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Commuters are stopped by a gate at the Stadium-Chinatown station during a lengthy delay in service. (Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail)
Commuters are stopped by a gate at the Stadium-Chinatown station during a lengthy delay in service. (Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail)

TransLink taps former GO Transit head after SkyTrain gaffe Add to ...

TransLink has recruited the former head of GO Transit in the Toronto area to help Vancouver’s regional transit authority better handle future emergencies like last week’s SkyTrain shutdowns that stranded thousands of passengers.

As TransLink announced the appointment on Monday of Gary McNeil to conduct an independent review, it noted the former GO Transit chief executive officer helped plan and design SkyTrain in the 1980s. He has 40 years of experience in transit issues.

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Ian Jarvis, the CEO for TransLink, said he had also decided on a fully independent inquiry instead of his original plan to have an outsider offering ideas to a TransLink review.

Mr. Jarvis said he changed course to bolster confidence in the system, which spans about 60 kilometres in several Lower Mainland cities.

“The public is looking for answers. There will be more confidence in a process and recommendations of someone independent of TransLink,” Mr. Jarvis said in an interview.

“He will have access to the organization, individuals, any reports that are appropriate for him to review. He will have the authority and scope to bring in other advisers and experts as required.”

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, among others, had been calling for a fully independent review of the SkyTrain situation.

TransLink said it has made some immediate improvement in operations ahead of Mr. McNeil’s review. They include upgrades to the public-address system and a plan to mobilize more employees more quickly in a major emergency or service disruption.

Mr. McNeil has until the end of October to deliver a report into an unprecedented situation in SkyTrain’s history. A computer glitch on July 17 knocked the system offline. A power failure followed on July 21.

A small number of exasperated passengers pried open doors of stalled trains in the first incident. But the public-address system went offline in the second, leaving TransLink unable to communicate with passengers. Dozens rescued themselves, prying open SkyTrain car doors so they could walk to stations along underground, at-grade and elevated tracks.

Mr. Jarvis said figuring out how to persuade passengers not to self evacuate would be a key goal of any review.

In announcing Mr. McNeil’s appointment, Mr. Jarvis added a few more goals. Mr. McNeil, who retired in 2013 and has his own consultants’ firm, will try to figure out how to prevent service disruptions in future, and speed up the recovery of the system when shutdowns occur.

That may include investments in additional backup equipment, Mr. Jarvis said.

He said he would welcome additional ideas from Mr. McNeil.

Mr. Jarvis said he was confident Mr. McNeil will deliver “feasible, practical” recommendations, though he couldn’t say he would implement every recommendation.

Mr. McNeil will be paid $1,200 per day of work on his review. Mr. Jarvis said the fee was consistent with compensation rates for someone with Mr. McNeil’s expertise.

As a leader of GO Transit, Mr. McNeil had responsibility for an organization with about 2,500 staff serving 65 million customers a year in the Greater Toronto Area. He was responsible for a $340-million operating budget and $1.7-billion annual capital program. He was also executive vice-president of Metrolinx, which provides regional transportation plans for the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton.

Follow on Twitter: @ianabailey

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