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SkyTrain turns 25 years old on December 11, 2010!

SkyTrain bursts through a banner on its very first day in service: Dec 11, 1985!

The caption from the Quarterly magazine: Premier Bill Bennett and his wife Audrey were at the centre of throngs turning out in Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster for SkyTrain launch. Photo by Ric Ernst. (Click for a much larger version!)

SkyTrain reaches a huge milestone on December 11, 2010: on this day 25 years ago, the system launched into service!

To be specific, December 11, 1985 actually marks the first day that SkyTrain entered free service—the system was launched with huge fanfare and eight non-consecutive days of free rides, before officially going into paid service on January 3, 1986.

But a launch is a launch, and December 11 is when Premier Bill Bennett cut the ribbons and declared SkyTrain open, so here we are celebrating 25 years of SkyTrain today :)

To celebrate on the blog, I have a download of the Winter 1986 edition of Vancouver Regional Rapid Transit Project Quarterly for you! It’s a glossy publication that chronicled all the stages of SkyTrain’s construction, and this edition is all about the December 11 launch and service during Expo. Grab it here:

There’s some great photos of the SkyTrain, and some fantastic facts. Did you know there was a SkyTrain time capsule at New Westminster Station, to be opened in 1985 2085? Or that SkyTrain only offered six hours of service on Sundays when it started? Plus here’s a great description of the opening days:

During eight “free-ride” days, people flocked from far and wide to ride the 22 kilometre automated rapid transit linking Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster. Trains were filled to beyond design capacity with people trying out the new system. Lineups, sometimes three blocks long, were seen at some stations. During these special days, the fledgling service carried 60,000 people during a nine-hour day.

We’re up to over 240,000 rides during weekdays today—how far we’ve come!

Share your memories too

Rest assured, I’ve got more historical items to share over the upcoming weeks to celebrate 25 years of SkyTrain. But I’d love for you all to join in!

If you have any old SkyTrain items, photographs or memories to share, please send me a note at I’d be happy to showcase them on the blog and in the print Buzzer. Don’t be shy—send in your stuff, no matter how bad your hair might look in the 80s :)

And to inspire you, here are a few past posts with more SkyTrain historical treats:


  • By David M, December 10, 2010 @ 8:32 am

    Jhenifer – congrats on 25 years. I remember when it opened and riding it to and from Expo 86.

    I think you mean the time capsule will be opened in 2085 (not 1985).

    In the first year or so, Skytrain only ran 6 hours on Sunday. For this reason, some of the New Westminster bus routes were extended to downtown Vancouver early and late on Sundays to provide service when Skytrain was not running. I’m assuming the schedule was such to allow maintenance on an new and unproven technology.

  • By Nick, December 10, 2010 @ 9:24 am

    I like how the extension to coquitlam “Should be considered early” and didn’t get completed for another 16 years. I also like how the premier suggested he was looking forward to extensions to Richmond and Delta. Richmond took 24 years… Delta? not even in the cards.

    Considering the success of skytrain and the canada line, I am still surprised that the evergreen line is having such trouble to get funding. meanwhile, there’s a million and a half buses going to UBC…

  • By Ric, December 10, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    Does this mean the Mark 1 trains will also be 25 years old on December 11th?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, December 10, 2010 @ 10:23 am

    David M: fixed the 1985 reference :) You are indeed correct, it’s 2085. I wonder what the people of 2085 will think of the contents of the capsule btw? A few years back the Vancouver Historical Society opened up a 1936 time capsule that had all sorts of neat stuff inside: but it’s funny to consider that what they thought we would find important in the 2000s included traffic safety reports, society bylaws and such. (Although don’t get me wrong, that stuff is still pretty interesting to look at today!)

  • By Sheba, December 10, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    25 years and people still can’t read the “walk left, stand right” signs by the escalators…

    I grew up in N Delta so I rem the joy of the Skytrain coming across the water to Scott Road station. The train wasn’t as big of a deal to me before that.

  • By D, December 10, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    That first photo is fantastic; can we have a caption contest for the expression on the uniformed staffer’s face?

    Congratulations, and may there be much more (rapid) transit (of any/all kinds) for the Lower Mainland over the next 25 years.

  • By David M, December 10, 2010 @ 11:02 am


    114 Mk 1 cars are 25 years old
    16 MK 1 cars are 19 years old
    20 MK 1 cars are 16 years old
    60 Mk 2 cars are 8 years old

    the remainder MK 2 cars are about 1 year old

  • By Eric B, December 10, 2010 @ 11:03 am

    Happy birthday SkyTrain!
    Here’s an in-bus advert that promoted the free rides in December 1985:

  • By Andrew S, December 10, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    Aha! I see the buttons on the poles for opening the doors! =D

  • By Jacob, December 10, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

    Why doesn’t the skytrain #49 in the picture have a spirit?
    I thought all the older MK 1 skytrains have a spirit of BC City.

  • By ;-), December 11, 2010 @ 2:53 am

    I was looking at an image adjacent to Eric’s link

    In this image, I see a heavy emphasis for Richmond, Lougheed and Surrey corridor extensions. Smaller emphasis on tri-cities and nothing for UBC or the Millenium line. Does this confirm Richmond was promised Rapid Transit prior to Coquitlam or the Millenium line?

    Jhen, can you investigate?

  • By Paul, December 11, 2010 @ 3:12 am


    I hear there was an Ian Graham interview on CBC Radio this week about the 25th anniversary. Do you know the name and date of the show? I missed it and would like to download it from CBC.

  • By Cliff, December 12, 2010 @ 12:14 am

    Bear in mind, the only reason the trains were “packed” is due to the fact that two car trains were used early in the system’s history. The last time I saw those was back in 1992 and maybe a little later running as the odd shuttle downtown.

    And if memory serves me correctly, the SkyTrain systems needed to be upgraded to accommodate 6 car MKIs. So while I can’t be certain that two car trains were used during those packed opening days, I’m certain that there were no 6 car trainsets, except maybe on Sundays.

  • By Cliff, December 12, 2010 @ 12:16 am

    Oops, that exception bit at the end of my post is referring to two car trainsets, as they were usually run on Sundays.

    My kingdom for an edit feature!

  • By Sewing, December 12, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    Cliff: I seem to remember reading in the Sun at the time, that there were 6-car trains running some evenings to take the large crowds home from Expo 86—or maybe it was that a city councillor was saying that there should be 6-car trains. Shoot, I can’t remember now.

    And yes, there were definitely 2-car trains in the early days of revenue operation (especially on Sundays), but I can’t recall about the free period. On opening day, at least (a weekday), it was a 4-car train that I caught after school—but we were still cramped in there like sardines. And I was so upset because I wanted to look out the front window, but some guy was already sitting there, blocking the view.

  • By Sewing, December 12, 2010 @ 10:44 am

    ;-): That ad looks from about 1980. The early plan since the 70s had been to run modern, LRT-type streetcars to along the old interurban lines—such as the line along the Arbutus corridor, the old “Lulu Island Line” to Richmond. A European tram set was even acquired back in the 70s, and sat at the Edmonds SkyTrain yards for a number of years.

    Was a line “promised” to Richmond? I don’t know about that. Planners were bandying about ideas for rapid transit lines for years before anyone actually made a commitment to go ahead and build something. For at-grade LRT, it would have been somewhat simpler than extending to the Tri Cities, simply because the right-of-way was already there.

  • By Sewing, December 12, 2010 @ 10:46 am

    That should have been,

    “…that there should be 6-car trains. Shoot, I can’t remember now. And yes, there were definitely 2-car trains in the early days of revenue operation….”

  • By zack, December 12, 2010 @ 10:51 am

    The MKIs really looked fresh in those photos, now they’re really showing signs of aging. Even when I came in 07, the MKIs where still in great shape; less noise, and the rides where smooth. Now, most MKIs are noisy and shaky and some don’t even open doors halfway. Two months ago I was riding an outbound train to Surrey pulling into Columbia station, when all of a sudden the doors didn’t open. We were held up for at least 2 minutes before the doors finally opened.

  • By Cliff, December 12, 2010 @ 11:10 am


    Maybe it’s just me, but old and worn cars give me a big city impression. Think of New York’s subway cars! That same feeling I get from standing in front of Stadium Station underneath the viaduct or driving over the Granvile Street bridge and looking down the strip.

    Of course no one wants their train to get stuck or have the doors fail to open (or open between stations :p ), but I think we’ve become spoiled with the introduction of the MK2 and Rotem trainsets! All shiny and new….

    Bah! Who am I kidding? I’m a die hard MKI fan!

  • By Michael, December 12, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

    Hi Jhenifer –

    I want to (finally) congratulate you on the “best blog” award and to say thanks for this post – it inspired me to pay a tribute to SkyTrain 25 on my blog, designKULTUR.

    Extra special thanks for all the historical goodies you post on the Buzzer Blog!


  • By SkyTrainLady AKA Jennifer Siddon, December 13, 2010 @ 6:57 am

    For anyone looking for the CBC radio The Early Edition interview with Ian Graham (Senior Planner, BCRTC)and Kyla Daman-Willems (former STA and current Customer Service Supervisor, West Coast Express) it is available here: “Listen Again to the Early Edition”, ‘Friday’. The interview happens about 1 hr 40 mins in. Among other things Ian mentions ‘the red carpet’ on the original MKI’s and Kyla talks about her first uniform: Long blue dress, pumps and a red cape. Enjoy!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, December 13, 2010 @ 10:57 am

    Michael: thanks for the kind words! And that’s a great post you’ve made on designKULTUR—so vivid!

  • By Jay, December 13, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    I found the radio piece on “Friday” at about 1hr, for those interested. :D

  • By Anonymous, December 14, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    I have to wonder… who the heck thought up the carpets? I remember the first day I went on with my great aunt in 1986… and this old man at Main Street (we got on at Metrotown) got on and blew his nose, then rubbed the kleenex into the rug and glared at us. My aunt just about passed out.

  • By Dave 2, December 14, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

    49 is/was the “Spirit of Castlegar”

  • By Michael Robertson, January 14, 2011 @ 4:45 am

    Congrats to Skytrain

    Happy 25th years to the best system in town. I will see you in the next 25 years

  • By Ric, February 15, 2011 @ 11:28 am

    Are the Mark 1 trains that entered service in time for expo 86 still in service?

  • By ;-), February 15, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    If you see a train number that less than (115?). These are vehicles that enter service in 1985.

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