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The secret Mark II SkyTrain cars

The secret Mark II SkyTrain cars

When TransLink took over transit in 1999, the Millennium Line was announced by the provincial government and about to break ground. Construction began in October 1999 and the new line opened in 2002.

As part of the project, SkyTrain added 60 Mark II cars to the fleet to the new line and to meet booming ridership. The Mark II cars were the next generation that followed the original Mark I cars that arrived when the Expo Line opened in 1985.

A Mark II train undergoing testing at SkyTrain’s Operations and Maintenance Centre in the early 2000s. (Photo: John Wollenzin)

But did you know – the first bit of work designing the next generation of SkyTrain cars began about a decade earlier?

A mock-up of what a Mark II could look like was developed by BC Transit in 1991. It was displayed at the PNE and Scott Road Station to gauge the public’s reaction and test seating configurations.

Built from wood by a movie production company – oddly at Celtic Shipyards in south Vancouver, it was only half a car and had mirrors at the end to make the interior look larger.

An actual engineering test car, nicknamed White Ghost by BCRTC, was also developed to test a new steerable truck design. The truck is the structure underneath the train where the wheels are and it’s what the cabin rests on, like an axle on a car.

Aside from testing a new truck, engineers wanted to see how far the dimensions of a Mark I train could be widened and lengthened to create a higher capacity car that could still fit on the SkyTrain network.

The car didn’t have any propulsion, braking or any systems onboard as it was never intended to carry customers. During testing, it was pushed by a Mark I train in manual mode to test the design and clearances of the prototype.

It was moved into storage at a BC Hydro facility in the mid-1990s before being donated to the West Coast Railway Association in Squamish in 2007. The association plans to one day have it as part of a new Museum of Railway Technology exhibit, showcasing railway technology development from 1880s to today.

The Prototype MARK II Skytrain test-car, nicknamed "Fat Albert" 😬 😂 from vancouver

Over in Kingston, Ontario, the Urban Transportation Development Corporation – the Mark I car’s builder – tested braking and propulsion on a prototype Mark II car, called Test Vehicle 06 (TV06).

Most noticeably, TV06 had three doors instead of two. It was fabricated in the 1990s by “Siamesing” two Mark I test cars together to make one 16.7m car from the two 12.7m Mark I chassis.

FUN FACT: The Mark I cars used to create TV06 was originally a pre-build car from the SkyTrain demonstration on Terminal Avenue during summer 1983.

A pre-build car running on Terminal Avenue during the SkyTrain demonstration in 1983.

TV06 was intended to test out a new floating frame steerable truck as well as a new propulsion system from General Dynamics, which used central cooling ducts for the linear motors.

The White Ghost had the next iteration of the floating frame steerable truck after TV06.

TV06 testing on the SkyBridge.

TV06 was tested for four months in Vancouver, after revenue hours, before returning to Kingston where – as of 2015 – is still occasionally used on their test track.

Bombardier Transportation, which bought the Urban Transportation Development Corporation, delivered the first Mark II cars in 1997 to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the Klang Valley Integrated Transit System’s Kelana Jaya Line.

A diagram comparing the Mark I and proposed Mark II train distributed in August 1991, likely as part of the exhibit at the PNE.

Following the Millennium Line’s opening, TransLink added 48 Mark II cars to the SkyTrain network in 2009. This allowed us to boost capacity on the Expo and Millennium Lines by 30 per cent in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Then in 2016, a new generation of 28 SkyTrain cars — the Mark III — arrived for the Evergreen Extension’s opening. An additional 56 cars, funded through the 10-Year Vision, are on their way! The first train, which we nicknamed Marky, is now in revenue service. Once they’re all delivered, we’ll have 84 Mark III cars in our fleet.

Looking ahead, we’ll be ordering more than 200 new SkyTrain cars in the coming years to replace the Mark I trains and for new service like the Broadway Subway extension of the Millennium Line.

Writer’s Note: Special thanks to John Wollenzin from BCRTC for his research for this article. Chris Morris, Sun Fang and Jonathan Huggett also contributed.