Stephen Rees's blog

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

Why a 24 hour SkyTrain service is not a Good Idea

with 8 comments

I was at a social function recently, where I was introduced as a transit expert. The person I was introduced to was adamant that SkyTrain ought to operate twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He claimed that is what happened on other transit systems (though he could not name any). He was supported by a musician who pointed out that bars stay open later than the transit system, and getting those people home without them needing to drive was an important safety concern.

I did try to explain why nighttime was important for maintenance – and the need for a safe working environment – but I could tell they were not convinced. SkyTrain is, of course, driverless though I suppose half speed trains under manual control might be better than nothing (not that I went into that detail then.)

About the only system I am aware of that operates round the clock is the New York subway.

Railway Age reports that they are finding that closing overnight for maintenance has some very important benefits

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority says its new FASTRACKmaintenance strategy has produced “unprecedented productivity gains.” Under that strategy, while lines are closed overnight for track maintenance, a first for a 108-year-old subway system that has taken pride in running its trains 24/7. The initial deployment of FASTRACK forces was completed on the Lexington Avenue Line over the weekend.

“It was clear from the first night that in terms of productivity and efficiency, FASTRACK is a major improvement in the way we perform subway maintenance and a perfect example of what can be accomplished when labor and management work as a team to improve the system,” said NYC Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast. “I consider this effort a success and it could not have come about without the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of Transit workers who worked on the tracks, tunnels, and in the stations.”

For four consecutive weeknights, three work trains supported nearly 70 workcrews in the stations along the line segment as well as the tunnels and into the Joralemon Tube that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan.

“Jobs that would usually take weeks or months to complete were accomplished in days because, for the first time, maintenance workers were allowed to perform their tasks without the interruption of passenger trains rolling through a massive work area that stretched from Grand Central-42nd Street to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn,” said MTA. “During the four-night period, more than 300 vital tasks were completed—from rail replacement to roadbed cleaning to the scraping and painting of ceilings over tracks and platforms.Much of this work had not been performed in several years and some of it could only be done in the absence of trains over an extended period of time.”

While Skytrain is closed for four and a half hours overnight service is still available by NightBus although service is not frequent or especially widespread. It is however much more reliable than bus service during the day as there is no traffic to compete with for road space. It takes about an hour to get from downtown Vancouver to Richmond Brighouse so it is not especially fast either.  And is not much help if you need to get further south.

Maybe like the less dense suburbs this is a time of day when shared ride might shine?

Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

8 Responses

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  1. Interesting – I hadn’t considered the importance of the shutdown times to maintenance. Though I wonder how often maintenance needs to be done – e.g. whether shutting down on the weekdays and running 24/7 on the weekends might be feasible (and save money on the labour costs inherent in running night buses?)


    January 18, 2012 at 11:21 am

  2. I would expect maintainance would not need to be a daily activity. I certainly think there is an opportunity to have expanded hours on Friday/Saturday. I guess it comes down to what would it cost and how many would use it…..that is why I only suggested Fri/Sat as I expect there would be few late night users on other nights (then again who knows how many people take the night shift).


    January 18, 2012 at 11:53 am

  3. I don’t see why four and half hours, seven days a week is needed for maintenance.

    Why not try a reduced frequency service on early Saturday and Sunday mornings and see how it goes?


    January 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm

  4. At the very least skytrain service can be maintained fast bar-time closures, as is the case during large events downtown. Or if not full service, then shuttle trains that only utilise half the track space.

    I don’t want to knock the night bus system, cuz it’s better than nothing, but you can compare the 3 departures per night found on most roots to extended skytrain hours.

    Skytrain service hours are on par with other large transit systems (such as in Montreal and Toronto), but late night service is still sorely lacking, and the city as a whole would benefit from better transit options past 1am


    January 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm

  5. Most lines of the London Underground stop running shortly after midnight and that’s a city many times bigger than Vancouver, presumably with a livelier night life too.

    If New York, a system with 4 tracks, has trouble getting maintenance done with the trains running imagine how much worse it would be here where we can’t switch our trains to an alternate set of rails.

    Why do we need to perform so much maintenance? Fully automated systems cannot cope with minor problems on the line. A single frayed wire or reaction rail that’s slightly loose or out of alignment will shut down an entire SkyTrain line. Manually driven trains can cope with all sorts of things including malfunctioning signals because the driver can see the line ahead and react.

    Stephen linked to the N10 schedule. For the trips that don’t go to the airport first, travel time to Richmond Brighouse is 41 minutes. Considering that the bus has to obey lower speed limits, stop at red lights and service 48 stops I’d say being only 16 minutes longer than Canada Line is pretty darned good. The trips that go to the airport first obviously take longer to reach Richmond.

    I wonder why the N10 is tasked with serving both YVR and Richmond. It seems to me that it would be better for both passengers and TransLink to run the N10 to one endpoint and the N15 to the other.


    January 18, 2012 at 10:10 pm

  6. Tokyo, Paris, London, Milan, Toronto, Montreal etc. stop in the middle of the night. it isn’t just the tracks that need maintenance…trains and stations have to be cleaned…One line alone in Tokyo (Yamanote loop line0 has 3.5 million passengers A DAY…

    Berlin transit run non stop every weekend but then their night life is slightly more animated than ours.. Paris has longer hours on week end but doesn’t run all night long.

    On reason for transit being shut off at least a few hours a night could be that many governments have a slight puritan streak…night is for sleeping or working, not for having fun…

    Red frog

    January 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm

  7. The latest Buzzer says that SkyTrain upgrades are continuing and include various construction projects and system enhancements … “much of the work is completed at night to minimize disruptions”

    Fewer people travel at the times when SkyTrain is closed – and while they could be improved (like the rest of the transit system) there are alternatives. The first three commenters expectations seem unreasonable.

    If you want to check on what is going on and if it might affect you see

    Stephen Rees

    January 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm

  8. Madrid has a spectacular transportation system. The “owls” (los buhos) are night buses that run very frequently and ALL NIGHT (contrary to the ones here in Vancouver). And I can’t recall how late does the Metro run, but it’s access network is extremely extensive and nothing compared to the reach that the Skytrain and Canada Line have in Vancouver.


    February 13, 2012 at 3:50 am

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