I Love Transit 2014: Sun Fang, VP of Maintenance, tells his story of SkyTrain

I Love Transit 2014: Sun Fang, VP of Maintenance, tells his story of SkyTrain

I Love Transit 2014 Banner

Sun Fang
Sun Fang

Sun Fang has been hailed as the ‘godfather of SkyTrain’ by his colleagues.

You don’t need to dig too deep to find out why. He’s been at the helm of the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company’s maintenance division for nearly three decades in which he’s seen it all.

From humble beginnings as a single-train, two-car demonstration project along a one-kilometre track on Terminal Avenue, SkyTrain is becoming a network of soon-to-be 53 stations and 79.6 kilometres of track following the opening of the Evergreen Line in 2016.

Today, SkyTrain boasts an on-time reliability of 95 per cent and 99.4 per cent of all SkyTrain service was delivered in 2013. However, there were some growing pains in the early days of SkyTrain, recalls Sun. After Expo 86, the noise level in the train cars was very high, the doors would misbehave, and there were often problems with train communications, requiring attendants to manually recover trains.

As one of the first operators of this new system, Sun and his team of technical, maintenance, and operations personnel at BCRTC were challenged to develop and implement solutions to all the train and wayside related issues without the help of other transit agencies.

Sun’s innovative mind and futuristic ideas would help him meet the challenges presented by SkyTrain’s new and unique technologies.

Under his leadership, a large number of significant projects were undertaken over the next several years to successfully address noise, the wheel rail interface, and to retrofit the bogie (the SkyTrain chassis of wheels). BCRTC implemented a second-generation automatic train control, upgraded the platform intrusion detection system, and introduced an automated car wash system.

“We beat the odds, taking a unique transportation system from the drawing board to real world application,” Sun says. “I am proud of what we have accomplished in solving numerous technical and operational interface difficulties at the start to setting a set of new standards for the automated driverless transit industry.”

Sun will be retiring in March 2015 and it’s these very challenges that he says he will miss.

“I will miss the challenges of the ever-changing technologies in train control, telecommunications and passenger information systems and having to resolve technical problems in this high-tech transportation system. I will miss the dialogue, exchange of information and experiences around the world,” he says.

Due to the success of SkyTrain, Bombardier Transportation now sells this technology worldwide under the name INNOVIA Metro worldwide dubbing it the “flagship of driverless, urban transit systems.”

“System problems in the early days made us strong in this unique transit technology and also gave us the opportunities to share our experiences with other transit operators around the world,” Sun says.

“The many comments I have received from industry colleagues and experts visiting from different parts of the globe have made it clear that we have maximized the use of the technology to meet the demand of a fully automated, driverless and unattended rapid transit system.”

Today, Kuala Lumpur, Malyasia; Yongin, South Korea; and New York have followed Metro Vancouver as operators of a driverless, rapid transit system using the same technology as SkyTrain.

“What impresses me the most is our ability to be flexible, resilient and customer service focused,” he says.  “We have undergone many major expansions, station upgrades and system replacement projects without disrupting SkyTrain service or closing down a station.”

SkyTrain is family for Sun – a family of nearly seven hundred members, from SkyTrain Attendants to maintenance workers, totally devoted to the success of a transit system and providing a better place to live built on transportation excellence.

“I am both fortunate and honoured to be part of the success story that is the mass transit system in this region,” he says.

“Whenever I hear the word ‘SkyTrain’ I have a sense of pride and joy to be part of this reliable, efficient and eco-friendly rapid transit system.”

Sun was the winner of the Distinguished Service award for Individual Leadership from the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) in 2013.

Sun’s proudest moments, in his own words:

  • Completed the noise mitigation program in 1990 where seven major initiatives were implemented on trains, wayside and neighborhoods along the SkyTrain route.
  • Completed the Operations & Maintenance Centre Expansion Project (last phase) in 2013 to provide additional train storage lanes, office spaces, maintenance shops and maintenance facilities.
  • Orchestrated and implemented the Main Control Room cut-over in 2002 in conjunction with Bombardier for the start-up of Millennium Line in one non-revenue window. SkyTrain performed the impossible in the eyes of other transit operators.
  • 2010 Winter Olympics was one of the crowning achievements for SkyTrain staff.
  • Y2K” – the count down for the first second of year 2000 sent shivers down my spine. We spent a lot of time, resources and money to prepare for the day. It was feared that some or most computer-based systems might stop functioning. Obviously the hardwork and excellent planning paid off. We welcomed the Millennium with a warm embrace.
  • Successfully completed the Second-Generation Automatic Train Control (ATC) System cut-over in 1994. The field testing and commissioning of the new ATC software was extensive. The support from Control and Field personnel was superb. The second generation ATC software has demonstrated significant benefit in operating reliability, flexibility and users friendliness.

Author: Allen Tung