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1986 SkyTrain photos from Alan M

SkyTrain racing through the Expo 86 grounds. Photo by Alan M.

Note: I’m still on holiday until Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011! This is a scheduled post. (Visit this post for a list of alternate TransLink contacts if you need it.)

In honour of SkyTrain’s 25th anniversary in December 2010/January 2011, Alan M kindly sent along some lovely photos of SkyTrain in 1986! He provided some great background on several of them so I’ve captioned them with his words—no need for me to dress them up any further :)

Alan writes: 'Car 048 has a cow-catcher across the front of the wheels. Most of the fleet had these put on after a very expensive accident with a sign post and a train. The cow catchers were all removed before the end of the first summer.' Photo by Alan M.

Alan writes: 'There was an extension of the New West inbound platform that went over the guideway to the outbound side. The trains would leave New West and switch over to the Inbound track. This view was made possible by the extended platform. The platform was removed in early 1989.' Photo by Alan M.

Alan writes: 'This little green machine was one of two block grinders that would be pulled/pushed by a train to try and smooth the track.' Photo by Alan M.

Alan writes: 'I read how some people remember the 2-car MK I trains with some affection. So I have included a few photos of them as well.' Photo by Alan M.

Another 2-car train. Photo by Alan M.

Snow! Photo by Alan M.

Nanaimo Station. Photo by Alan M.

SkyTrain at Expo 86. Photo by Alan M.

Alan writes: 'The last photo is Columbia Station (first known as 4th Street Station) under construction in the summer of 1987.' Photo by Alan M.

Thank you Alan for sharing these wonderful photo treats with us all!


  • By daniel, December 21, 2010 @ 8:48 am

    the cowcatcher image was interesting, could anyone please tell me about the accident that caused the installation of the cowcatchers and why they removed them?

  • By Matt, December 21, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    The sign post incident happened during the first year of operation. Some kids decided it would be fun to pull a street sign (the smaller no parking type) out of the ground and throw it in the guideway around the 29th Street Station area, where the guideway is below street level. A train heading back to the depot hit the poll and dragged it a few hundred meters (I can’t recall the exact number) ripping out the signal lines along the way (the loops of cable you see between the rails which the trains count to know where they are). It was a long, expensive process to put all these cables back in.

    As I heard the story (third hand, my source heard it from the boyfriend of the attendant on board) this was back in the days when every train had an attendant onboard at all times. Just in case. I guess they didn’t quite trust the computer automation yet (maybe with good cause, there’s the story of a test train stopping in the middle of the Skybridge and opening its doors, but that’s a different story).

    Without the signal line, trains ground to a halt. I was too young at the time so I can’t recall further details like how long the system was down for.

  • By ben K, December 21, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

    Great pictures; thanks Alan!

    If the cow-catchers ostensibly addressed the sign-pole problem, then why were they subsequently removed?

  • By ;-), December 21, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

    Don’t know if we are talking about the same stop sign…. I too remember a freshly installed stop sign around Nanaimo station. Someone pull it out of ground on the morning of first full service on the Expo line. The first test safety train hit it before the passenger trains came through. It was ugly removing it.

    Here’s another fresh incident in the media describing the damage.

  • By Sewing, December 22, 2010 @ 10:32 am

    Was this all really 25 years ago!? Amazing.

    I thought that early on, the extended metal platform at New Westminster went over the *outbound* tracks, and that trains dwelled on the *inbound* tracks (rather than the other way around). Wasn’t there also a crossover (since removed) west of the station, from the outbound tracks to the inbound tracks?

    Or is my memory deceiving me?

  • By Jimmy, December 22, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

    why are the platforms gray and smooth instead of yellow and bumpy? and also why weren’t there any fences between the tracks at the stations?

  • By ericmk, December 22, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    I believe the bumpy, yellow platform edges were installed around the opening of the Millennium Line so people with decreased vision could know where the edge of the platform was. As for the fences, you can see them in one picture of Nanaimo Station, but not in others. Perhaps they were installed in all the side platform stations because people were jumping over the tracks to get to the other side?

  • By Sewing, December 22, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    I saw a guy jump the platforms once, probably in ’86. It was at 22nd Street Station. I was looking out the rear window of an eastbound train, just after leaving the station. I’ll never forget it.

    He jumped from the eastbound platform onto the magnetic strip, from there onto the middle gangway, another step onto the other magnetic strip, and finally up onto the westbound platform.

    Three long strides, and he was on the other side of the station. One false step, though, and he would have been toast.

  • By Sewing, December 22, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

    Correction: four long strides.

  • By ;-), December 22, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

    Running across the tracks may have been considered suicide in its initial design, but people still do it. They need to avoid touching the pressure pads which would stop trains from entering the station. A fence down the center strip would discourage this.

    This is a big reason why I support center loading platform station designs.

    Another change you may notice is the lack of handle bars outside of the train. This was to discourage “Skytrain Surfing” between the stations.

  • By Sewing, December 22, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    Yeah, this guy seemed to be gingerly avoiding the pressure pads (which I believe were already in place from the outset), not to mention the power rails!

    But since there are now fences in place, how are people still running across the tracks? I suppose it’s still doable if one is determined, but those high fences seem like a pretty good deterrent.

  • By Cliff, December 22, 2010 @ 7:19 pm

    Small bits of the non-bumpy platform edges can be found at the ends of certain stations. Either Burrard or Nanaimo still has a foot or two of them, last time I checked.

    Neat pics of the two car trains. I believe Detroit still uses them by the way. What is the cost to run a two car MK1 train vs a 4 car MK1 or 2 car MK2?

    Just asking because it might be a cost effective way to run a late night SkyTrain service, Tthough track maintenance is still somewhat of an issue, I imagine.

  • By JMS, December 23, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

    The Following Things Will Never Happen.

    A 3 or 5 or 7 Car MK1 set will run on the Expo line.
    A 3 or 5 car MK2 will run together.
    A “C” set will be introduced
    A Mark 2 will be coupled to a Mark 1.
    Vancouver will Buy the Scarborough Rapid Transit cars
    Vancouver will buy the Mark 1 cars in Detroit
    #155 and #156 will be fully painted
    The 3rd platform at Stadium will be used for service
    All Proposed but never built platforms will be built
    A 6 car Mark 2 or an 8 car Mk1 will be made
    A skytrain derailment (O_O)

  • By JMS, December 24, 2010 @ 9:01 am

    P.S. What is the status of the Demo cars?

  • By Dennis, December 24, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    I was driving down Hwy 1, and I thought I saw a 8-car Mk I train in the pocket close to the highway. When I got closer, it was only 2 4-car trains parked really close together :(

  • By Alan M, December 27, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

    ben K:

    I’m glad you liked the photos!

    My memory for the reason the cowcatchers were removed has become a little fuzzy. It may have been that one of those cowcatchers came loose and fell into the trains path as it was moving around the yard. This nearly caused a derailment. That put in enough of a scare that soon all the cowcatchers were being removed as the cars came in for service.

  • By Alan M, December 27, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

    Originally there was one set of PIES plates on each side of the LIM rail to try and deter track entry. However, quite a large enough space existed between the running rail and guideway wall (just under the platform edge). People quickly figured out they could first jump there, then onto the LIM rail and over the power rails.

    Eventually this open space had a row of PIES plates installed and the red fences were installed at all side-loading platform stations.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 10, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    Cliff: sorry for the delay. I don’t know the cost of running each: but I do know the maintenance issues are essentially the key to why overnight service is not always possible. So regardless of cost, we still need to maintain the system!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 10, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    JMS: The demo cars were sent back to UTDC in Ontario in the 1980s! So I don’t have a lead on their exact fate.

  • By Rob, January 10, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

    Do they still manually drive the first train every morning to inspect the tracks?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 11, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

    Rob: I’ll send a note and ask!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 11, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    Rob: here’s the answer from SkyTrain.

    Inspections are done during non-revenue hours so trains are launched automatically in the morning.

  • By Rob Chew, January 23, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    Wow! Thanks for sharing these Al! I remember those 2-car Mark 1 trains that used to run on Sundays & evenings. Nowadays it would looks so odd to see them.

  • By Aaron, April 6, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

    How come the old trains drom 1985 are still running on the expo and millenium line?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, April 11, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    Aaron: we keep the older trains in good condition, so they are still running!

  • By Pete, June 2, 2011 @ 11:50 am

    Were the Expo line stations at some point repainted a darker green? I some how remember when it opened in the 80s the framework being a lot brighter a colour… Maybe my brain is just fried. The system is hardly the same now then when we were all first using it.

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, June 3, 2011 @ 8:31 am

    I remember them being painted a darker green. I am not a transit expert, though.

  • By Pete, June 6, 2011 @ 8:16 am

    I swear there were a lighter brigher green when the system first opened…

Other Links to this Post

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