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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!


  • By Joe, December 9, 2011 @ 3:42 am

    STC tour sounds interesting indeed. I’ll certainly be coming. Will we be allowed to take pictures?

  • By Robert Willis - Buzzer Editor, December 9, 2011 @ 11:06 am

    Hi Joe: That’s a good question. I’ll need to check with Surrey Transit Centre. I imagine you’ll be able to take pictures in most areas.

  • By Elfren Ordanza, December 9, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

    What time will the tour be?

  • By Jeff, December 10, 2011 @ 11:00 am

    Would love to go on a tour of Surrey Transit, but also the SkyTrain control!

  • By Robert Willis - Buzzer Editor, December 12, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    Hi Elfren: The tour will happen sometime between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. I’ll let everyone know soon!

  • By zack, December 12, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    Just out of curiosity, I’ve noticed a lot of people were carrying the blue TransLink eco-friendly bags today. Now normally I see library and retail bags but a transit bag? Did a gift shop of some sort open?

  • By Tina Robinson - Buzzer Contributor, December 13, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

    Hi Zack: No, we haven’t opened a gift shop. Those bags are probably the ones we have been giving away at stations as construction starts for OnTrack projects. Staff have been visiting the stations usually at the start of construction to let customers know what’s going on, and the bags are printed with the OnTrack URL.

  • By Meraki, December 13, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

    Hi Robert,

    I’d like to go visit SkyTrain control next time it comes around. (I got a VTC tour for volunteering at the Youth Summit which was nice!)

    I would be interested in the STC tour if it was on the Wednesday or Friday. I’ll be down in California for the Thursday date.

  • By Ric, December 19, 2011 @ 9:23 am

    Has the time and date been decided yet?

  • By Rob Hinze, January 4, 2016 @ 5:25 am

    I would absolutely love to take a tour of the skytrain control if it ever happens again.

  • By Ricardo Silva, August 14, 2017 @ 1:05 am

    I’d like to take this tour as well.

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