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Video: Going To Town, the 1985 SkyTrain project documentary

The Going To Town article in the fall 1985 Vancouver Regional Rapid Transit Quarterly magazine. Click the picture to download the magazine PDF!

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.)

Just in time for Christmas, here’s a huge, huge video treat for SkyTrain’s 25th anniversary!

This is Going to Town, a 30-minute documentary shot by JEM Productions for B.C. Transit in 1985. It lovingly details the construction of the line, the 1984 Main Street demonstration, and the final finished product. You can see the Expo/Millennium Line control room in all its original glory, among many other things!

The SkyTrain coverage just scratches the tip of the iceberg, however: the video has some amazing shots of Metro Vancouver in the 1980s, of people boarding the line to reach their destinations, and a guest appearance from James “Quick” Parker of the B.C. Lions.

Plus there’s a killer sax-filled soundtrack, and so many awesome fashions and haircuts that it brings tears to the eyes!

Trivia tidbit: you’ll note that nobody actually ever says “SkyTrain” in the video. The line was officially known as the “Vancouver Regional Rapid Transit Project” until December 11, 1985, when Grace McCarthy, the provincial minister responsible for B.C. Transit, announced the new SkyTrain name. Apparently months of searching by ad agencies, the government, and the public took place to find the name! For more, check out this 1985 Province article about the new name.

As well, here is the fall 1985 Vancouver Regional Rapid Transit Quarterly magazine, which has an article about Going To Town on page 12, not to mention the design philosophy behind the SkyTrain stations, a description of the guideway intrusion detectors, and construction notes on the B.C. Parkway.

It turns out there were six film crews documenting the SkyTrain during the summer! Here’s the quote.

Other productions include Running Man starring Christopher Reeve of Superman fame, Danger Bay, a half-hour weekly adventure series produced locally by the CBC for Canadian TV and the U.S. Disney channel, segments for a North American and European markets Tourism Canada series by Boardwalk Productions, and an Independent Productions Ltd. film covering transportation in British Columbia for showing at the BC Pavilion during Expo 86.

Danger Bay and SkyTrain! Two Canadian icons, together at last :)

A huge thank you to Ian Graham at SkyTrain for transferring this wondrous video to DVD for us all to enjoy! Happy holidays, everyone!


48 Comments

  • By Elfren Ordanza, December 23, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    Wow, I’ve now learned how the SkyTrain line was built. What a great video to share how the SkyTrain line project started. Now that the SkyTrain line is built, more history will be added to it.

    While I was watching the video, when the SkyTrain cars were in service, I hear no SkyTrain chime saying the doors are about to close.

    I have a couple of questions about the video.
    You don’t have to answer all of them but I would hope you’d answer them all.
    1) The first skytrain cars (the ones with the colour black at the front). Were they used as demonstrations cars for the project before its public service started?

    2) When I was watching the video, I hear no SkyTrain chime when the doors closed. How did the doors close without the chime?
    And then when was the SkyTrain chime installed into the trains?

  • By Elfren Ordanza, December 23, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    And yes I won’t forget, Happy 25th Anniversary SkyTrain. Let the many memories be remembered. :D

  • By Jay, December 23, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

    Wow, awesome video.. It screams “made in the 80’s”! I enjoyed watching it!

  • By Sewing, December 24, 2010 @ 12:23 am

    That was amazing! Thanks to Mr. Graham and to you for posting this.

    I rode on the demo train in 1983. There were also free previews of the system in (as I recall) the summer of ’85. You could catch a train at one of a few stations (Edmonds was one of them), and then ride for a kilometre or two (past other stations that were still under construction), and back to the station you started from. But I was too young and living on the south side of Vancouver at the time and I missed all this construction activity, so it’s great to see it all on video!

    There are so many things to comment on, how could one ever start!? Here are the three scenes that struck me more than anything else:

    4:37-4:56: In case anyone’s wondering, that’s the old Devonshire Hotel, torn down in the early ’80s to make way for the Bank of BC (now HSBC) building. What that has to do with the context of increasing traffic congestion is anyone’s guess.

    15:41-15:47: What Metrotown looked like in the early 80s! You can only recognize it, because the warehouses and apartment buildings on the south (left) side of the SkyTrain pylons are still there.

    20:44-20:52: Look at that man run down into the hole at Burrard Station!

    But I have to ask a similar question to Elfren. There were 3 or 4 cars stationed at Main St Station in 1983…2 in a 2-car train running back and forth along the inbound track for the 1 km along Terminal (visible from 12:21 in the video), and the other 1 or 2 cars sitting permanently on the outbound track (also visible at 12:21). Did any of these cars go into revenue service? Did “BC 1” and “BC 2” become 001 and 002? What about the 1 or 2 dummy cars?

    And merry Christmas to the world’s most dedicated public transit agency blogger and all her readers!

  • By David Arthur, December 24, 2010 @ 7:06 am

    This is great! It’s nice to see such extensive coverage of Vancouver as it was, and a reminder of how modern the Mark I trains once were. (And some ~very~ period filmmaking.)

    The film shows a guard walking down the train, checking tickets. Was this more common in the early days of the SkyTrain? I also noticed that the film avoids saying directly that the trains have no driver, even as it discusses the computer technology.

    (I couldn’t help laughing when the narrator boasted that the control room has ‘not one, not two, but three’ computers, though.)

  • By Sewing, December 24, 2010 @ 7:26 am

    David:

    Yeah, it sounds funny (and not totally implausible for the early ’80s!), but the entirety of what he said at 24:07 is this: “Not one, not two, but three sophisticated computers cross-check and first agree on every order before it is carried out.”

    What the narrator was referring to was not having three PCs, but rather having triple redundancy, whereby three computer systems each process or compute an operation separately, then verify the operation against each other before it is actually executed. Also, even if one computer fails or crashes, there are still two computers running.

    Triple redundancy actually ensures one of the highest levels of safety and reliability in mission-critical systems—like one of the world’s first driverless rapid transit systems!

  • By ;-), December 24, 2010 @ 8:54 am

    I too loved the video. Seeing the tunnel construction that was away from the public view was great. Tunnel boring is so different compared to the Canada Line.

    The most amazing part of the video was how few crowds where on the trains and stations compared to the near Japan subway crush we have today.

    I remember there was redundancy in the Mk1 trains as as well. I think I read some where that redundancy may have been removed on the Mk2.5 trains.

  • By jmv, December 24, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

    Best SkyTrain Video evar!

    Almost watches like a Kojak episode, without the drama! Actually, I’ve never watched an episode of Kojak, but it has a very particular production style to it. Slower camera movements, perhaps influenced by the technology of the day?

    Once again, very fun addition!

    Thanks for posting it!

  • By Cliff, December 24, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

    What a fantastic video. The Expo line and those MKI cars looked so clean and sleek. I can’t remember ever seeing the BC Parkway looking so ‘bright’ as it was in the video.

    I had a good laugh at some of the now presumably unsafe behaviours a few of the workers exhibited in the video. Those were the 80s for you!

    I found Terminal avenue without the SkyTrain very interesting to look at. It’s interesting to see how Main Street’s station has a slightly different look than the other stations because of its role as the pilot station.

    I also found it interesting that much of the original ‘Coquitlam’ line shown in the video has been built, but expansion in the city’s north has facilitated the need for a longer line.

  • By Anonymous, December 24, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

    At 17:46 the train appears to start moving BEFORE the doors fully close. =O

  • By Roland, December 24, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

    Jehniffer:

    Does SkyTrain Control still use the same computers that were in use at the beginning of 1985? Especially with respect to the keyboards and monitors.. how can one upgrade without shutting the entire system down?

  • By Cliff, December 25, 2010 @ 10:09 am

    @Anon

    I would take a guess and say that’s because for the video, the trains were actually controlled manually. Meaning the driver likely didn’t wait long enough after hitting the “door close” button.

  • By Jimmy, December 25, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    Why were some SkyTrain seats red intead of blue? This shown at 01:40

  • By Randy, December 25, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

    Just a suggestion but that video should be shared with the National Film Board. They have a great collenction of these types of videos from milestones in different cities. Great video!

  • By Clifford, December 25, 2010 @ 9:49 pm

    @ Jimmy:

    BC Transit colour scheme and Grace McCarthy! Enough said. The SkyTrain seats alternated red and blue right up until the Millennium Line was being built… it was the style then, they thought it looked elegant.. but the red seats were being vandalized easily and BCRTC couldn’t afford to keep up replacing fabric.. so eventually everything went to blue.

    Same goes with the carpeting – it looked fancy at the time, but lasted until there was a flea infestation in the early 90s.. and they were ripped out.

  • By AH, December 26, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

    6-car Mk-I’s rolling in 1986? Did BC Transit do that just for the movie?

    Unless I missed out on something, the most I see back in 1989 were in 4-car configurations during the day and 2-cars during the evening.

  • By Anonymous, December 26, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

    They were using 6-car sets for Expo to handle the crowds I think, and to partially test the system’s capacity out.

  • By Alan M, December 27, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

    Excellent video and some keen observers on this topic!

    This video was shot during the summer of ’85. The train was being run in manual (hence no door chimes or station announcements) as full automation was still a few months away.

    All the “passengers” are actors. The ALRT staff (including the Control Operators) are actual employees.

    We never actually see these passengers getting off at any of the main downtown stations because those stations were not fully completed at the time of filming. We just fiqure they musta got off and we see the train heading eastbound on the inbound track!!

  • By raquel, December 28, 2010 @ 10:07 am

    No doubt Vancouver was very clever and was able to build Skytrain at lesser expense than many other cities .. by leveraging what they already had, ie:
    > using an existing tunnel downtown rather than blasting a new one
    > picking wide blvds where elevated trains could work (cheaper than underground)
    > and indentifying empty spaces and corrodors to snake elevated gudieways over

    THE only compromise was they used smaller trains than Toronto or Montreal. But this problem can be overcome by auromated tain operation which permits better headways.

  • By Kelly, December 29, 2010 @ 11:09 am

    This brings back memories. I was 7 at the time when SkyTrain was completed. I too rode the demo & it was so fast, I lost balance by the it went towards close to the bridge connection from Terminal to 1’st Ave.
    I didn’t get on till Good Friday of 1986. Started from Granville to New Westminster. There was an over platform that went over to 1 side in New Westminster until 1989, when SkyTrain moved it to Columbia Station. I was 11 when SkyTrain moved over to Scott Road Station. I was invited by the premier & the minister for a 1’st trip to Scott Road on March 16’th 1990. I did a drawing of the SkyTrain going over the bridge looking east from Columbia street over the river & into Scott Road Station. SkyTrain has come along way. Hopefully it will reach to UBC via Millennium Line & to Coquitlam sometime soon. (According to this 1985 video.) Canada Line opening was a big lineup from Richmond. it took us more that 3 hours to reach the station. This should have been more better like the demo on this video. Give it a few more days to ride the system for free (When SkyTrain did it from December to January 2’nd.

  • By Dennis, December 30, 2010 @ 2:23 am

    Awesome video!

    I believe the control center was upgraded once for the Millennium Line. If memory serves me correctly, they temporarily used a training room as the control center while they upgraded the main room.

    I too thought the train was a little fishy. I thought back in the beginning of service the doors needed to be manually opened by button, not automatically as they do now. Also, it was kind of odd that the train set emergency brakes every time it stopped at a station. It makes sense if the train was manually controlled.

  • By Sewing, December 30, 2010 @ 7:34 am

    Yeah, the doors were definitely pushbutton-operated for the first year or two of service. I remember that distinctly.

    On the inside, they were mounted on the stanchions by each door; on the outside, on the edge of one of each pair of doors.

    On the oldest Mark I cars, you can still see plates covering up where the buttons used to be.

  • By Anonymous, December 30, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

    Keep in mind, all it took was a rotten little kid to play with the door buttons like a toy even if no one was getting on or off. Also, when the trains are manually driven, there is a button RTAs can push to manually open and close the doors from the computer panel.

  • By Joe, December 30, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

    What part of the skytrain is metal instead of cement

  • By Cliff, December 30, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

    @ Joe

    The section mentioned in the video is the section crossing from North Grandview Highway over Commercial Drive and over the Grandview cut into Broadway Station.

    Another section has been done out of metal as well. Leaving the tunnel in New Westminster on the Millennium Line, it is a long and high up stretch over several train tracks, part of a railway bridge, and Front Street.

    Yet another, this time on the Expo Line. The north approach to the SkyBridge uses a metal guideway to cross over Columbia and Front Streets.

    I don’t know the Canada Line trackage well enough, but I don’t think there are any on it.

  • By zack, January 2, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    Wow!! Wow!! Wow!! I’ve been looking for video documentary about our skytrain system like this one for ages!! This video is truly remarkable and it really shows how the rapid transit system actually contributed to urban growth in Metro Vancouver. The platforms even looked different in those days! They looked more like the ones in Chicago and New York.

    I’m even impressed how fast and ship-shape our MKIs were during those days. :)

    One moment did surprise me though. In the video, it shows that once the MKI pulls into one of the stations the doors automatically open and close, what happened to the button method? Was that pushed back a few years later? And how come I don’t hear any chimes on the trains?

  • By ;-), January 2, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    In the 80’s, the station design philosophy was to minimize “light pollution” into the adjacent neighbourhoods.
    http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=49.238154,-123.032777&spn=0,0.023303&z=16&layer=c&cbll=49.238497,-123.032412&panoid=kVtlxlynWALPoZ2w1TjH-w&cbp=12,75.79,,0,-7.02

    This changed as people thought there was too much concrete and Millenium stations was built with glass for visibility and “transparency”.
    http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=49.248843,-122.896242&spn=0,0.046606&z=15&layer=c&cbll=49.248821,-122.896411&panoid=UZ3HXyufgapHsAunVFfxYA&cbp=12,203.89,,0,2.43

    Later construction included wood to make it feel natural.
    http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=49.174395,-123.136632&spn=0,0.023303&z=16&layer=c&cbll=49.174482,-123.136628&panoid=O8DnzW0mv64oASzYpyDofg&cbp=12,48.79,,0,-11.33

  • By Cliff, January 3, 2011 @ 2:10 am

    The last three stations on the Expo Line seem to have a different look to them because of their construction in the 90s after the rest of the system at the time.

    While it certainly doesn’t look like Surrey’s stations are anywhere near what you might find on the Millennium Line, they do look a bit more open. Stand in front of King George Station and say it isn’t more open than Royal Oak, for example.

    I have to say, the colour of King George Station really looks great. I wonder if any of the other older Expo Line stations would look better with that specific teal colouration instead of that green we have now.

  • By Anonymous, January 3, 2011 @ 10:54 am

    @ ;-)

    I cannot say that I like Lougheed Station even slightly. It may be open concept, but it still looks like it’s under construction whether you’re in it or driving under it going along the highway.

    ————

    @ Cliff: They did repaint some of the Expo line stations come to think of it. They used to be screaming green and white, then like.. Broadway, New Westminster, Metrotown, Patterson.. a good few of them went down to more of a hunter green when they were doing touch up work..

    Why don’t they finish off the glass work upstairs at Broadway station…? The best view of the city is from that drive!
    —————–

    My own comment: For 25 years.. it doesn’t run too bad! The day it opened it was so cool… it’s aged yes, but hey.. the fact that it’s running on computers from Expo and still functioning..means kudos to SkyTrain for keeping it’s system in fantastic shape.

  • By ;-), January 3, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

    I think the Expo computers were replaced prior to the Millenium Line extensions. The Expo era hardware and software had problems when they added additional trains.

    Perhaps Millenium station picture wasn’t the best example. This night image might be a better example of another station.
    http://archrecord.construction.com/projects/portfolio/archives/Images/0301skytrain.jpg

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 6, 2011 @ 9:59 am

    Elfren, Sewing, Roland: here are the answers from SkyTrain to the questions you asked. There may be a bit more to add to them later but this should cover most of what you were looking for!

    1) The first skytrain cars (the ones with the colour black at the front). Were they used as demonstrations cars for the project before its public service started?

    Yes, the first pair of cars, used for the “pre-build” demonstration section along Terminal Avenue, were different.

    2) When I was watching the video, I hear no SkyTrain chime when the doors closed. How did the doors close without the chime? And then when was the SkyTrain chime installed into the trains?

    The video was made before the system went into public service. Some of the clips would have been taken in Manual operating mode (no door chimes), but it may also have been that the communications systems weren’t fully installed and commissioned at that point.

    3) There were 3 or 4 cars stationed at Main St Station in 1983…2 in a 2-car train running back and forth along the inbound track for the 1 km along Terminal (visible from 12:21 in the video), and the other 1 or 2 cars sitting permanently on the outbound track (also visible at 12:21). Did any of these cars go into revenue service? Did “BC 1” and “BC 2” become 001 and 002? What about the 1 or 2 dummy cars?

    “BC 1” and “BC 2” were 2 of the original test cars from UTDC in Kingston; they were too different from the production fleet to be effectively used as part of the regular fleet. They eventually went back to Kingston; not sure of their final disposition.

    4) Does SkyTrain Control still use the same computers that were in use at the beginning of 1985? Especially with respect to the keyboards and monitors.. how can one upgrade without shutting the entire system down?

    The Automatic Train Control computers (and most of the other electronic and control systems) have been upgraded or changed out at least once since 1986.

    The original refrigerator-sized “mini” process computers (original 64K memory having been upgraded to a whopping 128K!) were replaced by PC-type computers in conjunction with the King George extension in 1994. There was a further renewal and upgrade in conjunction with the Millennium Line extension in 2002. CRT displays have of course been replaced by much clearer, brighter (and now cheaper!) LCD displays.

    Another upgrade is coming in 2012 at the SMC (System Management Centre) layer which controls timetabled operation and most of the interface for operating personnel; this should see us through many more years of operation, including support for extensions such as the Evergreen Line.

    Yes, the transition from one system to another is always a major logistical challenge, with a lot of preparation and careful pre-installation. Cutover is ususally conducted on a Saturday night / Sunday morning, between the 02:00 shutdown, and the 07:00 start of Sunday morning service. In 2001, in preparation for the Millennium Line expansion, which required major changes in the Control Room, the entire operation, including control of trains, power, station alarms, CCTV and communications, was moved downstairs to the training/simulation centre for 6 weeks, without missing a beat. (Note from Jhen: wow!)

  • By Anonymous, January 6, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

    With respect to question four…
    Is there anything of the control centre or how the system operates that still uses any of the original 1985 system?

  • By Sewing, January 7, 2011 @ 10:59 am

    Thanks for all the answers, Jhenifer!

  • By Colin, January 11, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    Jhen:

    What happened to the old red ticket vending machines after they were replaced?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 11, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    Colin: I’m sending your question over to SkyTrain for an answer. Stay tuned!

  • By Allison Graham, January 12, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

    Oh Lordy, yet another tibit my dad has carefully hidden from us over the years…. first the chime, now the AWESOME transit video??? I’m going to have to start demanding more cardboard punch-out cars again. ;) Thanks for posting!!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 13, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

    Allison: Well, if you shake any new fun SkyTrain tidbits out of him, let me know! I’d love to share :)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 17, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

    Colin: I’m told the old red ticket vending machines were recycled once they were discontinued.

  • By Malcolm, January 18, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

    Jhennifer:

    Are there any photos you could publicly post of Princess Diana and Prince Charles on the then new SkyTrain system? I know they got off at Patterson Station to bagpipes playing for them…

    But god, she was such a beautiful lady to see.

    Thank you.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, January 19, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    Malcolm: I do have a photo of Diana on the train! I’ll post it soon :)

  • By Rob Chew, January 23, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    Awesome video! Thanks for posting this Jhen. It brings back a lot of memories from the 1980s!

  • By Steve, August 17, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

    I just found the video – awesome! I haven’t seen anything as detailed about its construction before, especially the tunnel sections.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the narrator also the former voice of BCTV? I can easily hear him say “The news hour…with Tony Parsons”

  • By Steve, August 17, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

    Nevermind, I posted my last comment before the credits rolled. The narrator is the former voice of BCTV, Jim Conrad. Cool!

  • By MM, October 22, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

    What is the name of the soundtrack?

Other Links to this Post

  1. Going to Town - Seattle Transit Blog — December 28, 2010 @ 8:01 am

  2. The Buzzer blog » Video: On Track, a SkyTrain project video from 1983! — January 12, 2011 @ 11:46 am

  3. re:place Magazine — February 17, 2011 @ 8:10 am

  4. The Buzzer blog » TransLink 101: welcome to our February special post series! — February 6, 2013 @ 8:58 am

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