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The most Canadian solution to keep SkyTrain customers moving, eh?

The most Canadian solution to keep SkyTrain customers moving, eh?

Art Wittich, a SkyTrain vehicle technologist, shows the hockey stick used to clear ice from doors during the winter season.
Art Wittich, a SkyTrain vehicle technologist, shows the hockey stick used to clear ice from doors during the winter season.

Winter weather can wreak havoc on a transit system and transit authorities across the world have unique ways in dealing with the impacts. For example, Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system relies on setting its track switches on fire to prevent them from freezing.

Thankfully, the cold in Metro Vancouver is much milder and we haven’t had to resort to extreme measures like that — just a lot of ingenuity.

As one of the few transit systems in North America operating electric trolleybuses, we’ve had to design our own trucks to de-ice trolley wires. We’ve also had to roll out tire socks and work with manufacturers for a three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) tire on our buses that’s best suited for the snow we experience in Metro Vancouver.

We also use hockey sticks to clear snow and ice build-up from the SkyTrain doors.

Snow and ice are cleared from the SkyTrain door

We stand on guard for snow

“Everybody likes to kid around and laugh at us with our hockey sticks, but it’s super effective,” explains Art Wittich, a vehicle technologist with SkyTrain.

Because snow in Metro Vancouver is uniquely wet, thick and heavy, it can build up between the SkyTrain doors from it opening and closing. This can lead to the doors freezing shut between stations, which means customers may not be able to board or disembark at their preferred door.

That’s why SkyTrain technicians use hockey sticks to proactively clear the snow and ice build-up on the doors at Stadium–Chinatown, Commercial–Broadway, Edmonds, Gateway, Production Way–University, and Moody Centre stations.

Each station has eight hockey sticks, so at any given time, there’s 48 hockey sticks clearing snow and ice. Trains may be held at stations longer than usual so staff can clear snow and ice from the doors.

Art, who joined SkyTrain in 1991 as a tradesperson, says he’s never seen a SkyTrain car where all the doors are frozen shut. The hockey sticks are that effective at clearing snow and ice. And have been for more than 25 years now.

A SkyTrain technician prepares to clear snow and ice from the doors of the arriving SkyTrain car

But Art recalls it wasn’t always the tool of choice.

He explains during SkyTrain’s early days, ice would be cleared from the doors using a “chunk of aluminum.” It not only didn’t work well, but the aluminum also scratched the paint. Technicians then started using a thin piece of wood but that broke easily. Next, they switched to a thin piece of plastic and it worked well. One caveat though: it hurt the hand, so they started wrapping tape around it.

So naturally, what’s next? How can we improve our ice clearing per person, per hour, per direction?

“Wouldn’t it be nice if it was curved a little bit and then somebody had the brainiac idea. ‘Isn’t this [a hockey stick] what we’re looking for?’ And of course, it is the hockey stick. The hockey stick is perfect,” says Art.

It’s now an item that we order and ensure is fully stocked each winter, along with other winter essentials like snow shovels, salt and sand. The hockey sticks, which are junior-sized street hockey sticks, are cut down so they can fit into the boxes and be stored at SkyTrain stations for rapid deployment.

Similar to how you go to the store when you need something, SkyTrain staff head to the store too: our very own store, inside the Operations and Maintenance Centre near Edmonds Station.

What’s available in the SkyTrain store runs the gamut. Everything from SkyTrain parts, to winter boots and wet wipes. It has everything SkyTrain staff need to deliver a safe and reliable SkyTrain network — including hockey sticks.

Art Wittich picks up a hockey stick from the SkyTrain store

Keeping customers moving

The hockey sticks are part of our suite of initiatives to keep customers moving safely and reliably during the winter months and when there is snow.

Like how our commuters trade their sneakers for winter boots during the cold months, our SkyTrain cars switch out their “shoes” too. Each SkyTrain car has a pair of “collector shoes” at the front and back, which collects electricity from the power rail that runs parallel to the tracks.

We use a carbon-based shoe April to September, but during the winter months, we switch it out for ones with brass. The brass shoes give better wear during the winter rainy season.

De-icing trains also coat the power rail with de-icing fluid to help melt ice and prevent it from forming. On the Canada Line, they use heat tracing, which warms up the power rail with a wire to help prevent ice-build up.

So, this winter season, let transit connect you with the people and places you love. Our staff are working diligently, using every tool in the toolbox to keep transit moving safely and reliably.