Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘safety

CN to remove staff from Second Narrows rail bridge

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The Burnaby News Leader reports on Burnaby Council worrying about safety on swing/lift bridges

A plan by CN Rail to monitor and operate the Second Narrows rail bridge remotely from New Westminster isn’t sitting too well with Burnaby council.

Recent media reports have stated CN plans to eliminate the three staff at each of the Second Narrows and Lulu Island rail bridges and centralize their lifting and lowering at its New Westminster bridge.

Actually that is the first I had heard about that but then I have been away for a couple of weeks, and this would, I am sure, have caught my interest. As you may know up until recently I was occasionally employed as a swing bridge operator. Not by CN, and not, I might add, at anything like the rate CN pays

The nine people working on the three bridges each earn a gross income of $52,000 a year, he said.

Each of the three bridges mentioned are open all the time unless a train wants to use it. Then the operator announces (over the FM radio channel that controls marine traffic) that the bridge is closing.  The bridge operator is located in a cabin over the tracks, so has a good view of railway operation, but much less of what is happening on the water. These days it is possible to track ship and other marine traffic on the internet and here is a quick glimpse on what is going on in the Burrard Inlet as I write this.

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 4.23.17 PM

Marine Traffic is managed by two way radio by the Coast Guard and they rely on a radar plot very similar to this one. In fact, for the Fraser River, the traffic controllers are actually sitting in Victoria.

It seems the Councillors do not actually understand very much about railways or marine traffic, let alone swing bridges.

“What is CN thinking in eliminating the human factor in the rail bridge over Second Narrows?”

Well, actually they are not eliminating it. Although if that were possible it might well be much safer. For instance, the only time there has been a collision on SkyTrain – normally operated by computers – is when a train has been under manual control. It is the human factor that is most often cited in accident reports. The recent Spanish rail tragedy for instance, the Lac Megantic incident or the crash of a Korean airliner or the “Queen of the North“. Google is convinced that driverless cars are going to be much safer than what we have now, and I am prepared to believe them. Computers do not get drunk, or indulge in road rage.

What CN is proposing is to close the bridge to marine traffic remotely. That does not eliminate the human factor at all, it simply relocates it. From my experience I would say that the New Westminster Bridge operator is already the busiest on the river. It carries trains from CN, BNSF and SRY. There is not much ship traffic in that stretch of the river these days, but considerable numbers of tugs and barges, many of which have considerable air draft requirements – scrap barges are the biggest, but also woodchip barges and paper barges. About the only ones that slip through when the bridge is closed are log tows. If you listen to Channel 74 you will hear more calls to the “Westminister Bridge (sic)” than any other. And you will also hear the bridge operator asking the tug captains to let him know when they are through. He cannot see them from where he is sitting.

So will a remote operator be at any great disadvantage if he (or she) is not actually on the bridge? Frankly, I doubt it. In fact, given the working conditions of a swing bridge cabin, the operator will probably be better off. Not the ones who lose their jobs, of course. But, as with lighthouse keepers, there is a lot more emotional attachment to the occupation than genuine need to be concerned about their elimination.

Second Narrows bridges Vancouver BC 2006_0217

Written by Stephen Rees

July 25, 2013 at 5:02 pm

City Bus Drivers Say That Fare Beaters Have the Upper Hand in Confrontations

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New York Times

It is with some reluctance that I open up, once again, the can of worms that is fare evasion and transit safety. I would not have done so had not the CBC once sandbagged me on air with an unexpected clip of a New York cop talking about fare evaders as criminals.

Before you comment on this post you are required to click on the the link at the top and read the whole story in the New York times. There are also related links (the NYT understands how to use a web site now: it will take the Aspers years to catch up). It is desperately sad and my deepest sympathy is extended to the family, friends and coworkers of Edwin Thomas, who died trying to do his job.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, acknowledged that while the department’s Transit Bureau has more than 2,000 officers dedicated to the subway system, there are none dedicated to buses except during operations like fare-evasion crackdowns. One such crackdown, which began on Oct. 22, has resulted in 86 arrests and 349 summonses, he said.

That is because there are city police on the streets who can be summoned and get to the scene more quickly.

The point I want to make is that the NY subway system still needs to be subject to “fare evasion crackdowns” even though there are turnstiles at every station. A significant police force is required because the existence of those barriers has not made the NY subway “safe”. There was a lot all over the media yesterday about SkyTrain safety and the gap between public perceptions and reality. And a clip on CBC news of the SkyTrain CEO Doug Kelsey repeating the mantra “perception IS reality”.  Most of media decided that the proposed use of dogs made the story newsworthy. (If you want the full meal deal go to the Buzzer blog – and be sure to read the comments)

All kinds of people evade fares for all sorts of reasons. They are not all hardened criminals, and their reasons for evasion range from indigence to an attitude that fare collection is a “game” they can win at. The right wing here likes to cite New York as an example for us to follow. The examples of zero tolerance and the “broken window” strategy are cited approvingly. Yet there are on average 89 assaults on New York bus drivers a year. Edwin Thomas did not seem to get much benefit from these policies. I am far from convinced that they would change much here.

I also remain skeptical that introducing dogs will do much good either. There are plenty of people here who are extremely uncomfortable around dogs, both for cultural reasons and, even more sadly, bitter experience. There are far too many regimes that use police dogs to intimidate the populace in general. Not that I think Translink wants to do that – but (as Kelsey seems to be aware) some people may perceive it that way.

But as always my theme is that barriers on SkyTrain will not do what their proponents claim. They will be an immense waste of money and a continuing drain on the system. Money that could be spent on better transit service, which gets more people on the system. Which is what makes people feel safe. But is also what we need to make this region more livable.


Written by Stephen Rees

December 3, 2008 at 11:48 am