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TransLink orders review of SkyTrain shutdowns

Passengers walk along guideway after exiting a stalled SkyTrain Monday afternoon. - Kiran Hothi / Twitter
Passengers walk along guideway after exiting a stalled SkyTrain Monday afternoon.
— image credit: Kiran Hothi / Twitter

An independent expert review has been ordered into two major SkyTrain shutdowns this month that paralyzed the rapid transit system for hours and eroded public confidence.

Gary McNeil, the retired former CEO of Toronto's GO Transit commuter rail and bus system, was named Monday to thoroughly review TransLink's response plan for major service disruptions and identify improvements to prevent a recurrence or speed up system recovery.

"We need to take this seriously and determine what we need to learn from it and make the changes to get better," TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said.

Dozens of SkyTrain passengers forced open the doors and walked unescorted on elevated guideways during the five-hour shutdown July 21.

It was caused by a blown power breaker during upgrade work, while the previous July 17 incident was triggered by a computer control system failure.

Jarvis said he quickly decided he needed independent advice on the handling of the "unprecedented" breakdowns, adding it's critical to ensuring public confidence in TransLink's response.

Keeping passengers safe during future disruptions will be a key consideration in the review, because self-evacuations create more delay and risk lives, Jarvis said.

He said TransLink has already "learned important lessons" and taken corrective steps based on its own internal review.

"These include plans for mobilizing employees more quickly, better announcements on SkyTrain and a plan to provide better customer support at bus bridges."

McNeil began his review Tuesday and will file his final report at the end of October.

Besides serving as a top Toronto transit executive, McNeil was involved in the planning, design, construction and startup of the original SkyTrain Expo Line from 1982-86.

Options to be considered through McNeil's review include changes to existing processes and investment in more backup systems.

TransLink officials previously suggested it would not be justifiable to spend perhaps $30 million on a backup SkyTrain control system that would be rarely used.

The July 21 electrical failure also knocked out SkyTrain's public announcement system, creating more fear among passengers who were then quicker to force train doors.

The address system is being put on a separate breaker that won't be vulnerable in another power failure that halts trains.

TransLink says it will also mobilize more employees faster should there be another major disruption or emergency.

It has also revised its online Trip Planner so it's easier for SkyTrain passengers to figure out how to take an alternate bus route.

Also pledged is an information campaign on what to do in a shutdown.

The cost of the review hasn't been determined but McNeil is being paid $1,200 a day and Jarvis said additional technical expertise could be brought in if needed.

TransLink has declared transit service to be free in Metro Vancouver on B.C. Day as a gesture of apology to inconvenienced passengers and their families.

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