A shutdown of the SkyTrain system between Burnaby and Surrey disrupted service for thousands of passengers during Thursday’s evening commute and wasn’t fully fixed for more than three hours.
A failure of the main control computer that communicates with trains was blamed.
All SkyTrain service was frozen at 5 p.m. and TransLink officials said they had limited service restored at 5:50 between Waterfront and Metrotown on the Expo Line and from VCC-Clark to Lougheed on the Millennium Line.
But soon after that, frustrated passengers on other trains that were still stuck began forcing the doors open and making their way out to stations along the tracks – triggering an automated system-wide shutdown.
Security and Transit Police assisted passengers to ensure safety and SkyTrain attendants manually drove trains back to stations, but it took until 6:45 before all passengers were off the trains and began taking buses or finding a different way home, according to TransLink.
Officials said the computer problem was fixed at 8:15 and trains then started to move but remained heavily backed for until about 9:30.
Spokesperson Jiana Ling said SkyTrain service would have been restored faster if passengers had not exited trains and walked on the guideways, which she said is a safety risk due to the high-voltage electricity.
A bus bridge carried passengers from Metrotown to King George Station, but Ling said TransLink had limited spare buses to add because it was rush hour.
“We apologize to our customers for this unusual incident, which caused parts of our SkyTrain system to be out of service for such a lengthy period of time,” said Fred Cummings, president of TransLink’s B.C. Rapid Transit Co. subsidiary.
“Our people worked as quickly as they could to look after our passengers who were affected.”
The incident ignited a firestorm of criticism on social media.
“I was stuck on a SkyTrain for an hour and 50 minutes tonight,” Ashley Ouelette posted on TransLink’s Facebook page. “What happens if someone suffers a medical emergency on a SkyTrain in this situation?”
“My poor mom has to take a taxi from Metrotown to Surrey cause of the SkyTrain problem,” tweeted @zoeylynngauvin. “She should receive a refund @TransLink, ridiculous!”
TransLink says it can’t issue refunds yet – it may be possible to credit or compensate passengers for major disruptions in the future once the delayed Compass card system is working.