No plan for platform barriers on SkyTrain despite deaths

Safety measures are too costly says Translink

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By Corvin Vaski

With ridership increasing on the SkyTrain system and soon returning to pre-pandemic levels, how can stations be made safer for everyone?

According to the most recent data from the BC Coroners Service, from 1987 to 2017, there were 86 SkyTrain-related deaths – roughly three a year. The majority were suicide, but some were accidental.

Platform barriers are being installed in other North American countries and becoming the norm in Europe and Asia, but there are no plans for the additional safety measure on the Metro Vancouver system despite more than 30 years of deaths.

The first fatality on the SkyTrain system happened on Sept 15, 1987 when a 56-year-old woman either fell or jumped onto the tracks at 29th Avenue Station. She died instantly.

In October 2006, a man in his 20s stumbled and fell on the tracks at Gateway Station around midnight. Many use the SkyTrain late at night as they depend on transit to get home after work or a night out with friends.

A blind man fell on the tracks on June 26, 2015, at Commercial-Broadway station. Some SFU students saved him by quickly noticing and pulling him up and off the tracks preventing what could have been a deadly situation.

The platforms of SkyTrain stations have posed a danger to the users since the system began running and though there have been safety improvements over the years, the risk of dying on the tracks has not gone away.

SkyTrain cars are massive machines and so when the track intrusion system is triggered, and the trains hit their emergency brakes the trains go some distance before coming to a complete stop. If someone falls onto the track the train could be too close and not able to stop in time.

Tragic deaths leave witnesses devastated

Deaths on the SkyTrain system have a large impact on everyone – attendants, control room operators, first-responders, and passengers.

“We’ve had deaths on the system,” said CUPE 7000 Union President Tony Rebelo. “I don’t like to talk about it too much because I’ve been to a bunch of them.”

All these safety measures in place are effective to a certain extent and they all have in common the same shortcoming, they are not a physical barrier in place 24/7.

Platform screen doors are becoming popular in parts of Europe and Asia but are a rare sight to see in North America. You might find them at an airport or on the Las Vegas monorail, which is a tourist attraction, but not on North American public transit.

The screen doors are either floor to ceiling height or half height and similar to the height of an entry gate. The doors are on the edge of the platform preventing debris and people from the tracks. When a train arrives at the platform the train doors stop at the same spot as the platform doors and open simultaneously.

Platform screen doors to be installed on the new REM train network in Montreal Que. Photo: REM.

Montreal and New York trains adding platform doors

The Réseau express métropolitain is a new automated train network being built in Montreal. It will be 67 km of tracks when it fully opens in 2023-2024. Parts of the system are expected to begin operating this year. On the REM, platform screen doors are being installed on each of its 26 stations for various reasons.

According to the REM website, “this is the first time in North America that a public transit system of this size will be equipped with platform screen doors.”

“This is the three main reasons I will say we decided to go ahead with this technology. The security, reliability and the comfort of the users,” said Emmanuelle Rouillard-Moreau, advisor, media relations and communications.

The platform screen doors being installed on the REM are floor to ceiling height keeping the cold Montreal winters out of the station and keeping users warm on the platform and inside the train cars.

“One of the most important advantages is the reliability of the system. The platform screen doors protect any stuff off the system. For example, right now one of the main issues is that people often drop their cellphone on the line when there are no platform screen doors, they can also drop any other object. So in terms of reliability, it’s a major advantage, there’s nothing you can drop on the line,” Rouillard-Moreau said in an interview.

In late February, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that they will install platform screen doors at three New York subway stations as a pilot program. The authority has been against installing the doors because of the cost and maintenance required.

That changed following the death of Michelle Go, who was pushed onto the tracks and killed at a Manhattan station in January of this year. Go’s death was the breaking point for the public after recent spikes in subway station violence across New York.

In an email statement from TransLink, which operates the SkyTrain system said that platform screen doors are still not feasible, because of the cost associated and that there are different models of trains on the line with different door sizes configurations making it “impossible” to install platform screen doors that work for all train models.

SkyTrain users waiting on the platform at Aberdeen station. Photo: Corvin Vaski.

People with disabilities are more vulnerable

Pam Horton, the board chair of Disability Alliance B.C., said it’s time for similar action in this province.

“I would love to see TransLink do a pilot of this, even if it was only at a couple of stations,” Horton said in an interview.

A pilot program would allow for the public to experience platform screen doors, highlighting if the doors are something that improves users’ safety and experience on the line. A pilot would allow for everyone to use the doors and if they work for people of all accessibility levels.

“You’ve got folks with different auditory and other sensory issues. Folks from the Community Living sector, and they all react to we all react to different things in different ways,” said Horton.

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