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TransLink turns 15: Preparing for Y2K

TransLink turns 15: Preparing for Y2K

BCRTC Control Room Circa 1999
BCRTC Control Room Circa 1999

Let’s go back in time. The year is 1999. Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” was a global smash hit, the Blackberry 850 was blowing peoples minds by putting emails in the palms of your hands, and last, but definitely not least, TransLink was created!

Those of you who remember the transition to this new millennium will remember the tension that was building as the 90s wound down. Not only did we not know what to call the next decade (I don’t think we ever did land on a good term to define 2000-2009 or our current decade either), there was widespread panic over what our computers would do once the “99” in 1999 rolled over to “00” of 2000 (Wikipedia explains this and more better than I can).

The fear for many was palpable. Whether or not you believed that we were heading for digital/analogue/world armageddon, the newly formed TransLink didn’t take things for granted. Someone needed to be on standby in case the world’s worst estimates came true. For the SkyTrain system, that person was Michael Carmichael, IT Network Supervisor for BCRTC.

Michael was a Network Administrator working at SkyTrain Operations and Maintenance Centre (OMC) in 1999. He looked after the IT side of the Y2K bug at SkyTrain. That included desktop computers, servers, networks, and office software. The computers that run the trains were handled by SkyTrain Control.

In the months leading up to Y2K, management at BCRTC were not too concerned that it was going to be a major problem that would cripple SkyTrain. Mike took some precautions, and some computers and software were updated and replaced prior to the “big event”.  All computers were tested three to five months in advance for potential issues by setting the clock forward to see what happened. Three months ahead of Y2K, it was evident that everything was going to be fine.

Mike came to the office on New Year’s eve as a precautionary measure to ensure all the computers and software were up and running when people came back to work. Computers that run SkyTrain are rebooted at 2 or 3:30 a.m., so the plan was for them to check for problems at that time, but the system had already been tested with no issue. If there had been an issue, SkyTrain attendants and Control Operators would have been there to take care of it.

What happened?

“It was just me alone from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. It was actually quite boring, but I did hear some celebrating and screaming in the control room at midnight. I didn’t go up there, though,” says Michael. What was happening was an impromptu New Year’s celebration that broke out in SkyTrain Control at midnight.

Michael reflects on that time, “We actually have more issues with Daylight Savings Time than we ever did with Y2K. Y2K was basically a non-event.”

Yes it was Michael, but I, for one, am glad he was there, just in case.

A shot of what things looked like around 1999 in SkyTrain control
A shot of what things looked like around 1999 in SkyTrain control