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Skytriain shuts down in Vancouver on Monday, July 21st.   (Kiran Hothi / Twitter)

Skytriain shuts down in Vancouver on Monday, July 21st.

 

(Kiran Hothi / Twitter)

Analysis

In wake of SkyTrain shutdown, TransLink CEO seeks ‘outside independent voice’ Add to ...

The top executive of the region’s transit authority says Translink failed in notable ways as it tried to handle an unexpected shutdown of the SkyTrain light-rail system this week that stranded thousands of passengers across the Lower Mainland in stalled trains.

A TransLink official had earlier ruled out an independent review of the shutdown – the second in five days – but chief executive officer Ian Jarvis said on Wednesday that he will look for outside perspectives as he leads a review over the next two months.

“I’m talking about actually bringing in an adviser, an outside independent voice that has the expertise to help us ask ourselves the right questions and be tough on ourselves with respect to what we need to do,” Mr. Jarvis said in an interview, adding that it is too early to be more specific.

Mr. Jarvis said he was stunned to see images on Monday of customers walking without guidance along the tracks of the SkyTrain, a system of underground, surface and elevated rail transit running over about 60 kilometres that opened in the 1980s and has since been expanded. The shutdown lasted five hours. It followed a breakdown on July 17 that was blamed on a computer issue.

“I found it disconcerting, scary, when I saw the images of our patrons walking unattended from the trains to the stations. We have to do everything we can to avoid that in the future,” Mr. Jarvis said, listing this as the system’s first failing in the emergency.

No injuries were reported.

He said TransLink staff did their best in an unprecedented situation for one of Canada’s largest transit services, but that the authority will have to do better.

“We need to prepare for the next one,” he said.

Mr. Jarvis said the second failing was that the mishap also caused the SkyTrain’s public-address system to go offline, so staff had no way to communicate with thousands of passengers on the automated trains.

The shutdown was blamed on a mistake by an electrician installing a circuit breaker at the SkyTrain’s operations centre in suburban Burnaby. The rare procedure was required to align the system with the Evergreen Line to the northeastern suburbs of Vancouver, which is under construction and expected to launch in 2016. The worker, whose identity has not been released, has been suspended.

“My understanding is the tools that he was using made contact with the panel itself, shorting it out,” said Fred Cummings, president and general manager of the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company, which operates the SkyTrain.“When it goes, it takes everything with it.”

The electrician was working on the power line that supplies the main control room, meaning communication and train control were affected. “It brought our system to its knees,” Mr. Cummings said.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson had called for an independent investigation into what went wrong, and whether a strong contingency plan should be created.

On Wednesday, Mr. Robertson said he is convinced an independent review is the best path ahead. At an unrelated news conference, he compared it to the independent review of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. “I certainly think they can benefit from outside input. This happens in other cities. I am sure there are lessons to learn from elsewhere and expertise that can weigh in on how we deal with, particularly, the crisis as it unfolds.”

Richard Walton, chair of the TransLink mayors council, said the transit agency must bolster public confidence ahead of a referendum expected next year on funding options for maintaining and expanding service. A quasi-independent review would be a “very good step” in that direction, said Mr. Walton, also mayor of the District of North Vancouver.

Mr. Jarvis said he did not want to prejudge the outcome of his review, but TransLink would have to do whatever is necessary to persuade passengers never to walk on tracks without clearance. Options, he said, include a social-media tools, including posting video on YouTube: “Every channel available to us if it makes sense.”

TransLink will offer free transit on Aug. 4 – B.C. Day – as a show of appreciation for customers.

Meanwhile, a technical glitch briefly caused delayed service on the SkyTrain into the downtown core on Wednesday.

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