When the SkyTrain opened in 1985, it boasted brand new technology that was supposed to become the world standard for rapid transit.
Outside of a few minor transit lines in other cities, the Bomardier-built Advanced Rapid Transit technology used on SkyTrain never really took off anywhere else except Vancouver.
“It seemed like a great idea in 1985, but you have to remember The Jetsons was on television in 1985 as well,” said Patrick Condon of UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. “This idea of a driverless, elevated, quasi-monorail was very popular then.”
Thirty years later, and a few too many breakdowns later, the future of the technology is up in the air.
In Toronto, the same technology, which is used on the Scarborough Line, is by all accounts at the end of its lifespan. Breakdowns and angry passengers have forced the TTC to spend millions on upgrades just to bridge the gap until a new subway line can be built.
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The boutique system is made by only one company.
“To some degree TransLink is locked to Bombardier,” transit blogger Nathan Pachal said. “They’re still manufacturing the product, so there’s nothing really to worry about and they’re building new systems. But Bombardier really does dictate what we’re going to put in…our region.”
The argument has been made that sticking with a particular technology makes sense since it would only require one maintenance yard and one parts supply list. The Evergreen Line is already using SkyTrain technology for that reason. But the Broadway Line has to be built as does Surrey LRT. What technology gets adopted has major implications for the region.
“We have a system that was built to a certain standard,” said Peter Fassbender, minister responsible for TransLink. “You have to be able to take the next generation of technology and integrate it into an existing system.”
“At some point you really need to think in 2015 terms and not automatically think, we have to extend this 1985 system because, hey, we bought it, we might as well keep pushing it out,” Condon said.