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September 27, 2007
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APTA > Services & Programs > International Transit > International Focus  

Skytrain: The Smart Choice for Greater Vancouver

Special to Passenger Transport

By Paul Skelhorne
Communications Specialist
Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd.
Vancouver, BC

When the first phase of greater Vancouver's new SkyTrain rapid transit line opens late this year, customers will ride in a system designed largely on their suggestions--a system they can rely on to move them quickly, efficiently, and comfortably to their destinations.

The new Millennium Line will connect the greater Vancouver communities of New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver. It joins the existing Expo SkyTrain Line, which opened in 1986 and was extended in 1990 and 1994.

"The Millennium Line is part of a continuing plan to ensure that our region remains livable," said Lecia Stewart, president of Rapid Transit Project 2000, the provincial government-owned company building the new line. "With greater Vancouver's population expected to reach more than three million by 2021, we need an effective way to encourage compact urban development, protect green areas, and offer people a fast and convenient alternative to traffic congestion. SkyTrain is one of the most effective ways to accomplish these goals."

The provincial government announced the $1.167 billion (Cdn.) Millennium Line project in June 1998, following several years of high-level planning. The project moved ahead quickly, breaking ground in October 1999.

While building three earlier phases of SkyTrain helped with the design and construction process, several new construction techniques were used for the Millennium Line. The most notable was using segmental pre-cast technology to build the line's elevated concrete guideway.

The guideway was built using launching girders—200-ton machines longer than a football field. A typical guideway beam is 37 meters long an consisted of 12 25-ton concrete segments. Once the segments were lifted into place by the launch girders, crews steel post-tensioning tendons through them to form solid, self-supporting beams wide enough to carry two sets of SkyTrain tracks.

While this technique is often used in other areas to build rapid transit guideways and bridges, the Millennium Line project marked the first time it was used in British Columbia on a SkyTrain project.

Using the launching girders meant far less neighborhood and traffic disruption than was caused during construction of the existing Expo SkyTrain line. When that line was built, 30-meter-long, pre-cast guideway beams were lifted into place using cranes so large and heavy they sometimes damaged the streets they worked on. The launching girders were far less intrusive: they stood on top of guideway columns off the street, and the concrete segments were delivered using flatbed trucks.

With guideway construction finished and electrical and mechanical installation proceeding quickly, the new line is set too pen in three phases from late 2001 to late2002. When finished, the Millennium and 5O kilometers through five municipalities-one of the world's longest driverless, automated rapid transit systems.

One of the key elements expected to make the Millennium Line a success is the project's customer-driven approach. From the project's inception, RTP 2000 has gone to the people who will use the system, asked them how they would like it to work, then designed and built it based on their preferences.

Perhaps the strongest reflection of this customer-driven approach is in the new line's stations and the MK 11 SkyTrain cars being built for the line by Bombardier Transportation.

"For the Millennium Line's stations, we decided to take a different approach than that used for the Expo Line," Stewart said. "We assembled some of British Columbia's top architects, outlined what we needed in our stations, then asked them to listen to our customers and use their imaginations."

The result was a group of stations radically different from the ones built for the Expo Line.

For example, because customers said they were concerned about personal safety and security while using the system, the stations were designed to incorporate "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design," a series of proven principles that minimize the opportunity for crime by increasing the risk of being caught or by making crime more difficult to commit.

As a result, each of the stations will be brightly lighted and feature the extensive use of glass, allowing people to see in and out. The designs eliminate dark corners where people can hide. Most of the stations will be built to include retail outlets and customer service centers, giving the stations a lived-in, cared-for feeling at all times.

The stations have also been designed to integrate well and reflect the character of the communities they serve.

"We want people to know that the stations are not just places to get on and off the train, but are actually parts of their communities," Stewart said. "We want the stations to be destinations in themselves, a real focus of pride, where people feel warm and safe and want to come back."

Examples of the effort to have the stations reflect the character of their communities include Sapperton Station in New Westminster, which will be built using lightweight steel materials that reflect its century-old industrial neighborhood, and Sperling Station in Burnaby, which has been designed as a landmark that reflects the 1960s industrial era of the milk processing plant site it shares.

The MK 11 cars Bombardier is building for the Millennium Line also incorporate the results of customer input. Running initially as married pairs--at 35 meters, the longest articulated trainsets in North America-the cars are longer and wider than the Expo Line’s MK I cars. They also have more doors to allow faster passenger loading and unloading, and are climate controlled to ensure passengers are comfortable in all weather conditions.

But amenities alone are not enough to ensure people will use the Millennium, Line. For that, the project will rely in part on SkyTrain’s impressive record of reliability and efficiency.

SkyTrain is one of the few rail operators where fares fully cover direct operating costs. Low cost enable high frequencies, and the existing system operates at a minimum five-minute daily headway from 5:30 a.m. to 1:15 a.m. When the Millennium Line is opened, headways will improve to a minimum, of four minutes at all hours, dropping to less than two minutes during peak periods.

"Since the Expo Line Opened in 1986, it has shown the world how efficient a driverless, automated system can be," Stewart said. "People know that when they need to take SkyTrain, it will be there for them, rain or shine."

The Expo Line is currently operating at capacity, with more than 4o million boardings annually, and last ordered 20 MK It SkyTrain cars to cope with the demand.

With more cars on the EIPO Line, the addition of the Millennium Line, Greater Vancouver’s SkyTrain system is expected to carry up to too million passengers annually by 2006.

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