SkyTrain disruptions like the July 17 and 21 outages have happened in the past.
Indeed, a report addressed this issue 21 years ago. That’s why Ron Stromberg, who was the one who initiated a review back then, wants to know what happened.
In 1992, B.C. Transit ordered an independent safety assessment of SkyTrain cars stranded on the tracks because of a system failure. At that time, it was B.C. Transit that operated transit in Metro Vancouver, which is now run by TransLink.
About seven months later, the Toronto Transit Commission handed in its report.
Whatever happened to that report is a mystery to Stromberg.
“That’s the question TransLink should be answering,” Stromberg told the Georgia Straight today (July 31) in an interview at his Vancouver home.
Stromberg is familiar with the review commissioned by B.C. Transit. It was he who made a case for it when the transportation agency’s board met on August 21, 1992.
At that time, Stromberg carried the title “Special Projects – Transit Specialist” with the Crown Corporations Secretariat, which oversaw provincial government corporations.
In his presentation before the B.C. Transit board, Stromberg noted that at “various times” during the six years of SkyTrain operations, its computerized Automatic Train Control has “failed”.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Stromberg explained that failures were due to computer malfunctions and “other service interruptions leading to the system halting”, which are basically the same as those related to this year’s July 17 and 21 shutdowns.
“This normally leaves as many as 26 trains loaded with passengers randomly spread out along the trackway and unable to move,” Stromberg told the board.
Like what happened on July 21, passengers had also opened the doors of stranded SkyTrain cars, and walked to the nearest station on service walkways.
“As frustration sets in, passengers have been known to force the doors and exit onto the maintenance walkway,” Stromberg told the B.C. Transit board in 1992. “This is a highly dangerous situation and is even worse at night during winter weather conditions, inviting electrocution or impact with a moving train.”
Stromberg suggested that the Toronto Transit Commission be hired to do the review because it also operates a SkyTrain system. (He was referring to the Scarborough RT.)
The Toronto Transit Commission, through its wholly owned Toronto Transit Consultants Limited, was asked to assess the safety of passengers exiting stranded trains, and measures to minimize customer delays during a shutdown.
In March 1993, the Toronto agency submitted its report.
According to Stromberg, the consultants made one key recommendation that B.C. Transit, and its successor, TransLink, has ignored: put SkyTrain attendants on board all trains during peak hours, or during all operating hours, if possible, who can drive the cars when the system fails.
“What you do is when it goes down, there’s a man or a woman there that can move the train,” Stromberg said in the interview.
In the report, the Toronto consultants noted that the presence of a SkyTrain attendant on board would not only reduce delays.
According to them, the attendant’s presence would be a “major deterrent to unauthorized egress”.
“There is no documented evidence on either the Vancouver SkyTrain or the Toronto SRT [Scarborough RT] during their relatively brief operating life that an On Board Attendant is essential for a life threatening emergency,” the report stated. “However, the On Board presence on the SRT has undoubtedly provided better reliability, reduced recovery time and enhanced the perception of security for passengers.
“This recommendation is based on both our extensive TTC subway experience since 1954 and our knowledge of high capacity rapid transit systems throughout North America and Europe,” the report continued.
“Over the past 39 years on the Toronto system their [sic] have been a number of incidents which had the potential to be life threatening except for the On Board presence of TTC personnel,” the document went on.
The report continued: “It is the combination of many years of rapid transit experience and what we consider to be statistical evidence which establishes our conclusion that SkyTrain will not be able to achieve minimum recovery time, together with maximum safety and security without the availability of an On Board Attendant.”
Stromberg can only guess why the report’s recommendation was ignored.
“I think they didn’t want to get and have to put money on that,” Stromberg said.
TransLink has hired former Toronto GO Transit CEO Gary McNeil to review the July 17 and 21 Expo and Millennium line disruptions. McNeil will be paid $1,200 a day. He will provide a report by the end of October.
Stromberg doesn’t doubt that the 1990s-era review he initiated remains relevant.