Thursday, July 28, 2011

Training the Evergreen Line

The thing about the SkyTrain is that if you're going west, once you're north of the Fraser River the separate lines practically don't exist. When Expo Line or Millennium Line trains are running on their own tracks, they're identified as such on the next-train screens - even though it seems a bit odd for the boards at Sapperton to specify the next train is a Millennium Line train to Waterfront via Columbia, because how the hell else could it get to Waterfront - but once they enter Columbia Station, they're only ever described as "TRAIN TO: WATERFRONT." Nevertheless, it's easy for me to tell now whether I've boarded an Expo train or a Millennium train to take me downtown; the Expo train is the one that's already standing room only at Columbia, and a strong demonstration of why there need to be additional rapid transit links between Vancouver and Surrey.

The Evergreen Line, assuming it actually gets built and all the talk about it has not just been one huge joke at our expense, won't necessarily solve those problems, but it will extend rapid transit service into a completely unserved section of Metro Vancouver. The Vancouver Sun ran a story earlier this month regarding the mayors' vote to fund its construction through a gas tax increase, but that's not I was focusing on; rather, it was the artist's rendition of an Evergreen Line train that accompanied the article. If that's accurate, it looks like TransLink is planning to run the Evergreen Line with new Mark II trains - the blue, grey, and black ones with the destination signs that started rolling back in 2009. They're modern, sleek, and pretty awesome; and aside from the Rotem trains on the Canada Line, they're the rarest in the system, with only forty-eight of them in the current fleet. By contrast, the SkyTrain also runs sixty of the older, white Mark IIs, and one hundred and fifty of the original ICTS Mark I cars that the system opened with in 1985.

Where this matters is in terms of their capacities - a four-car Mark I train can hold three hundred and twenty people, while a full-on train of new Mark IIs with two articulated two-cars can hold five hundred and eighty.

That isn't necessarily the train-deployment decision I would have made.

A Mark I SkyTrain soaks up the sun at Main Street-Science World Station.

Like I said, trains to and from Surrey are busy and well-used. Last night set a new record for me in that regard; when I boarded an Expo Line train at Granville around 9:20 it was already crushloaded, and when I alighted at Columbia it was still crushloaded! At nearly 10 o'clock at night! It's a particularly strong argument, I think, for greater transit service to the South Fraser. But part of that was due to equipment; the train in question was an ordinary four-car Mark I train, as they most frequently are.

But I frequently end up missing my train by ten seconds and chill on the Columbia platform while I wait for the next one to show up. It's fairly regular for a VCC-Clark-bound Millennium Line train to arrive on the far platform during that time; and it seems unusually common that those trains are the newer Mark IIs.

This does not make sense to me. Outside of rush hour and special events, I've never encountered heavy crowds on the Millennium Line. Wouldn't it make sense for TransLink to assign the most spacious cars to the line that needs them the most - that is, the Expo Line? Wouldn't it make sense for the Evergreen Line to, at first, run Mark I trains, with new-bought Mark IIs put into service on the Expo and Millennium Lines to cover their absence?

Granted, the best option would be an entirely new connection to Surrey, so that all trans-river traffic does not have to rely on the Expo Line bottleneck. But we've got what we've got, and it's up to us to make the best of it.

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