Much-needed relief to the overcrowding experienced daily on SkyTrain’s Expo Line and Millennium Line is finally coming.
TransLink’s Mayors’ Council has decided to accelerate its orders of new additional and replacement cars for the mainline SkyTrain system, according to an update made this summer to Phase One of the 10-year plan to expand and improve transit services in Metro Vancouver.
The public transit authority plans to acquire 72 additional new generation Bombardier Mark III cars to replace some of the aging Expo-era Mark I car fleet between 2022 and 2024.
However, the updated schedule now calls for 28 of these new cars to be delivered in 2019, a few years earlier than planned using existing funding sources. This is in addition to the December 2016 announcement of the order of 28 additional cars arriving a year earlier in 2018.
Altogether this means the combined Expo and Millennium systems, including the Evergreen extension, will have 100 new cars in about seven years, with 56 cars arriving between 2018 and 2019 and a further 44 cars by 2024.
As the 100 cars will be connected into four-car fully-articulated trains, this new allocation will create 25 four-car trains.
Based on the 2018 order of 28 cars at a cost of $93 million, each car costs approximately $3.32 million. Therefore, 100 cars could cost the transit authority over $330 million.
The new generation Mark III cars first entered service in the summer of 2016 and feature a more spacious interior and efficient seating layout, larger windows, improved lighting, and a quieter design.
Since 2013, TransLink has been undergoing a project to refurbish all 114 of the original Mark I cars, which went into service between 1986 and 1995, depending on the series batch.
The $38-million refurbishment has allowed the transit authority to postpone the high cost – estimated to be about $227 million – of acquiring new replacement cars. The retrofits consist of top-down upgrades to the electrical system, replacing entry doors, replacing and upgrading interior amenities and repainting the exterior with TransLink’s new black, grey, blue and yellow livery.
These cars have a lifespan of 25 years, and the refurbishment is designed to extend the useful life of these vehicles by about 15 years.
The new order of Mark III trains over the next few years will allow TransLink to retire the oldest of the Mark I cars – the first batch that went into service in time for the World’s Fair. Newer models of the Mark I will be gradually retired after 2026.
The surge in new rolling stock comes at a time when TransLink is recording year-over-year record ridership growth, and forecasts expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future.
Total ridership across all transit services grew by 4.5% in 2016, and during the first half of 2017 it experienced a growth of 5.7%
The service that experienced the highest rate of growth was SkyTrain, with an 11.9% growth over the first half of the year compared to the previous year. Comparatively, in 2016, boardings on the Expo and Millennium lines grew by 4.1% while the Canada Line rose by 5.5%.
Additional cars are required for all three lines to increase capacity and reduce overcrowding.
Trains on the Expo and Millennium lines are stretched thin as all cars are already being used following the recent service frequency increase and Evergreen extension opening. As well, 18 of the 20 trains on the Canada Line are operational during peak hours.
TransLink is also ordering 22 additional cars for the Canada Line, which will be married into 11 two-car trains. These trains will arrive in 2019 or 2020 as part of a separate procurement phase.
The Phase Two plan, which includes the Millennium Line extension under Broadway from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street, will contain a budget for an additional order of SkyTrain cars to support the service expansion and resulting systemwide ridership growth.