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TransLink 101: keeping our system in a state of good repair

TransLink 101: keeping our system in a state of good repair

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For February 2013, we’re going back to basics with TransLink 101—explaining TransLink and its work!

SkyTrain, by Michelle Lee

As you travel around on the transportation network, have you ever thought about just what’s needed to keep the system running safely, efficiently and reliably — also known as a “state of good repair“?

Right now, TransLink has an estimated $10.2 billion worth of assets and infrastructure – from buses and trains to radio towers across the region that support the communication systems on our buses. And because they form the backbone of  a transportation system used by hundreds of thousands of people very day, keeping them in a state of good repair is crucial.

So while people often talk about transportation expansion to meet the growing needs of the region, we also have to make sure we keep our existing assets in a state of good repair so we can extend the life of the system already in place today.

In 2012 we conducted an in-depth asset inventory and analysis to understand what’s needed to keep our transportation assets in a state of good repair, today and over the next few decades.

To help us better understand the process, why we did it, and why it’s so important, I sat down with Dave Beckley, TransLink’s Vice President of Engineering and Implementation.

What does TransLink mean by state of good repair, and why is it important?

Dave Beckley, TransLink VP of Engineering and Implementation

Basically, a state of good repair means an asset is in the condition to be used for what it’s meant to be used. For example, with a SkyTrain, it’s got to go up and down the tracks. People riding it are warm enough, the windows all work, and the doors open and close at the stations. Keeping things in a state of good repair requires both corrective maintenance, which is fixing things if they fail, and preventive maintenance, which is going back to things regularly and checking up on them.

It’s crucial to keep the system in a state of good repair so we can provide services for almost 1.2 million trips each day. 50,000 people a day go through stations like Burrard or Metrotown—imagine the home repairs you would need if you had 50,000 people a day walking through your living room!

The bottom line is if we aren’t continually investing in our infrastructure, then over time it degrades. If we aren’t constantly fixing things, we get a backlog of assets that are no longer in a state of good repair, and that needs major capital to fix. We need to think about these things when we plan for the future.

What is an asset management analysis, and why did TransLink conduct one?

We did an asset management survey as part of the Regional Transportation Strategy (RTS), which is our long-range transportation plan being developed in 2013 for the next 30 years. As part of that planning process, we identified what’s needed to maintain existing service, and what’s needed to be in step with expected growth in the region. Expansion or growth that takes place in the future will also be built on the infrastructure we have right now, which is another reason to take stock of our assets and their condition. It all helps us better understand what we need to do to keep our system in a state of good repair over the next few decades.

What did you find during the asset management analysis?

Westham Island Bridge, the bridge you might not have known we’re responsible for! (photo by roaming-the-planet)

What we found is that we have a lot of assets under our stewardship, and they are extremely varied due to the diverse nature of the services we provide. It also adds up to a very big number. The estimated value of these assets is $10.2 billion.

I’ll give you an idea of the incredibly diverse range of assets we take care of and aim to keep in a state of good repair. We’ve got radio towers on top of Mount Seymour that support our bus communication systems. We’ve got West Coast Express and SkyTrain cars. We’ve got all those platforms and stations on the rail system. We’ve got eight significant bus maintenance centres to maintain our fleet of almost 1,400 buses. We’ve got hundreds of ticket vending machines. We have a float where the SeaBuses go to get fuel and maintenance. We’ve got radios and GPS on all our buses. There are four antennas on the roof of every bus with different systems that are all in different states of end of life. And we’ve got five bridges – one of them is made out of wood, and it probably doesn’t have a single stick that was there a hundred years ago when it was built.

We’ve got cycling infrastructure, such as the bike bridge attached to the Canada Line, and the BC Parkway. We have 22 trolley rectifier stations that most people don’t know about because they’re hidden; you ride the trolley bus down Main Street, and you don’t realize you’ve passed three little substations.

We don’t necessarily own all these assets; some are owned by the Province or BC Transit, and we have leases from private property owners. But under all our agreements, we are financially responsible for these assets.

An infographic summary of the assets TransLink manages as of 2012! Click for a larger version.
An infographic summary of the assets TransLink manages as of 2012! Click for a larger version. You can also read our backgrounder with more detail on the study.

How is TransLink doing at keeping our system in a state of good repair?

Vancouver Transit Centre, by Caelie Frampton

During our asset analysis, we learned that on balance, our assets are in pretty good shape.  Obviously some need repair, and every day they are getting a bit older. But on balance we have a relatively fresh set of assets.

Still, many pieces were built with a 50-75 year expected life, and we’re starting to get partway through that. We’re starting to see deterioration in some areas, and we’re going to have to do something about it. That’s what we found and it’s part of our challenge going forward.

For public infrastructure and even in big utilities, 2.5 per cent of the value of your assets is a general “rule of thumb” for what should be spent on keeping assets in a state of good repair. 2.5 per cent of $10.2 billion worth of assets is a big number. We’ve outsourced some of that – for example, we have agreements in place so that the Canada Line and Golden Ears Bridge, which are worth a good part of that total, are being looked after by someone else for a period of time.

But with those kinds of dollars needed to keep assets in a state of good repair, it’s common to be bit behind. It’s a problem the whole industry faces. If there are funding challenges, money often goes into operations and what gets neglected is the infrastructure, which starts to crumble and makes operations less efficient. That’s when a big capital injection is needed. An organization might be used to doing $80 million of state-of-good-repair work a year, and all of a sudden it has to invest half a billion dollars. That puts a lot of stress on the organization. Plus you have the problem of how to raise the money needed.

Fortunately at TransLink, we have in many cases relatively new assets so we don’t yet have a huge backlog of assets no longer in a state of good repair. We’re only capable right now of doing about $116 million worth of work, which means the backlog is growing.  But we now know about the issues, and can plan to take action to make sure it doesn’t get too big.

Part of the asset management analysis looked at seismic risks and the impact of climate change – what did you learn?

We’re actually in pretty good shape for extreme weather events. There were a few assets where we might not have built things quite the same way. But what this information will do is it will inform our asset renewal programs in the future.

With climate change, if extreme weather events happen more often, this will obviously increase the level of wear and tear on our assets. This means more monitoring, and we’ll design some of our assets differently when we replace them.

For seismic, as our infrastructure was built up over the decades, the standards and codes have changed. Our system meets the seismic guidelines from when they were built. Looking at the original SkyTrain guideway, would we like it to be a little different? Yes. Is it realistic to expect that we’re going to bring the whole thing up to the modern standard? No. But as we go through and renew our infrastructure, we will look to bring it up to the latest standard.

Looking ahead, what’s needed to maintain TransLink’s assets and keep them in good repair?

Golden Ears Bridge, by Casey Yee

For us to use any future funding efficiently and effectively, we have to make sure we also have a solid approach to asset management in place. What we’re working on is a systematic and proactive approach to asset management, to help us keep our assets in a state of good repair. We’ll use this work as an input into that process, and keep the inventory up to date and turn it into an operational program.

What happens next in this process?

The analysis we did for our existing assets is a key input into the Regional Transportation Strategy, the region’s transportation vision for the next 30 years that will be developed in 2013. It will helps us understand where growth is going to be in the region and what assets are going to be required in the future to achieve the goals that are set.

As part of the Regional Transportation Strategy, we’ll focus on making sure our existing assets are going to be ready for the next 20-30 years. We want our existing assets to continue to meet the function that they were designed for. We have a lot of service that hinges on those assets, and that’s a really important part of the overall picture of what our region wants for the future.

Thanks, Dave!

For more information about this analysis, we’ve put together a backgrounder for you to read. And keep an eye out for opportunities to participate in the Regional Transportation Strategy dialogue over the coming months. We’ll be keeping you posted through this blog.

And as always, please post your comments and questions here, and Dave and I will get you the answers!

Author: Tina Robinson


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