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SkyTrain question: why do some trains switch at Edmonds?

The SkyTrain, zooming through a station!

The SkyTrain, zooming through a station!

A while back, Dan B emailed this question about SkyTrain, and I thought I’d share the answer with everyone. (Dan B will surely notice this email was sent a LONG while back… so this is better late than never :)

I have a question about how SkyTrain works. I was riding the SkyTrain this morning from Broadway to Edmonds at about 8am . When we approached Edmonds, there was an announcement that the train was going to prematurely terminate there and that passengers continuing to King George would be accommodated by another train that wasn’t far behind. The train I was on stopped and had a longer dwell time than other trains normally have at Edmonds. Afterwards, it left and another train followed about 30 seconds later.

What was the purpose of doing that? Were they going to turn the train to provide additional capacity to the downtown core? Were they taking the train out of service and preparing to take it into the yard? Were they going to deadhead it to Broadway to provide additional capacity for that heavily-travelled segment?

Also, when I look out the window at work, I see other trains stopping at Edmonds for longer than usual times. Usually, another train has to stop behind them just outside the station. Is this because they are taking some of the trains out of service and returning them to the yard once rush hour is over? Do they break-apart the Mark II consists so that they only run with a single trainset?

Here’s the answer from Ian Graham, operations manager at SkyTrain (and the man behind the SkyTrain chime!)

During weekday morning commuter hours, SkyTrain operates 57 trains in service, representing more than 92% of the entire fleet, and the maximum we can sustain day-in, day-out, while keeping up with our active preventive maintenance program.

For mid-day we drop down by 21 trains to 36, which keeps a 6-minute frequency both to Surrey and on the Millennium Line, with a 3-minute combined service between Columbia and Waterfront. A few trains will be taken out of service at Waterfront, King George, and VCC-Clark, where they can be stored nearby in short sections of track out of the way of mainline train operation.

In addition, an average of about a dozen trains are taken out of service in the eastbound direction at Edmonds, which is close to our storage yard and operations centre, allowing them to be brought in for daytime storage (because we have only limited space on the mainline), or mid-day maintenance.

By keeping some trains in service eastbound from Waterfront, we keep more options open for the large loads that transfer from SeaBus and West Coast Express. While most of these patrons are only travelling a short distance within the downtown peninsula, we have an increasing number of passengers travelling beyond to Broadway, Joyce, Metrotown, and Edmonds. The trains have to get there anyway, so we have chosen in recent years to keep them in service, offering additional convenience to passengers in these areas.

However, it is unproductive to run them all the way to King George (the “non-peak” direction), and then “deadhead” them back to the yard without passengers. The reduction at Edmonds offers the best of both worlds –service and efficiency.

By the time we start taking trains out of service at Edmonds, usually around 8:55am, it is too late for them to be productive westbound back to downtown Vancouver. Any time that a train is taken out of service, our staff (SkyTrain Attendants) have to ensure that it is completely empty (we don’t want to take a “sleeper” into the yard). That takes a bit of time, so the train may be at the platform for up to a minute or so, and as a result, the train immediately behind may get held up outside the station for a short time – usually less than a minute.

At present, our mid-day service level is based around the operation of “short” trains (either 4-car Mark I’s, or 2-car Mark II’s), so we generally store the longer trains mid-day until afternoon rush hour. They will not normally be uncoupled during weekdays, although they will generally be returned to the 2-car length for weekends, so we can provide frequent, convenient service at the most efficient operating cost.

All right — if there’s follow-up questions, just be aware that I may be a while in getting back to you, as I have to pass questions on to SkyTrain, and Ian himself is a very busy man. (In the meantime, knowledgeable readers can feel free to pitch in with answers if they have them!)


  • By daniel, May 13, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    i have a few questions:

    1) can skytrain couple a pair of mark 2’s with a pair of mark 1 trains?

    2)whnever i go by main street- sckience world station, why is it that the skytrain goes slower when coming down and then just speeding up before it reaches staduim station?

    3)why is it that whenever i leave metrotown i always see a skytrain on the center track just outside the station?

  • By CJ Stebbing, May 13, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

    Hey daniel….

    I think the answer to question 3 was explained by ian. They’re probably spare trains if the line gets conjested, or when rush hour is gonna start…

  • By Rob M, May 13, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

    I think in regards to #2, there’s a slowdown sign there. My guess is either a leftover from Expo 86, or it’s to ensure the entire train is around that corner just leaving main street station, inbound.

  • By Dan B, May 13, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

    Booyah! This is like getting my name in the paper!

  • By Don, May 13, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

    For #1 wouldn’t the train’s software be incompatible between MK1 and MK2 trains? Such as door controls? I would think there’s too much changes between to be technically feasaible.

    I would think for #2, it’s a fairly sharp dip for a fully loaded train, and to reduce the stress load on the guideway span, the speeds are what they are, after coming slowly out of the sharp turn out of the Vancity building.

    I think trains need to turn around at Joyce… East Vancouver is underserved going to downtown. I waited for more than 5 trains this week to board from 29th station. And what about Tuesday’s Skytrain shutdown during the rush hour… i waited 12 trains at 29th station before I was able to board! We need more capacity.

  • By Bill Kinkaid, May 13, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

    Don, you only waited five trains at 29th this morning? I didn’t count, but my bus arrived there at 8:13 and I didn’t get on a train until 8:30. From what I was hearing on the platform, some people had already been waiting for some time.

    Yesterday when I arrived there was a train in the station and another waiting to enter. I waited five minutes before deciding that those trains weren’t going anywhere soon, and went back up and got a #16 bus. Today at least they were running, but if I’d known I’d be waiting that long I’d have made straight for the bus again.

    Neither today or yesterday was there any trace of a PA announcement, and when I finally made it to work and checked the website there was nothing – the only Alerts were things like station elevator maintenance and bus reroutes for the Cloverdale Rodeo. I still have no idea what happened either day. Isn’t a thing like 20 minute Skytrain delays important enough to announce? Or should we expect that to be “operating normally” now?

    End rant. Another question about trains stored in unexpected places: I don’t know about weekdays, but on many Saturday or Sunday mornings (8-9am or so on average) I’m driving east on the TransCanada Highway to some place or other, and where the highway and the Millenium Line converge between North Road and Brunette there always seems to be a train parked along that stretch. Is it waiting for something?

  • By East Side Rider, May 14, 2009 @ 12:00 am

    For (2), I remember the slow service was perfect catching the CHAMP car races between the Stadium and Main stations for many race fans. Regrettably the slow speeds was also an invitation for “Skytrain Surfing” for some daredevils on the Mark 1’s rooftop. It’s one reason why the external access rails are removed.

    When I asked many years ago about the reduced speed, it’s rumoured to minimize the noise to the CityGate residents and now the VanCity tower above. Yes I also heard accelerating hard onto that curve would increase wear ‘n tear on components.

  • By Donald, May 14, 2009 @ 9:18 am

    Bill, they run 94% of the trains during rush hour service, with 6% spare for maintenance/standby. When I do drive to work, there is never a train on the storage track along Hwy 1 in the AM or PM rush. These storage tracks are all over the system to allow quick deployment of trains if require or on standby waiting for rush hour action.

    The 48 extra skytrain cars will certainly help prevent passups at 29th Ave Station! Maybe in the meantime they should hire pushers/packers like in Tokyo.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 14, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    Actually, for #2, SkyTrain slows down around that Main Street bend in order to reduce noise. Residents in that area have made complaints about train noise in the past, so the slowdown is to accommodate those concerns.

  • By Gordon, May 14, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    Prior ot the opening of the Millenium Line they used to short-turn trains @Metrotown-that would help this suituation. Are there enough vehicles to do this right now?

    Will there be enough cars to run longer trains troughout the peak periods when all remaining vehicle orders have arrived?( I think there are suposed to be a furhter 24 cars arriving in 2011)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 14, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

    Just a clarification: what’s the situation that needs to be helped with short-turn trains at Metrotown? Just wondering so I can pass the full question along to somebody at SkyTrain.

  • By David, May 14, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

    I’m happy to hear that trains are now being taken out of service at Edmonds. I’ve always been surprised at the number that are taken out of service at Waterfront and run empty all the way to Edmonds, a practice that still appears to be very common.

    Occasionally in the evening two consecutive trains are taken out of service at Waterfront. I really want TransLink to end that practice because it creates large crowds at all the downtown stations. Early last week the worst possible situation happened: two consecutive trains taken out of service, SeaBus crowd arrived and the first active train was 2-car Mark II. We left people on the platform at Granville and a crowd was left waiting at Stadium.

    On the question of how many trains are in service, 92% of the fleet contradicts what TransLink said during the Pattullo closure. At that time the figure given was, if I remember correctly, 77% of the fleet, a figure which spurred lively and sometimes angry discussion on a number of blogs.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 14, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

    David: where did you see a figure about 77%? Did you mean that some wording went out about how 59 trains = 77% of the fleet? As far as I can recall (plus a quick look through the Buzzer blog Pattullo posts) that figure didn’t come out through our media channels. But anyway, Ian is super meticulous and such expert on all things SkyTrain, so if he says 92%, it is very, very likely 92% :)

  • By Gordon, May 14, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    a couple of posters above were commenting on hving to wait 5 or so trains @ 29th ave station, I figured the oled short turn scenerio would help remedy that problem.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 14, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

    Gordon, Don, Bill Kinkaid:

    I’ve just heard back from SkyTrain about the delays this morning, which answers some of your questions/comments in this thread.

    So, on May 12 we had a service disruption due to a medical emergency that started at approx. 7:58am. We had to put a system service hold until emergency services arrived. Depending on the location, the delay lasted about 32 mins. At approx. 8:10am we started an alternate service and provided a shuttle train from Waterfront to Stadium.

    Then, on May 13 we had delay at approx 608am. We had a technical failure with one train by Stadium station. This resulted in SkyTrain service to be interrupted between 6:08am until approximately 6:32am.

    With regard to the announcements, SkyTrain will be getting back to me with more info. The log says that announcements were made but they’re just digging a bit deeper to find out if we had any technical issues during those days. SkyTrain does try to make announcements as frequently as possible, and usually announcements are made about every 1.5 to 3 minutes.

  • By daniel, May 14, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

    wow thanks guys! but i have another set of questions that bother me:

    1)whenever i see a mark 1 coming into jocye i always hear that three tone sound. is it the LIM’s or is it something else?

    2)whenever i’m on a mark 1 i stand near the doors and then the doors start to shake while traveling and kinda makes me feel unsecure. wats wrong with the doors?

    3) wat does the skytrain maintanance veichle do? do they inspect the skybridge? do they do work on the tracks?

    4) i’ve always wanted to kno how the track switches to switch the skytrain when it reaches the end of the line?

  • By nname, May 14, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

    According to one of the RFP document, SkyTrain currently have 14 spare MK-I cars and 2 spare MK-II cars (out of a total of 210 cars) during morning peak hours. So depend on what the extra 3 trains they put in (3x4MK-I or 2x4MK-I + 1x2MK-II), the fleet utilization should be somewhere between 97% and 98%.

  • By Dave 2, May 14, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

    One thing I’ve noticed at Burrard in the PM rush…any large gap in trains will be followed by a 2 car MK-II… at least it seems that way.

    I can vouch for the lack of announcements on May 12th… usually there will be an announcement, even if they don’t mention the exact cause. Those are usually the worst in terms of getting going again, I spent 45 minutes under the Georgia Viaduct one time last year… at least I had a seat as I was on a Short Turn (My favourite after a panic stop… “Your train stopped due to an activation of the emergency stopping system”….

  • By gordon, May 15, 2009 @ 10:15 am

    Are Pass-ups that add up to a 10 or 15 minute wait a frequent thing- at East Van Stations- or does this just happen when there is some sort of incident?

  • By David, May 15, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

    Jhenifer: I’m not disputing Ian’s statement that 92% of the fleet is used in the AM rush. I’m just trying to make sense of a statement attributed to Ken Hardie back in January 2009. “That was due to the fact SkyTrain ran 59 trains Tuesday and had 200 of its 210 cars in service — the highest proportion of in-service vehicles in the transit company’s history”, Hardie said. “We’ve never had that many in service before. On a normal day we’d have … 160 to 170 cars operating.”

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 15, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, David. Yeah, I’m not certain about Ken’s statement there: perhaps he just had different information on hand at the time!

  • By Dave2, May 15, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

    @gordon, generally only when there’s some sort of incident. I can only speak for Broadway, but it’s rare that you can’t get on the first train or second train

  • By gordon, May 15, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

    I have also had to wait up to 3 trains at Stadium in the pm peak probably a 5 min wait.
    Hopefully this problem will be alleviated when the the 48 new cars are in service.

  • By Kazelscu, June 21, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

    Hi webmaster! vmy

  • By Max, July 12, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    When will we start seeing the Super Mark 2s in action?

  • By Andrew S, July 20, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

    Hmm… On a Saturday, I was at the Main Street STN, and I waited for 15 minutes and still no train (this was in 2008 BTW). And a couple of empty trains also passed and the sign said to Keep Back (or something, don’t remember). Then at the end, the sign still said to stay back and the train was going to pass, but it stopped. I thought it was really strange. So the very full station packed into this empty train. When i arrived at Broadway STN, the train *magically* became EXPO Line… and i still don’t understand

  • By Andrew S, July 20, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

    Oh and i have another question: Why is a portion of MK1 trains repainted to TransLink colours and the other portion is still in BC Transit colours?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, July 22, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

    Andrew S: Not sure about your incident from a year ago, but here’s the answer to the MK I question. There is a significant cost to repaint the trains. Also, we’re holding back on painting the trains because most of them will be covered with ad wraps anyway, especially during the Olympics.

  • By Andrew S, July 26, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

    Ah… Thanks for your clarification!

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