TransLink Podcast: Where does the SkyTrain sleep at night?

TransLink Podcast: Where does the SkyTrain sleep at night?

Tasia Balding and Jawn Jang

You ride the SkyTrain during the day, but where do they go at night for downtime and TLC at the end of a long day of work? Listen to find out and what an expanding SkyTrain system means for that — all made possible with funding from many years ago. But with an ever-growing system, we’ll need more investments to continue to build it out and accommodate population growth for years to come.

Come behind the scenes with us as What’s the T: the TransLink Podcast with Jawn Jang reveals the voices and stories that drive Metro Vancouver’s transit system forward. Subscribe and listen everywhere you get your podcasts, including SpotifyApple Podcasts, and Pocket Casts!


HOST JAWN JANG: Hey, welcome to What’s the T: the TransLink Podcast. I’m your host, Jawn Jang. Here’s what’s coming up on this episode.

JAWN: Where does the SkyTrain sleep at night? And why does it matter? Let’s tap in to What’s the T.


VOICEOVER 1: The next station is…

VOICEOVER 2: Welcome to What’s the T: the TransLink Podcast.

JAWN: In the very first episode of What’s the T, back in season one. We answered one of the most popular questions that customers like you have been asking for a long time. Why doesn’t the SkyTrain run 24 hours? And while I don’t want to spoil anything, if you haven’t heard that episode yet, here’s just a little snippet from that episode.

VOICE 1: The simple answer to a complex question. But in order to operate our trains and our track safely for our traveling public, we need that downtime to basically get into both the the trains, the rolling stock, as well as into the track and guideway areas.

JAWN: So if the SkyTrain doesn’t run 24 hours in Metro Vancouver, it does bring us to the next question, where does the SkyTrain sleep at night?

VOICE 2: I’m taking nap.

VOICE 3: You want to take a nap?

VOICE 2: I’m taking nap here.

VOICE 3: Okay take a nap right there then.

JAWN: The answer is simultaneously simple and complex. SkyTrain cars do indeed have a home. But as you know, we’re working on expanding our Skytrain fleet with brand new, shiny Mark Vs. That means we’re making some upgrades.


JAWN: Tasia Balding is the director of capital and major business projects at BC Rapid Transit Company, or SkyTrain. That means Tasia is uniquely qualified to answer the question, where do SkyTrain cars sleep at night, and how does it play into our SkyTrain Expansion Program?

TASIA BALDING: It is at our operations and maintenance centeres. Short answer, big picture answer. But they also they don’t totally sleep.

JAWN: That’s fair.

TASIA: But if we thought of it as sleeping, it would be at our operations and maintenance centres. We have, three of them of varying sizes. only two store trains. So OMC 1, which is our primary maintenance and operations facility, here at Edmonds, where we’re sitting today.

JAWN: That’s right.

TASIA: Then OMC 3, which is, in Coquitlam, came on board as part of the Evergreen Line. And then we extend it a little bit, after that.

JAWN: Right.

TASIA: For more storage.

JAWN: And we know that OMC 4 is going to be the newest sort of addition to the operation and maintenance centers that exist for SkyTrain. Explain a little bit about this project and how it’s going to help benefit a lot of the major programs that are going to be part of Skytrain moving forward as well.

TASIA: Okay, great. So, OMC 4 is a brand new full, maintenance facility. So, taking care of our our train maintenance, the rolling stock maintenance that we’re talking about, and where does Skytrain sleep, but also taking care of our wayside maintenance. So the equipment and people that take care of the track. So, 146 cars, six maintenance bays, and then, two maintenance ways is where our rail line equipment is stored-

JAWN: Gotcha.

TASIA: -And maintained. and then along with that, some of the sort of, like ancillary support. So warehouse, vehicle inspection, cleaning facility. and there will be a wash track as well for washing the trains. Now we have a wash track here at Edmonds, but, it’s not sized for the Mark V, so primarily the Mark Vs will be washed at OMC 4! And that facility will be located between Lougheed and Braid stations, just kind of adjacent to the highway.

JAWN: And this will be, I’m assuming, quite pivotal for the introduction of the brand new SkyTrain, the Mark V that people are getting so excited about as well. Right?

TASIA: Yes. You know, that’s one of the most exciting things about this facility is that, the OMC 4 site is built fit for purpose for the new, longer trains, whereas this facility at Edmonds, you know, was was built and extended over the years, but it was essentially built and designed for the Mark I trains right from 1984. So 1986, I guess, and so it is not as efficient or effective, at maintaining the additional types of fleet that have come on over the last few years.

JAWN: Yeah. And I think that’s important to keep in mind because originally, like when the Skytrain was built, Expo, the original Expo Line ran from Waterfront to New Westminster. Right. Like that was that was the line that was all you really had available to you as a customer. And times have changed. The region has grown a lot. It’s going to continue to grow. As part of the growth, we’re looking at two new extensions. we’ve got the Broadway Subway and then we’ve got Surrey-Langley. We’ve already kind of mentioned that. How are these two lines, once they’re both up and running, how is that going to change the way that Expo and Millennium Lines are going to run and look and feel for Metro Vancouver residents?

TASIA: Well, I think from a customer perspective, we hope to make it as seamless and integrated as possible and the possibilities for getting on a train to Langley and being in Waterfront, or getting on a train in Langley and going to Lougheed Town Center for lunch, like, those are those are things that we really hope from a customer perspective are seamless and efficient and and really smooth. From a business and operations, you know, operations and maintenance perspective, it will be quite transformative for us. The geographic spread, you know, sometimes our maps aren’t all to scale. but the Surrey-Langley extension is 16km. So it’s actually quite massive. When we see the advertising pieces as you sort of just like, see the snip and it looks like it’s out there, but when you actually look at it, you know, Broadway Subway, is six kilometers, the Surrey-Langley extension, 16km, I think it’s it’s a massive amount of infrastructure that’s coming onboard for us to maintain and, operate going out to Langley. So it will mean that we have to, adjust the way that we run our kind of daily operations, our daily business. So where our maintenance crews report, where our operations crews report, all of those things will change as the extensions come onboard.

JAWN: Right. And all of this kind of fits under one umbrella, which is, a project that you work on called the SkyTrain Expansion Program.

TASIA: So the SkyTrain Expansion Program is I think, officially 16 projects. So I think the way that it was originally set up, was as these kind of three pivotal driving projects, which are at that Broadway extension and the Surrey-Langley extension, as well as the introduction of that Mark V fleet type. And so those projects being the things that are driving the change within our business and then the kind of, depending on how you count, you know, 13 or so projects that will support those projects. So that’s everything from the maintenance centres that we’re discussing here at a new control centre, which is also coming on board with this, as we haven’t had a new control centre since SkyTrain started.

JAWN: Right.

TASIA: And so some really big things, like those and then a bunch of other smaller kind of more, invisible behind the scenes, systems upgrades to support the kind of quantity of assets and the magnitude of things that will be coming under our purview..

JAWN: Yeah. Yeah, I love that because I think that’s a fact that really needs to be underscored a little bit. Like the fact that the, the control center for Skytrain has not changed since its original inception in the 80s. And now here we are in the 2020s, and it’s still using the same rooms. And as the system grows, we need to make sure that the system is flexible and able to catch up with modern technology as well. And so I think that’s a huge factor. Like we spoke with your colleague Ron Wainwright and his excitement, knowing that the future of the control centre is going to be increasing in size and capacity and and capability as well. That also means maintenance work when we’re growing Broadway Subway and when we’re growing Surrey-Langley, there’s going to be disruptions. How do we try and minimize that as much as possible for customers who obviously can’t wait for these projects to be completed, but know that it’s going to take a little bit of time to get there and bit of work and a bit of maintenance work, right?

TASIA: Yeah, and I think there’s a couple things we’re talking about. One is just, you know, something like, OMC4 now where we are, building a very large infrastructure project to connect to our elevated guideway at a place that the guideway was not designed for. So it will take a long time, but, we have a lot of work to do to existing infrastructure to integrate new, into it. So in a case like that, what we do is we work with our designers and our consultants, and we come up with something that we feel is kind of least impactful on the business. So, you know, we we sort of sat down and we went through a gamut of scenarios. Do we should we just try to, you know, do we shut it down? What does it look like if it’s completely shut down? Can we do a few week weekend shut downs? And then, you know, we sort of run through a bunch of scenario planning and we landed where we are now, which is single tracking. So always having service from going through. Always having through service and having only, one side of the, the track shut down at a time. you know, part of that exploratory planning exercise is looking at how many people SkyTrain.

JAWN: Yeah.

TASIA: And can we replace the service with a bus? And so we always do that exercise like, in order to provide the least disruption to the public, you know, can we single track or, you know, do some sort of, planned shutdown that, then we’re having bus service instead. And something that’s amazing about SkyTrain is it moves a lot of people very efficiently. And so, you know, when we’re talking about shutting something like that down, for a long enough period of time where we can do the work, it’s just not feasible to substitute busses. It’s much better to use busses for short term work, which was the other thing you were talking about. So these long-term works, we try to maintain through service as much as possible and for short-term works, like whether it be some sometimes it’s maintenance work like switch replacements or sometimes it’s, some station work, like when we, when we remodeled Joyce. When we were working on the platforms, there are a couple of weekends that we did certain single tracking activities. There’s lots of different things that drive us to, move towards or investigate an alternate service pattern.

JAWN: Yeah.

TASIA: But, you know, we always think about how many people we need to move and trying to do that work at the least impactful period. So non-peak weekends, you know, times where there aren’t as many people on our system.

JAWN: I think that’s really important to share with our listeners, because it’s not like you just threw a dart at a board and said, “Oh, single-tracking, that’s what we’re going to do for two years.” Like, you came and arrived at this conclusion after a lot of rigorous testing, simulating and just getting data and pouring through the numbers and realizing, okay, this is the most efficient service that we can provide where customers won’t be impacted nearly as much as if we had done plans B, C, or D.

TASIA: Absolutely. There’s a lot of option review that goes through.

JAWN: Yeah.

TASIA: Goes into this work.

JAWN: That just kind of goes to demonstrate, like everyone in SkyTrain knows the impact of what two years of single-tracking is going to look like and feel.

TASIA: Absolutely. I think our customers, we acknowledge that they’re experiencing delays along that path, and we hope they understand the long term benefits because, yeah, we’re really excited about I think that new operations and maintenance centre will allow us much better access to the Millennium Line, Broadway Subway, as well as all the way like to the end of the Evergreen Line than we have right now, frankly, and being able to get our equipment, on the line and our non-revenue hours, so while the trains are sleeping, while the trains are sleeping, our maintenance crews have a lot of work to do. And that OMC4 the location of that OMC4, it’s really strategic to support the short term maintenance of our network.

JAWN: So, Tasia, we do obviously take the SkyTrain quite regularly. I know I do. One thing I’m noticing is that there are increasing amounts of construction that takes place along these, these SkyTrain stations. So maybe you can explain just briefly, like what’s happening there and how that kind of builds into the SkyTrain expansion.

TASIA: Yeah, great question. This is a really important customer facing project for us, which is a series of work. It’s a group of work packages that we’ve put together, to support the, the Mark V work. So, the Mark Vs are coming. They’re longer trans, and their doors are in different places. And so, there’s a few things that that means for us. We need to make sure that people, can exit the stations. we need to make sure that our exit capacity out of the stations, meets the capacity that the trains are bringing into the station. So. So this is our kind of access egress modeling. so we have a project going on now. That’s a series of upgrades for station safety. So making sure that our exits are, right sized for the number of people that will be coming in on these bigger, longer trains. As well as there are some platform tapers, that we will be installing in, in some places too. You know, when you ride in, in London and, you always hear that, like, “mind the gap”, we’d like there to not be a gap.

JAWN: Ah, fair enough.

TASIA: So. So we’re minimizing the gap and therefore the the risk for, for customers, boarding and, boarding our trains. so there are a few, a few station safety upgrades that are happening throughout the system. And with the Mark Vs, here on site, or a Mark V here on site, I should say, and we anticipate that, coming to the final stages of putting that train in service over the next year, we want to make sure that all of those stations, it will be running through are safe.

JAWN: And just to clarify, once OMC4 is online, Mark V will sleep there. But the older trains, as they will get phased out over time, they’re still going to be sleeping at OMC1.

TASIA: You know, it will probably be a max at each location.

JAWN: Okay. Slumber party. *Laughing*

TASIA: *Laughing* Yeah. So, and the reason it will be that way is because, primarily the, ridership is such that the the capacity that the Mark Vs give us, is most beneficial to customers on the Expo Line.

JAWN: Right.

TASIA: So, you know, at least in the next, you know, in the next little while, I don’t know exactly what our ridership forecasts are, but but, you know, we expect to be running the Mark Vs primarily on the Expo Line. That is our busiest line.

JAWN: Yeah.

TASIA: And so while the primary maintenance facility for the Mark Vs will be at OMC4, it will be such that they will probably be, “sleeping” at multiple facilities or coming through here for our vehicle inspection and cleaning, or some of the other items. So, you know, we are doing some modifications to OMC1 to support some work on the Mark Vs because of that, the need for them to be close to the line where they will be working.

JAWN: Yeah, for sure. So then Tasia, along those lines, then we can expect the older model trains to also spend more time at OMC4 giving them quicker access to get onto the Millennium Line. So does that make sense?

TASIA: Yes. Correct. Absolutely. I mean, I think we have to be, quite deliberate in where we store our trains, to optimize our launch sequences and reduction, because the longer the trains stay out there and need to move a lot around at night, the less time our maintenance crews have to do the work that they that they really need to do. And so you will see, various configurations of trains at all of the facilities, and all of that is a deliberate planning exercise for where they need to be to launch the best possible service.

JAWN: The SkyTrain Expansion Program is the result of funding from many years ago, but as our region continues to grow, we’ll need more investments to continue to build out our system so that we can accommodate Metro Vancouver’s booming population. Simply maintaining the system we have now just won’t be enough as we move ahead — that’s how we end up with overcrowding. Now, thinking long-term and securing the funding we need to expand is how we’re going to grow into the strong and robust transit system that Metro Vancouver needs. New and exciting developments like the OMC4 is an important step towards that goal. My thanks to Tasia Balding and our friends at BCRTC for providing us the opportunity to talk about these exciting programs.  My thanks to Producer Allen for helping this podcast to expand one episode at a time, and of course, thank you! For listening and subscribing. I’ve been your host Jawn Jang, and until next time, have a safe trip.