TransLink does not yet have the capability to rapidly auto-restart a shut down SkyTrain line

Fast SkyTrain restart five years away

Rapid transit shutdown halted Expo Line trains more than two hours as thousands of fans tried to get to Canucks game in Vancouver

It will be nearly five years before TransLink expects to have a solution in place to rapidly restart a stalled SkyTrain line and avoid long stoppages like the one on Saturday night.

A power surge shut down Expo Line trains for up to two and a quarter hours starting at 6 p.m. Saturday as thousands of Canucks fans were trying to get downtown for a hockey game.

Twelve of the 19 trains that had to be halted to ensure passenger safety were stuck on the tracks between stations and staff had to manually drive them back to the nearest station and re-enter them in the computer system.

It’s been nearly one year since an independent review recommended TransLink spend $71 million on system upgrades following major SkyTrain meltdowns the previous summer.

The top operational recommendation from consultant Gary McNeil was to add an auto-restart function to the control system that would allow trains to reinitialize and begin moving automatically in a matter of minutes if not seconds.

His report noted an auto-restart module was available when the SkyTrain control software was upgraded in 1994, but the version that was installed then did not include it.

TransLink is now targeting 2020 for completion of the auto-restart capability, said Colleen Brennan, vice-president of communications.

Feasibility studies are to be complete by next summer, followed by a business case and then a request for proposals.

She said it’s a “fairly complex undertaking” because of a series of technical prerequisites, including the replacement of copper cables with fibre optics along the lines.

“It’s not a plug-and-play kind of a system,” Brennan said. “It actually has to be developed and it has to be purpose-built specifically for the system we have.”

McNeil’s report suggested auto-restart might cost $5 million, but Brennan said it’s premature to provide a cost estimate.

Six out of 20 recommendations from McNeil are complete, with 11 in progress and three in the development stage.

Only one person pried open train doors and walked out on the tracks Saturday, according to TransLink spokesperson Anne Drennan, who called that “a major improvement” over unauthorized mass exits last year that further delayed the ability of staff to drive trains back into stations.

“The response was pretty incredible this time in terms of getting it back up and running,” Drennan said.

She credited improved announcements and communications this time – which were also McNeil recommendations – that helped reassure passengers, who “were quite patient.”

Many of the riders stranded at stations used bus bridges to get downtown.

About half the Expo line from King George to Edmonds was running by 7:15, allowing the buses to redeploy to the Vancouver segment of the line.

The Millennium and Canada lines were not affected.