TransLink to buy 205 new SkyTrain cars from Bombardier for $723 million

Dec 14 2020, 6:17 pm

The entity that is, for the time being, still known as Bombardier Transportation will continue to be the exclusive long-term supplier of future train car fleets for SkyTrain’s Expo and Millennium lines.

After a years-long process that sought proposals from international bidders, TransLink staff have chosen the Montreal-based company to build 205 new train cars, which will be used as both an expansion fleet and the replacement fleet for the aging Mark I cars.

This is TransLink’s single largest order ever of SkyTrain cars. The public transit authority’s board of directors approved the decision to go with Bombardier this week, with the contract worth $723 million.

“Almost four decades ago our very first SkyTrain cars entered service, travelling between Vancouver and New Westminster,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond in a statement.

“Those first-generation trains have served our region efficiently and reliably over many years, but they are now reaching the end of their lifecycle. This new order will replace our oldest trains and allow us to improve the customer experience, support expansion projects, and manage our capacity well into the future.”

The contract with TransLink comes at a time of immense transition for Bombardier, as its deal to sell Bombardier Transportation — the company’s global unit that produces rail cars — to France’s Alstom will finalize in the first quarter of 2021. After the $8 billion deal is finalized, Bombardier Transportation will be rebranded as Alstom of North America and South America.

According to TransLink, three international manufacturers formally expressed interest in the SkyTrain project after it began the initial procurement process in February 2018. These companies were required to have expertise in designing and building trains with linear induction motors required by the infrastructure on the Expo and Millennium lines.

The public transit authority’s request for proposals stage ended in May 2020, and it resulted in proposal submissions from two companies. The other prospective companies were not named.


Mark III train at Burrard Station on SkyTrain’s Expo Line. (Shutterstock)

The order of 205 cars from the future Alstom division will be arranged into a fully interconnected, five-car-length configuration, creating a total of 41 five-car trains. The unit price per car is $3.5 million.

TransLink states it was able to negotiate better reliability and quality control compared to the most recent batch of four-car-length Mark III trains, which is the newest model of SkyTrain and had some initial testing and operating challenges. These trains are required to have a “15% improvement on reliability” compared to the Mark III design.

The precise model of train was not disclosed, but this future fleet will have considerably improved enhancements and features compared to the Mark III currently in use.

Aside from the increased train length for greater capacity, these new trains will have a new seating configuration with the inclusion of side seating, provisions for interior digital passenger information displays and WiFi, extra middle interior light for door status, improved heating and air conditioning ventilation system with extra cooling, and “West Coast art” on seats and windscreens.

From the outside, these trains will appear different too as the contract requires a new design for ends of the train.

The first new train is scheduled to be delivered to TransLink in October 2023 for the commencement of testing. The second train is expected to arrive June 2024, and all subsequent trains will be delivered at a rate of about one per month until the last train is delivered in September 2027.


SkyTrain Mark I car on the Expo Line. (Shutterstock)

A total of 125 new cars will be used to retire the original fleet of 150 Mark I cars and for the capacity increases needed in time for the 2025 opening of the Millennium Line Broadway Extension to Arbutus. Another 80 new cars will be used to improve capacity on the Expo and Millennium lines.

More than three quarters of the first generation SkyTrain cars began operating in time for Expo ’86, and the remaining Mark I cars arrived in two further batches in the early-to-mid 1990s.

From this order, the Expo Line and Millennium Line’s capacities are slated to increase to 17,500 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) and 7,500 pphpd, respectively. These increases represent a 32% and 96% boost in carrying capacity, respectively, over existing capacities.

The new cars are part of a $1.47 billion upgrade of SkyTrain infrastructure, with funding contributions previously announced by the federal and provincial governments. The new funding will also go towards a new additional train maintenance and storage yard, upgrades to the existing Edmonds train operations and maintenance centre, and train control and operating systems, including a new $110 million SkyTrain operations and control centre.

Under the agreement with Bombardier Transportation, TransLink will also have the option to order up to an additional 400 cars through 2035 for future demand and replacement needs, which potentially brings the contract’s numbers to as many as 605 cars to create 121 five-car trains.

The first option of additional trains would be used to support the Expo Line’s Surrey-Langley extension.

new skytrain control centre omc2

Artistic rendering of the new SkyTrain Operation Control Centre addition on the existing parking lot of OMC2. (TransLink)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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