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Station-hopping on Vancouver's sleek new SkyTrains.

Station-hopping on Vancouver's sleek new SkyTrains

A new era of public transportation began in the Northwest in January as the sleek red, white, and blue trains of the region's first rapid-transit system began whistling down the tracks in Vancouver, B.C.

The fate of Vancouver's new rapid transit, called SkyTrain, presages projects across the border. Portland's Banfield light rail is scheduled to open this fall; Seattle soon may begin construction of a downtown transit tunnel intended for buses now, light rail trains later.

But it's appropriate that this new technology comes to Vancouver now. Its peninsular downtown, often choked by rush-hour traffic, is much in need of alternatives to the automobile. And it's no coincidence that service began on the eve of Expo 86, the world's fair opening here on May 2, devoted to advanced transportation.

What is automated light rapid transit?

"You might think of it as a little BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) without drivers and with some pioneering technology,' says B.C. Transit spokesman Bob Egby.

Both systems are electric-powered, use standard-gauge steel rails atop an elevated guideway to eliminate street crossings, and can add or drop cars as needed.

But BART cars are heavier, the guideway is sturdier, and it carries some 300,000 people a day (mass transit) versus about 100,000 for SkyTrain (intermediate).

SkyTrain is computer controlled, the longest fully automated system in North America. Compared to underground subways and standard railroads (heavy rail), its cars and guideway are "light,' saving construction cost.

About the size of a city bus, each SkyTrain car can seat 40 passengers with standing room for another 35.

Commuters don't have to worry about missing a train; another will be along soon. Riders can board trains every 4 minutes between 6 A.M. and 6 P.M. Less frequent service continues to 1 A.M. Two-minute service starts in October.

Trains travel up to 60 mph, and stay in stations only 10 to 30 seconds. Emergency operators ride aboard each train, and station attendants answer questions and help direct passengers.

New (Canadian) technology at work

Linear induction motors (LIM) have replaced conventional rotary motors. Instead of spinning a drive shaft connected to wheels to propel cars, LIMs create a magnetic field between cars and rails by alternating surges of electrical current. But the power surges are not in step, and it's this out-of-phase magnetic attraction that pulls each train down the tracks. Far less friction occurs between wheels and rails, reducing wear and maintenance.

Articulated axles allow trains to corner at high speed with less wheel wear and noise.

Another innovation: downtown, SkyTrain goes through an abandoned railroad tunnel, the guideway stacked into two tiers to handle trains in both directions.

Boon to commuters

The 21-kilometer (14-mile) system provides service along the city's busiest commuter route, Kingsway (Provincial Highway 1A-99A), from suburban New Westminster southeast of Vancouver into the heart of the city.

End to end, it's a 27-minute ride including stops, less time than it takes to drive during rush hour. Planning is already well underway to extend the route several miles into the suburbs.

Each of the 15 stations is architecturally different; most are open and airy. Stops include Expo's main gate (Main Street) and the fair's Canada Place.

Transfer tickets allow combined travel throughout the entire metropolitan area by bus, train, and SeaBus (the passenger-only ferry from Waterfront Station across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver).

One-way fares range from 50 cents to $1.75 Canadian. Automated ticket machines accept $1 and $2 Canadian bills and all Canadian and U.S. coins except pennies, and will make change.

Station-hopping tour

The new rapid transit offers tourists the chance to enjoy the city without traffic and parking hassles. Closest station to the U.S. border (at Blaine) is the New Westminster terminus, on Columbia Avenue at the foot of Eighth Street.

Gft off at Broadway Station for a look at Commercial Drive, Vancouver's "Italian Street' with import shops, espresso bars, restaurants, and delis. From Main Street Station, stroll into Chinatown and its Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Or leave at Stadium Station and walk to B.C. Place to watch a sports event, or visit nearby Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Playhouse. At Granville Station, visitors can check out the 125 shops in two adjacent underground shopping complexes.

From Burrard Station you can walk to city center restaurants and shops, theaters, museums, galleries. Or from downtown, ride to suburban Patterson Station, get off, and stroll a section of the emerging B.C. Parkway, a landscaped 12 1/2-mile-long strip beneath the guideway.

For a folder describing attractions at each stop, write to B.C. Transit, Box 49297, Vancouver V7X 1P6.

Photo: Heading out of hazy downtown Vancouver, two-car SkyTrain sweeps around a bend in its elevated guideway at 60 mph

Photo: Color strips mark two Expo sites, on False Creek and Burrard Inlet. Both are served by SkyTrain

Photo: Glowing like a conservatory as evening lights come up, Burrard Station stands surrounded by downtown skyscrapers

Photo: Riders queue up at Granville Station next to underground shopping malls. Trains come every 4 minutes, doors open 10 to 30 seconds
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1986
Words:862
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