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TransLink 101: Why can’t SkyTrain run 24 hours?

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For February 2013, we’re going back to basics with TransLink 101 [1]—explaining TransLink and its work!

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Lincoln station, Coquitlam . #coquitlam #coquitlamphotographer #coquitlambc #mytranslink #transit #skytrain #vancouver #vancity #coquitlamcentre #nightphotography #streetphotography [2]

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As we’re nearing the end of the TransLink 101 series, we thought we’d talk about something that we get asked quite often: why can’t SkyTrain run 24/7?

We often get this question as SkyTrain is an automated, driverless, light rapid transit system, which provides a lot of flexibility in how we can run our trains.

But even without drivers, there are other key factors that affect how long SkyTrain can run every day. Here’s a quick FAQ!

First, how late does SkyTrain currently run?

The last Expo Line train (to King George Station) leaves Waterfront Station at 1:16 a.m., Mondays through Saturdays and at 12:15 a.m. on Sundays and holidays. The last Canada Line train (to Richmond-Brighouse) departs Waterfront Station at 1:15 a.m., seven days a week. You can see all the start and end times for our three SkyTrain lines on our website [4].

Why does SkyTrain need to shut down at night?

A lot of it has to do with the regularly scheduled maintenance that’s needed to keep the system running smoothly.

Nighttime maintenance

Nighttime maintenance includes everything from station and vehicle cleaning to checking track components as well as wheel and rail grinding to ensure passengers experience as smooth a SkyTrain ride as possible. For more, check out the Buzzer article about the night shift [5]!

On top of regular maintenance work, a number of upgrades [6] have been happening on the SkyTrain system, particularly on the Expo Line, which is now more than 30 years old.  These upgrades include running rail replacement, fibre optic upgrades and power and substation upgrades. If possible, this work is also done at night to minimize the impact on passengers.

Do other train systems run 24 hours?

Generally, running a train system 24 hours is the exception, not the rule. At the moment, New York City and Chicago are the only two cities in North America that have some (but not all) of their train lines running 24 hours. This is largely possible due to the fact that they have a great deal of existing infrastructure and extensive system coordination. For example, New York has duplicate tracks for some of its lines.

How could I get home after SkyTrain shuts down?

After the SkyTrain shuts down, NightBus [7] takes over. In fact, TransLink runs 12 NightBus routes that cover more than three SkyTrain lines put together.

When looking for a NightBus, look for routes that start with ‘N’ on the schedule [8] or Trip Planner [9]. We also have a full list of all NightBus services [7]. The NightBus can keep to a fairly reliable schedule due to low or no traffic.

Any chance we’ll see SkyTrain operating 24/7 in the next few years?

Unfortunately, we currently do not have the funding in place to support changes to our late night transit service. We’re also in the middle of a number of necessary projects and some of this work is done at night to minimize the impact on passengers. So we don’t anticipate any changes to the SkyTrain schedule at this time.

Let us know your thoughts!

And we know you’ve got further thoughts on the subject, so go on: share your thoughts in the comments!

Author: Stefanie Lee