Icy wires gives trolley buses trouble – Hey guys, we do get frost in Vancouver


Excuse me, but is it not December and was it not this time last year we had a big snowfall to contend with? So why the problems with TransLink’s and West Coast Mountain Bus trolley fleet in the real first frost in December 2009? Unable to operate trolleybuses in the first heavy frost of the year demonstrates the sheer incompetence of the two organizations that run our regional transit system. When winter comes, all must be ready to ensure that Greater Vancouver’s public transit system operates without a hitch and transit customers are not inconvenienced; but of course with TransLink the customer always comes last.

Yesterdays fiasco in the first  frost of the year must send shivers down the spine of VANOC, for if Vancouver’s bus system is crippled in a frost, what would a few cm of snow do to transit during the winter games? The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games must be the only Winter Olympic Games in history that the organizing committee pray that it doesn’t snow!

From News Radio 1130

Icy wires gives trolley buses trouble this morning

Many streets were lined with useless buses

Dean Recksiedler VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) | Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Huge problems for trolley buses this morning. Ice on the overhead wires is making it a tough go for the trolleys.

A de-icing crew was out overnight but they had problems with their vehicle so they couldn’t clear all the ice off.  TransLink’s Drew Snider says they don’t really have an option of even replacing the trolley buses, “The issue of course, with this being the rush hour, our diesel buses are already committed to other parts of the city, so in some ways our service delivery people are working on how maybe they can take one diesel from a route and shift things around.”

Snider isn’t sure when things will return to normal.


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10 Responses to “Icy wires gives trolley buses trouble – Hey guys, we do get frost in Vancouver”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I hope translink has an epic fail during the games and embarrasses Gordon in a major way.

  2. Warren Says:

    My understanding is that the old trolley buses had ice-clearing “shoes”, but these often caused the wires to come off the wires, which is more of a safety issue.

    Clearly another de-icing truck is warranted if they only have one in operation right now.

  3. Jason Says:

    Zweisystem, are you bored? Nothing better to do than to seize every excuse to bash Translink? Personally, I think you let your dislike of Skytrain spill over to all aspects of the transit system and eventually you’re going to be relegated to the wilderness with that yapping dog that never shuts up and the boy who cried “Wolf!”. Criticize when necessary, condemn when appropriate, and target the appropriate offender.

    Certainly, someone at CMBC dropped the ball in regards to dealing with the overnight frost, but my understanding from the Translink alerts is that trolley wires were also down around the Vancouver depot which I’m sure compounded the problem for CMBC especially if they weren’t able to get trolleys out on the routes overnight to keep the wires warm. CMBC’s snow response plan as is pertains to the Trolley bus system was covered on the Buzzer Blog back in January of this year.

    This problem did occur last year and I remember seeing an article that stated part of the problem was with the trolley bus’ computerized systems. I don’t remember the exact details, but it was something along the line of the trolleys have sensors in the poles and when they don’t detect power or there are repeated interruptions to the power the bus’ systems will automatically retract the poles from the lines.

    Now, why the buses manufacturer (New Flyer) or the maker of the eletrical system haven’t resolved the problem escapes me, but there is a lesson here for all of us LRT supporters.

    If a LRT line is ever built here in the Lower Mainland (hopefully soon, but I’m not holding my breath) and it ends up suffering from the same problem as the trolleys, it would most likely kill any chances of having more LRT lines built for a long time.

    Now I know most of the common LRT types running in Europe deal with these conditions all of the time, but given the provincial government’s history of supporting one-off solutions (Skytrain) I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up with some niche LRT product that isn’t in common use and we end up dealing with all sorts of growing pains.

    If the federal and provincial governments can ever be convinced to move away from wasting our money on Skytrain, it is up to all of us LRT supports (including the rabid dogs 😉 ) to ensure that the process is open and the selection of suppliers is based on merit and not on whoever the government favors most.

    Zweisystem replies: This was not freezing rain, nor was it an unusual winter experience, but a hard frost, the first one of the season. If TransLink/WestCoast Mountain Bus have proved to be so incompetent in letting the trolleys routes to collapse during the morning rush hour, then it is a news story. In other countries if the same thing happened, there would have been mass firings. The Incompetence that reigns supreme at TransLink is the same incompetence that plans our transit today and for tomorrow. Sorry, heads should roll over this, but they won’t!

  4. Warren Says:

    Heads should roll? Please.

    This was unusual for Vancouver as it was a combination of 85% humidity with below freezing temps. Check your farmer’s almanac on that one.

    Jason’s comments on your anti-Translink views are quite correct, but I think the horse has left the barn as you’re already banned on other (far busier) transit discussion blogs, and all but ignored except by a few similar-minded supporters.

    Overhead LRT wires can vary, but another issue with LRT is traction on icy hills. They require some sand/salt or other maintenance in the same way our trolley buses require maintenance. Any time this is part of the system, there’s always a chance of problems.

    Zweisystem replies: Dead wrong, management should anticipate these conditions and act accordingly, yet TransLink fumbles the ball. To be successful a transit system must operate on schedule and (I’m sorry to say) a frost should not disrupt bus service. Yes, I do think heads should roll, but I guess you are satisfied with a third rate transit system.

    I also take exception with your comment, “you’re already banned on other (far busier) transit discussion blogs”, is libelous and unless you retract it, I will ban you from this blog.

  5. Jason Says:

    Zweisystem replies: Dead wrong, management should anticipate these conditions and act accordingly, yet TransLink fumbles the ball.

    And how is Translink suppose to predict downed trolley wires and power problems on some trolley routes (sections of Granville and Broadway)?

    Also, the de-icing process that CMBC uses to de-ice the trolley wires is similar to what is employed to de-ice aircraft and a similar problem exists. After an aircraft is de-iced there is a limited window for that aircraft to get in the air before the ice buildup reaches the point where the aircraft is de-iced.

    Without trolleys actively running on the routes, the frost and ice will quickly reform once the de-icing solution wears off.

    Don’t get me wrong, there were obviously issues with how CMBC responded to the weather conditions, but some times there are events that you can’t anticipate.

    Zweisystem replies: The new trolleybuses are frost sensitive and in the winter, extra precautions must be taken to keep the buses operating. How can the public rely on the buses if the buses do nor run; how can the public regard the our public transit system to be a viable alternative to the car if buses stop running in a frost or SkyTrain stops in the snow? It is all about perception and TransLink/West Coast Mountain bus blew it big time. If this happened in Europe, there would be political ramifications. Not here though, where TransLink splutters on.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Zweisystem, it is important that you use the correct name in the post – It is Coast Mountain Bus Company, not West Coast Mountain Bus, at least get this part correct.

  7. zweisystem Says:

    I will make this abundantly clear: If the public is to regard public transit as a viable alternative to the car, it must run to schedule in inclement weather. A hard frost was in the weather forecast and Coast Mountain Bus Company should have made sure that the trolley buses were able to operate in the morning.

    I suspect that money is so tight with TransLink, that the decision was made to do only minor deicing and that truck, which by the news reports promptly broke down. This is unacceptable in a large city such as Vancouver, when the transit system is so designed to handle large volumes of metro customers who want to continue to there destinations.

    The event was caused by a hard frost, not sleet or freezing rain, but a frost; it’s not rocket science to keep the electric trolley system operating.

    As I stated before, if this happened in Europe, there would have been severe repercussions, but in Vancouver no. So do not expect improvement and in a hard frost, take the car instead.

    Is that really the message TransLink wants to give to there customers? I think not.

  8. zweisystem Says:

    Portland’s light rail system has come to grief with freezing rain twice. The first instance was when a freezing rain brought down the overhead, which the tension wasn’t adjusted to handle the increased wight of the ice. The second time, freezing rain filled the flange-ways with ice, forcing the wheels up and breaking the electrical contact.

    Because of the climate, Portland did not invest in snow clearing or ice clearing equipment. There is a U-Tube video showing a 5-car train trying to clear the flageways of ice during the (I believe) 2007 ice storm.

    I do not know of any recent incident with frost stopping a LRT line.

  9. Justin Bernard Says:

    Translink does have to shoulder some of the blame. In another article, Translink admitted staff did not look at the forecast for the night. That sort of mistake should not be accepted. Translink has 3 de-icing trucks.Why was only 1 out? Where were the other 2?

    The blogger’s opinion is harsh, but he does post a valid point. Translink could have avoided this. Bit it doesn’t mean the agency is incompetent.

    Zweisystem replies: The same thing has happened now 3 times in a row. Don’t these guys read weather reports?

  10. David Says:

    I’m with Zweisystem on this one… there was plenty of warning on Tuesday eve that Wed morning would feature sub-zero temps…..I took heed and trimmed back the herb garden before the killing frost… maybe nobody watches at Coast Mountain watches the 6:00 news….

    Zweisystem replies: Thank you! The real issue is not one of competence or not, it is one of the reliability of the public transit system. If the electric buses don’t run in a frost, the reliability of the system crashes. In an age of global warming and peak oil, for the managers to drop the ball on deicing the overhead in a winter frost is inexcusable. The customers who rely on public transport deserve much better. The message sent to the public by TransLink is simple: “We don’t give a damn about the customer.”

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