff are called in
  • De-icing trains are prepared
  • Snow removal staff are placed on notice

Stage 1 – Applicable upon forecast of continued snowfall with accumulations greater than 5cm, within 12 hours

  • A Snow Manager, is identified a the senior contact responsible for service level authorization and to ensure timely and effective Snow Plan activities are implemented
  • Track switch heaters are activated
  • De-icing trains are operated as necessary
  • Additional staff are called in to support operations and maintenance activities
  • Snow Clearing equipment is pre-positioned as required

Stage 2 – Applicable when snow begins to accumulate

  • If necessary, track intrusion detection systems are disabled and attendants are positioned at platform level in the station or, onboard trains in the front end
  • Snow Clearing activities commence
  • Maintenance staff are positioned in critical locations for faster response to issues
  • Snow Trains are prepared for overnight running to keep tracks clear
  • Fewer, but longer trains may be operated depending on extent of snow
  • De-icing activities continue as needed

Stage 3 – Applicable when operational difficulties continuously affect normal operations

  • Longer trains are operated
  • Service levels adjusted as necessary
  • Additional maintenance staff are positioned throughout the system
  • Trains may be stored in tunnels overnight to keep them warm and snow-free
  • Snow Trains continue to run
  • SkyTrain Attendants now ride each train in service to monitor the tracks and, if necessary, to drive the train manually.
  • Technical staff is available 24 hours a day to attend to any problems

Stage 4 – Applicable when extensive operational difficulties prevent the safe operation of service

  • Snowfalls and accumulations that are so severe that passenger or system safety is compromised will result in suspending all operations until conditions improve.


  • By Dan, January 9, 2009 @ 10:37 am


    Thank You for the post on SkyTrain’s Snow plan. This is pretty much on what i knew, but is great to see it in writing! Have a good weekend

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 9, 2009 @ 10:43 am

    No problem! A good weekend to you too, Dan.

  • By xl, January 9, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    Got a question about overnight “snow trains” or “ghost trains”.

    There is a desire to run Skytrain longer into the early morning, possibly on Friday & Saturdays, as well as for 2010. Yet it’s stated that it is not realistic because of overnight maintenence. How is it possible that we can have “ghost trains” through the night then?

  • By Roland Tanglao, January 9, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

    my favourite skyte snow picture is here:

    but it’s too blurry :-) !

  • By Bill Kinkaid, January 9, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

    I have some snow photos at my Picasa page
    Three include Skytrain (though no actual trains, they seemed in pretty short supply on Christmas Eve). One is looking south from the end of the southbound platform at Broadway, another looks north up the tracks from 29th Avenue and shows the tree over the line, and another looking down the stairs to the platform at 292 Avenue. After the long wait at Broadway (and, because of the tree, winding up going one whole stop in an hour!) I rather enjoyed the walk in the snow from Nanaimo to 29th. Thankfully that’s as far as I had to go – one passenger waiting at Broadway was trying to get to Langley!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 12, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    Thanks for the photos, Roland and Bill! Looks like my quest for a SkyTrain + lots of snow is kind of a pipe dream, so I’ll run with one of Bill’s photos of the snow-covered 29th Ave SkyTrain station. Thanks again for the links!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 14, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

    I’ve finally got the answer to your question.

    So, snow trains are used temporarily during snowfall. These are some of our regular trains that we operate through the night, without passengers, to blow away some of the snow, as well as to ensure that essential track switches are operational, and to keep the power rails from icing up.

    When snow trains are used, this prevents SkyTrain from doing maintenance on the track, as you’ve mentioned. So, as you may have guessed, it wouldn’t be ideal to run the snow trains for an extended period because then track maintenance would be postponed.

    We can really understand that many passengers want to see SkyTrain run longer hours, but system maintenance (which is critical to ensure reliable service) and cost effectiveness play a crucial role in extending the regular hours of service.

    An extra note: while there are some differences in start and finish times, SkyTrain’s hours of operation overall are fairly comparable to other major cities (including Toronto, Montreal, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and many others), none of which operate 24 hours a day. New York is one of the exceptions, able to take advantage of 4 tracks, but still with fairly extensive individual closures and bus substitutions nightly to allow for maintenance.

Other Links to this Post

  1. The Buzzer blog » Eep: chance of snow as early as tomorrow — December 10, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  2. The Buzzer blog » Brrr! Tips for riding transit in snowy weather — November 25, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  3. @BusShots @Ambient_Skater http… | DennisTT.Net — January 11, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Please read our Participation Guidelines before you comment.