Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Canada Line fails to stand up to snow

with 18 comments

I would like to say that I am surprised – but I am not. News 1130 reports

The big problem was on the bridge that runs over the Fraser from Richmond-Brighouse to the Marine Drive station. Chan says they ran trains all night hoping to prevent stoppages like this morning’s, but it was something that was unexpected.

Really? He did not do that “wrong kind of snow” thing that they still talk about in Britain. But given that the Canada does NOT have a LIM rail – which is the weak link on SkyTrain when it comes to snow and ice – I am a bit nonplussed by the “unexpected” bit. The forecast was spot on. And it was not the first snow this year either.

Now I will confess I was less than prepared myself. I do have a snow shovel. It lives in the shed most of the year, and I did not get it out last night, prior to the snow. I was relying on that “it will turn to rain by lunchtime” bit of the forecast which so far (3pm) has yet to materialise. So to get to the snow shovel I had to put on my wellies and traipse through four inches of the stuff! It’s not exactly arctic out there either.

No doubt further details will emerge later. It will either be blowing snow in the switches – something of a regular feature when I commuted by GO train from Union Station in Toronto.  It usually led to delays rather than outright cancellations – or more likely conductor rail problems. A bit like the issues Translink has with the new trolleys.

British Rail – and London Transport – used to keep a fleet of retired trains equipped with brooms and deicing fluid to run when snow was about. ProTrans does have track maintenance machines that can run under their own power  – they had one out at the airport on that pocket track between the end of the line and Sea Island Centre a few days ago.

I cannot help but feel that at the base of the issue as usual is the penny pinching attitude of the P3 which puts all the emphasis on profit at the expense of customer service.

And as it happens I need to get to the airport tonight. Maybe I’ll take a cab instead. Like the pizza guys they seem to be able to keep running in all weathers

Written by Stephen Rees

November 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

18 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Canada Line fails to stand up to snow. Can we stop making all our transit decisions in the summer? […]

  2. In some way I feel you are correct with the P3 comment and a bit a penny pinching going on.

    Although I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt. We used to have major problems with the original skytrain lines at the beginning when it snowed. But over time they discovered the little things that need to be done to keep the system from breaking down. I can only hope this is the situation with the Canada Line.

    I’m curious though were there two trains stuck in either direction on the bridge. And if not why didn’t they just single track that section. Have the trains stagger between Bridgeport and Marine. Something that is commonly down on the Expo or Mil lines when there is a problem in a section of track. Sure the service won’t be perfect, but at least it would still be running. Which is better than nothing.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm

  3. Exactly Paul, let’s see how the Canada Line performs in 2015… SkyTrain managed to keep up with the epic snow of 2008, until the trees started to fall on the tracks on Xmas Eve…


    November 28, 2010 at 12:17 am

  4. In Toronto, the TTC installed de-icing sprays on a couple of trains, so the tracks are de-iced while the train is in service. It’s a simple fix.

    Justin Bernard

    November 29, 2010 at 9:23 am

  5. One thing to remember though. The snow in Vancouver has a much higher water content than snow in Toronto for example.

    That isn’t to say that de-icing sprays may not work. Hopefully over time they will find out what does and does not work.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm

  6. I have communicated with experts overseas on the matter and the “Ice” theory for the stoppage doesn’t hold much water. Snow only turns to ice if there is melt and the freezing weather prior to the snowfall preclude the freezing rain or snow melt freezing.

    Unlike the ice storms in Portland, where ice build up in the flange ways (especially at intersections and on-street in downtown Portland, raised the wheels off the track and disrupted the circuit, leaving the trams dead in the water. Ice had to be manually removed or special Ice trains, made up of up to 5 trams were used to clear the ice.

    The third rail on the RAV Line is protected by a vinyl top to prevent ice obstructing the third rail and each Canada line train picks up power from at least two points along the train.

    De-icing formula is designed for each application and again, the different snow in Vancouver claim doesn’t hold water, as the formula is designed to suit each systems needs.

    Also, the tracks themselves are not deiced, only the power rail and the less than 10 cm of snow should not have brought the trains to a halt.
    The Canada Line trains have been having a problem operating as they “lose traction” and stop periodically and one wonders if this was the problem, exacerbated by the weather.

    Malcolm Johnston

    November 30, 2010 at 5:45 am

  7. “De-icing formula is designed for each application and again, the different snow in Vancouver claim doesn’t hold water, as the formula is designed to suit each systems needs.”

    Except if they used a formula that worked in a place like Toronto for here. Then there would be problems. Don’t ever disregard the stupidity of people. Always look for the most obvious thing.

    It might be due to a lose of traction or maybe the third-rail icing up. Or what have. It doesn’t really matter. The main thing is did they learn from this experience.

    If it was due to a lose of traction at the wheels. Then this is just another example of why they should have used LIM as the technology.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm

  8. Well, here is the official explanation.

    They say the problem was that they didn’t keep running the de-icing trains once the line was in service. They say they will keep de-icing trains to avoid the problem in the future.


    November 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm

  9. Apparently SkyTrain doesn’t use the same type of 3rd rail – the pick-up isn’t on top of the rails (and there’s a negative and a positive).

    So if a de-icing formula is “designed” for Vancouver, there wouldn’t have been much opportunity to test it in the past year.

    Anyways, there was some speculation that once the de-icing trains stopped running – at the start of revenue service – the relatively “infrequent” schedule of the Canada Line (only 3 or 6 minute frequency?) didn’t clear snow from the 3rd rail as much as would have been required to compensate for the lack of de-icing.


    November 30, 2010 at 11:31 pm

  10. Experience, experience..It will get better after a few bad winters.
    I just came back from an emergency trip to Bordeaux. The trams in the historical section are powered by a 3rd track at ground level and the first year the trams stopped times and time again on rainy days…absolute pandemonium, outrage etc.
    Somehow the designers weren’t aware that it rains an average of 152 days a year in Bordeaux, sometimes a week at a time for most of the day in winter
    Now –after Alstom burned a huge amount of money–they works fine. Days were rainy while we were there, with freezing evenings and nights, but the trams ran on time. They aren’t fast, downtown, but come every few minutes.
    What pleased me was to see all these pedestrians and bikes staying away from incoming trams without breaking their stride (the tracks aren’t clearly separated from other traffic on pedestrian streets)

    I wouldn’t want to be a tram driver though..with people and bikes weaving very close around your vehicle while not looking at you the driver…and these trams are BIG.

    Got a thrill from watching a few women waving their purse at the smart card reader (it pick up the signal of the card inside the purse)

    Red frog

    December 4, 2010 at 11:07 am

  11. The APS system in Bordeaux is still experimental. In the UK, the cities with trams had a very few problems and delays in the ‘great snow’ of 2010, especially when the trains and airports were shut down due to chaotic conditions.


    December 5, 2010 at 9:03 am

  12. ^^^^^^

    May be it depends what you call “very few problems and delays “, you could say the same of the french trams.

    This week was snowy in France:
    The Orleans trams has to shut down
    Ironically the Lille tram has to shut down too for a short period of time (but not its VAL !) …

    that is for twhat I heard, but I guess the media don’t report all tram glitches, especially when major network like the TGV one has to cancel 20% of its trains.

    A quick Google search
    Sooner, in Fall, due to fallen leaves, it was the Lyon trams to be shut down (a whole line)
    Paris Tram got the same fate a year before (nice landscaping come at a price), and Bordeaux tram so far has still to prove itself under snowy condition (last year it was unable to do so).

    So here we are talking about the shutdown of a short stretch of the Canada line for something like 4 hours (the rest of the line was still running normally between Marine Drive and Waterfront), rest of the rail system was operating normally

    I am pretty sure that is considered as “very few problems and delays” seen of the other side of the pond.

    That is not to be satisfied with the shut down of the Canada line when road are unpractical. The strength of a rail system is too keep operating as normal in snowy condition, and that need to be fixed, since it is what public rightfully expect… but as you mention I also thing they face some other recurring issues on the Richmond branch where the train got stuck quite often around Aberdeen Station (this include during the snow day)…that is expecting 100% reliability on a rail system system could prove to costly, in an area where snowfall keep pretty infrequent.


    December 5, 2010 at 12:43 pm

  13. Funny how the English LRT/tram systems keep operating in the snow, while other transit services have stopped.

    Most tram systems are operating in the European deep freeze and is a good advertisement to the robustness of modern light rail.

    The Canada line should not have stopped in a mere 10 cm of snow – that it did tells knowledgeable people that there is a problem and it is not “ice on the tracks!”


    December 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm

  14. “If it was due to a lose of traction at the wheels. Then this is just another example of why they should have used LIM as the technology.

    Our Scarborough ICTS mini-metro barely runs in the winter. LIM’s and snow are a bad mix.

    Justin Bernard

    December 6, 2010 at 7:02 am

  15. Yesterday afternoon the SkyTrain was closed at Sapperton station long enough that they had time to put signs at Broadway, Commercial and other stations. It was a “medical emergency” and when they are THAT long it likely means the tracks have to be cleaned up.. if you get my drift.
    Several years ago a snowfall caused a big shutdown of the SkyTrain system…
    I read many times in a UK rail magazine that UK trains go through the snow without a problem yet get stuck when wet autumn leaves fall down in mass on the tracks..while French trains apparently have no problems with wet leaves…

    In other words no system is perfect at all times. Roads aren’t problem free either…I lived long enough in Toronto–working for a delivery service–to know that there is always a couple of snowfall each year that paralyze the whole place as if people had never seen snow before!

    I was in France last week as I mentioned before. The TGV were supposed to run less trains than usual, CDG airport was supposed to cancel flights etc. yet we took the TGV to Paris in Bordeaux at the scheduled time, at CDG we went through the security lines in a flash (faster than in Vancouver at departure), our plane left on time etc. so it is the luck of the draw.

    Red frog

    December 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm

  16. There is an article in the latest edition of the Railway Herald “Britain’s railways have been fighting a losing battle at times to combat the effects of below-zero temperatures and failing snow.”

    Stephen Rees

    December 13, 2010 at 8:41 am

  17. I had the misfortune to be involved as a passenger during this infamous day. At Bridgeport Station, Translink, and not Protrans, was busy arranging buses to carry stranded passengers going into Vancouver. We weren’t told of the problem by Protrans until we had reached the train platform in the station and then had to make our way down the station steps and wait in a long line, wind and snow blowing around us, for a bus to come from a nearby Coast Mtn Bus garage. We were bused to the Marine Drive Station where we then could board the train.

    My question…since this is a P3 business and Protrans (SNC Lavalin) is the operator, did Translink bill Protrans for the service hours it had to provide Protrans to get its passengers to an alternate station? IF not, why not?


    December 22, 2010 at 7:32 am

  18. Does P3 mean, we PAY and PAY and PAY?


    December 22, 2010 at 7:34 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: