What is so Special About Vancouver's SkyTrain?

I read somewhere that a city's transportation system is like a network of blood vessels in a human body. And much like a body suffers fr...

I read somewhere that a city's transportation system is like a network of blood vessels in a human body. And much like a body suffers from clogged arteries that may lead to a heart attack, a city can be deeply buried or even fully paralyzed in never-ending traffic. Having said so, Vancouver is blessed with its fast and reliable SkyTrain system. I haven't yet met any Vancouverite who would not love their trains. P.S. Do me a favour - ask a Torontonian or a Ottawan the same question.
I've taken trains in Vancouver a few times before, but when an opportunity presented itself in September 2021, I decided to devote the whole day to exploring my favourite city's borrows and suburbs by means of SkyTrain. Richmond, Surrey, New Westminster, Lougheed, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Burquitlam, and Port Moody - I've seen you all! For ten bucks, you won't find a better deal for a day's sightseeing. 
Today, the SkyTrain network consists of three lines – Expo, Canada and Millennium – and  spans nearly 80 km / 50 miles and 53 stations. Different generations of trains are used including the original Mark I trains made in Ontario. 
In my humble opinion, a rapid transit service in Vancouver was w-w-way overdue at a time the first SkyTrain stations opened in 1985, just in time for the 1986 World Expo. Toronto has had its subway since 1954, Montreal since 1966. Even Edmonton and Calgary have had their light rail transits operating since 1978 and 1981 respectively. And that's considering how fearlessly Vancouverites have been rejecting highway projects even though the use of cars and buses has increased tenfold. 
The good thing though was that Vancouver skipped most of the pain points its Canadian "brothers" have experienced and built a really good transit system, the one that has kept up with an impetuous real estate development and the one Vancouverites are very proud of. 
The SkyTrain's name not only reminds of cyberpunk movies, but also very accurately describes what you'll experience riding its trains. The views are stunningly panoramic especially facing north thanks to the train's elevated guideways outside of Downtown Vancouver.
One of the global innovations SkyTrain has introduced at a mass scale is a fully automated service, the one that requires no train operators. Vancouver has been the longest driverless rapid train transit system in the world until 2021 when Dubai built their subway. Interestingly, the same cars have been in use in Toronto's TTC Line 3, all with train operators. I mean I like the fact that public transit creates new job opportunities, but as a taxpayer, I'd like my government to use my money where it's absolutely required now or for future growth. Can you show me anyone in their mind who regrets operators in elevators losing their jobs a hundred years ago due to introduction of automated buttons?
Another innovation used is a propulsion technology called linear induction motors (LIM) used for breaking. Have you seen a metal plate between the tracks on the Expo and Millennium lines? Well, that's LIM. In simple terms, LIM get pushed down towards the metal plate and the resulting magnetic field slows the train down. 
The SkyTrain network has a number of interesting engineering features and objects. My all-time favourite is the North Arm Bridge. It's a very pretty cable bridge on the Canada Line that spans across the Fraser River and connects Richmond and Vancouver. It's used by trains, bicycles and pedestrians unlike the SkyBridge that is solely dedicated to trains. 
Another impressive feature of the SkyTrain system is a tunnel that connects Port Moody and Coquitlam apparently separated by a small mountain. I met a person on a local hike in Vancouver who was working on the project. The guy is very proud of this tunnel and I could see why. 
Interesting enough that the Expo Line uses the old Dunsmuir Tunnel originally completed in 1933. I really commend this practical approach to recycle old yet still useful investments.
Canada Line, the newest line opened for the 2010 Olympics, is a bit weird though. Stations' platforms only accommodate two-car trains completely ignoring any future potential spike in ridership. 
By the way, I forgot to mention: everyone who takes a Canada Line train at the YVR Vancouver Airport and its adjacent stations (See Island Centre and Templeton) will have to pay a $5 surcharge to help cover the cost of construction. A workaround? You can walk 45 minutes to Richmond like I did, have a nice lunch at Tokyo Joe's Sushi and take a train downtown. Tasty, healthy, and no surcharge. 
Speaking of the system's aesthetic side of the house. What I liked the most about SkyTrain is the views it offers of high rises against a mountain backdrop in Burnaby, Port Moody, Coquitlam and other suburbs. It is truly magical and every train enthusiast should experience it. 
Old slums yield to glass condominiums. 
Another section I liked is a green tunnel near the Edmonds Station.
While the architectural style of SkyTrain stations remains pretty modest as the focus has always been on functional features, amenities, safety and, of course, cost, there are certain architectural patterns that make the stations distinct from other transit systems in North America. 
Stations built in 2000s and 2010s lack suspended ceilings that were used in older stations. As a result, roof structures are more exposed and expressive. 
I particularly liked to see Asian architectural patterns at Lougheed Town Centre Station. 
Another common feature of newer stations is the use of heavy timber. 
The Burquitlam Station is my all-time favourite thanks to its art hanging from the ceiling. Is it made from bike wheels?
Oh, did I tell you that you can be your own train operator? Well, at least you can get the same view. 

You Might Also Like