When SkyTrain Grows Old

Age is an expensive journey for older transit systems, especially older proprietary transit systems and the MK.1 cars operating on the SkyTrain network are indeed showing their age.

The majority of Mk.1 cars are now over 34 years old and are in dire need of major maintenance and/or refurbishment.

This is why TransLink is ordering 200 new Mk. 2/3 cars because they are going to replace the original fleet, which will have seen 40 years of service by the time the first replacements arrive.

Here is the problem, this order for 200 new cars includes the cars previously announced and not the extra cars needed for the Fleetwood/Langley extension.

Then there is the thorny issue that Bombardier may cease production of the ART Movia metro cars altogether, as Vancouver is the only city in the world, out of the seven cities that use ART Movia Metro or its predecessors, that is expanding its system. No other company offers an “off-the-shelf” vehicle for Expo and Millennium Lines.

Has TransLink reached it’s own “critical” vehicle shortage?

The answer maybe found on the Millennium Line where TransLink operates  two car train-sets only!

In Toronto, Transit issues are reported, unlike metro Vancouver where the mainstream media report TransLink news releases as actual news and politely ignore the rest.


Presently, only 2 car train-sets are used on the Millennium Line. Has TransLink reached its critical vehicle shortage?

Scarborough RT fleet reached ‘critical’ vehicle shortage last month

By Ben SpurrTransportation Reporter
Sat., May 4, 2019

The Scarborough RT’s aging vehicle fleet reached a “critical juncture” last month when so few cars were available for service that the line was operating without any spares, according to the TTC.

The shortage of cars meant the agency had no margin of error to operate planned service on the RT, which serves more than 35,000 riders every day. It’s a bad omen for Scarborough transit users who are supposed to rely on the line for at least another seven years.

The TTC expects the Scarborough RT to stay operational until 2026. The agency has “not yet evaluated how/if we can keep the line operational” beyond then, says a spokesperson, despite a provincial plan that may not see it replaced by a subway until about 2029.
The TTC expects the Scarborough RT to stay operational until 2026. The agency has “not yet evaluated how/if we can keep the line operational” beyond then, says a spokesperson, despite a provincial plan that may not see it replaced by a subway until about 2029.  (Rene Johnston Toronto Star / Toronto Star)

The situation “is a prime example of the need to modernize and replace our assets before they reach their end of life expectancy,” TTC CEO Rick Leary wrote in his latest report to the agency’s board.

To operate full service on the RT, the TTC requires five trains. Each is made up of four cars, paired in two-car units, for a total of 20 vehicles.

The agency has 28 of the vehicles, which allow it to perform tasks such as preventative maintenance on some cars while still operating full service.

But in mid-April, workers discovered an electrical fault on a car as they were preparing it for morning service. At the same time, a car in another unit was found to have an axle-bearing defect.

Both of the two-car units had to be taken out of service. And because two more units were already undergoing overhauls as part of a life-extension program to keep the RT running, over five days the TTC had just 20 cars available.

That’s the bare minimum, meaning if any other car had experienced a problem during that period, the RT would have had to operate with fewer than five trains.

“Depending on the time of day, fewer than five trains would mean longer wait times and increased crowding,” said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green.

“Although not ideal, we can run four trains in peak periods. Fewer than that and we would supplement service with bus shuttles (in addition to the trains). We did this a few times over the winter when we faced challenges on the line.”

Green couldn’t rule out a repeat vehicle shortage.

“Unfortunately, given the age of the vehicles, it is possible we could see a similar situation in the future,” he said.

The RT fleet entered service in 1985, and was intended to last 30 years.

A 2016 analysis by Bombardier, which owns the RT vehicle technology, flagged numerous problems with the cars, including “heavily worn” brake discs and holes in car bodies that “could compromise the integrity of the vehicle structure.”

The document, which the Star obtained through a freedom of information request, said in some cases maintenance had been done using a “piecemeal” approach. “Duct-tape has been used as a sealant, electrical wiring is exposed,” it said.

The TTC was already facing a struggle to keep the RT in good enough condition to operate until 2026. That’s around the time the one-stop $3.9-billion Scarborough subway extension council approved as a replacement for the RT was expected to enter service.

However, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government has tabled legislation to take control of new transit builds in Toronto and plans to construct a longer, three-stop $5.5-billion subway extension instead. Its version may not open until about 2029, raising the prospect that Scarborough transit users will be served only by buses for years after the RT is forced to shut down.

Both subway plans supplanted a proposed LRT that was supposed to replace the RT. It was scheduled to open in 2019 when council voted in 2013 to build a subway instead.

Councillor and TTC board member Jennifer McKelvie (Ward 25, Scarborough-Rouge Park) said reliability issues with the RT fleet is “a problem we’re going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future.”

She said she would ask the TTC at the agency’s board meeting next week to ensure it has contingency plans in case it’s not able to operate full service on the line.

She supports the three-stop subway over the one-stop plan or LRT, and made no apologies for backing the project that could leave riders taking the bus for years.

“This is our one chance to build important infrastructure for the next generation, and we can’t take shortcuts, we need to do it right,” she said.

She said her message to Scarborough transit users is “to continue to be patient and positive as we work on this important issue together.”

Green said the TTC is confident its vehicle life extension project, which is expected to cost $68 million, will enable the RT to operate safely until 2026, but the agency has “not yet evaluated how/if we can keep the line operational” beyond then.

With files from Jennifer Pagliaro.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpur


3 Responses to “When SkyTrain Grows Old”
  1. Haveacow says:

    They won’t cease the production until after the 200 vehicles are delivered. This produces another issue, after 2022-23 when the last of those vehicles arrive, what then.

    Due to corruption charges of the previous Prime Minister of Malaysia and his connection with Bombardier as well as SNC Lavlin and that, Kuala Lumpur’s Skytrain System just replaced all its old vehicle fleet, the last vehicle now arriving in 2020-21, the chances of new vehicle orders for Bombardier’s Innovia technology are very low. The new government of Malaysia has sworn to avoid all the corrupting influences of the old government, which is bad news for Bombardier.

    So Vancouver just keeps ordering new vehicles in dribs and drabs, not likely, that’s a very expensive way to order any rail vehicle. The per vehicle cost of the 200 new vehicles for Skytrain, which is not public yet but thanks yo my spies, is going to be high due to difficulties in procurement of parts. Bombardier unfortunately makes very few of the Skytrain parts itself anymore because many of its components are not compatible with other Bombardier designs . Bombardier wants anywhere between 30-60% of its rail vehicle components to be universal across all its many train designs. For that reason alone, Skytrain is in trouble and its production future post 2023, is in a precarious position.

    Zwei replies: A source in Montreal told me that Bombardier would not consider any order under 200 cars.

  2. Bull says:

    The 200 new train will replace the original trains that are 30 years old.

    The Langley extension will include new trains in addition to this.

    The broadway extension will also include additional new trains in the contract price.

    The Coquitlam extension added new trains and being used on millennium and expo lines.

    There will be much more than 200 trains ordered in next decade.

    If bombardier stops making these trains then other companies can make them too. It is not proprietary.

    Zwei replies: So much wishful thinking, but alas no.

    The 200 trains ordered includes trains ordered for the Broadway subway and Fleetwood.

    No one else currently makes trains compatible with ART Movia Metro, but can do at a hefty additional cost.

    As it stands, we are operating a museum line and the taxpayer will have to pay the additional costs running a museum line.

  3. Haveacow says:

    Just got out of a meeting and was talking to Bombardier officials over another matter but who are very familiar with the Skytrain order and possible add-ons. This information is not official, both of you are right. The vehicles needed for the first and second Langley extensions are not part of the 200 train order. These vehicles can be added on to the existing order at the same price per train, Translink will pay on the 200 car order. These new trains will be more expensive than the current trains because more than 1 production line will need to be tooled and set up to fill this large order.

    However, any other company willing to bid will have to pay licensing fees, for Bombardier owned technology. This will drive up the cost per vehicle so that, any competitors to Bombardier in the Vancouver order will most likely be 10%-25% more expensive per train (their figures, not mine). Yes, they do this by design so that they (Bombardier),”can always protect their massive investment in this technology” (again their words not mine). They also told me that, “too many of Bombarder’s competitors, especially CRRC in China, have stolen a lot of Canadian made Bombardier technology over the years” and they are tired of it.

    For example, recently, the Saudi made train control system that was chosen instead of their Citiflo 650 ATC System for the last Light Metro contract, was virtually a Bombardier’s Citiflo 650 ATC System with a, Made in Saudi Arabia stamp on it. In other words, outright theft of their technology by the Saudi Royal family. They can’t keep letting others do this.

    The CRRC of China is now marketing a LIM powered rail vehicle technology internationally that was based on the licensed built Bombardier technology built for Shanghai’s Airport. They had an agreement with one of CRRC’s predecessors whom manufactured their technoogy in China that, their technology would only be marketed inside China, not internationally. The new owners of that company, CRRC of China have chosen to not abide by that deal.

    Zwei replies: Interesting.

    First off, there is now no debate that ART Movia metro is a proprietary railway.

    Secondly; can the CRRC bid for cars if they use stolen Canadian tech?

    Thirdly; as ART Movia metro uses the wrong sort of LIM and is very expensive to build and operate when compared to conventional LRT, it seems they want to undercut future orders for Kuala Lumpur and/or Vancouver.

    We see a lot of repackaged old tech being flogged by the Chinese, like the infamous railcar operating over roads and highways, which fooled so many people, or more recently the optically guided bus being flogged as some soer of wunder trackless tram?

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