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A visit to SkyTrain Control

A visit to SkyTrain Control

The CUTA Youth Summit 2011 tour group
The CUTA Youth Summit 2011 tour group

Back in October, I joined a group of CUTA Youth Summit 2011 delegates on a tour of BC Rapid Transit Company’s Control Centre. BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC) operates and maintains SkyTrain’s Expo and Millennium lines from its Operations and Maintenance Centre (OMC) near Edmonds SkyTrain Station.

BC Rapid Transit Companys Control Centre
The view from BC Rapid Transit Company's Control Centre

Riding on the SkyTrain at least twice a day, five days a week, it’s easy to take the system for granted (often, people don’t talk much about the SkyTrain until it’s delayed which I learned isn’t very often). Being a driver-less system, it seems like it runs itself . After visiting the Control Centre, I can honestly tell you that a lot of effort goes into making the system work and appear effortless from the user’s perspective.

Ron Wainwright
Ron Wainwright, a Control Operator

Vic Friesen, Operations Planner, BCRTC, began our tour with a video presentation about SkyTrain. I learned that during peak hours in 1986, the system originally used to run 17 trips, operating every 3:15 minutes (215 sec.), with a peak capacity of 5,500 (total of 114 cars in the fleet). Today, the system runs 33 trips, operating about every 1:48 minutes (108 sec.) between Waterfront and Columbia during peak service, with a peak capacity of 15,000 (total of 258 cars in the fleet). The peak load points are Broadway platform westbound in the morning (roughly 6:30 am-9 a.m) and Stadium platform eastbound in the afternoon (roughly 3:30 p.m.-6 p.m).

The Control Room
The Control Room

Next, the tour moved onto the Control Centre itself. It was as I imagined it would be: dark but full of lights and schematics (analogue and digital). Ron Wainwright, a Control Operator, showed us just how it all works. There are monitors which indicate where all the trains are and if they’re running on time among other things. That system ties into an array of other tracking software, video and audio systems for monitoring tracks, stations and informing people waiting for trains if there is information they need to know.

From there, we took a quick tour of one of the ‘barns’ as they are called where SkyTrain vehicles undergo regular maintenance and are cleaned.

The barns
"The Barns"

We walked among the specialized equipment and employees fixing all sorts of items like a door that had been forced open by users one-too many times and had to be fixed. There was a model of an MK1 steerable axle truck.  The Canadian developed system features a steerable axle. Each axle turns with the track, improving the ride for passengers and reducing the noise of conventional rail trucks.

In all, the tour took roughly two hours, and I can honestly say that the rest of the group and I could have spent longer if the staff weren’t so busy. If you’re left reading this wanting more, this past post has some great info and images of what goes on during the night shift at SkyTrain Control.

I’m open to visiting the BCRTC Operations and Control Centre again in the spring if others are interested. I’d also like to put the call out for people interested in visiting Surrey Transit Centre. If you’re not familiar with Surrey Transit Centre, it’s where the buses from Surrey are maintained as well as TCOMM, the nerve centre for all the buses in Metro Vancouver.

Here are some dates to choose from:

  • Wednesday, January 4, 2012 * NEW – This is the date of the tour. All tour spots have been filled. Thanks to everyone who asked to be on the tour!
  • Friday, January 6, 2012
  • Thursday, January 12, 2012

If you’re interested in being on the tour, please send me an email <> with your day preference. The first nine seven people who respond will be considered for the trip. If someone cancels or can’t make the day that is the most popular with the majority people who want to take the tour (please make it easy, and only send me an email if you can actually come), I’ll take the 10th email and so on.

I’ll “of course” be blogging about the trip. This should be fun!


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