British Columbia

TransLink says it is 'preparing for the worst' this winter

TransLink unveiled plans and improvements for this winter after last year's record snowfall.

Transit provider says it learned lessons from problems created by last year's record snowfall

Coast Mountain buses struggle to drive up a hill during snowy conditions in Vancouver in 2016. (@winnieyeo)

​Translink says it began making plans and improvements for this winter as soon as last year's never-ending version finally ended — a winter that saw many commuters frustrated by stuck buses or delayed SkyTrains.

"This year we are preparing for the worst," said spokesperson Chris Bryan.

But those preparations don't include snow tires on buses.

The company insists the winter-rated all-weather tires they use are recommended by their tire manufacturer for most conditions found on Metro Vancouver roads.

However, TransLink says it will test "tire socks" on four buses on Burnaby Mountain. They are covers made of fabric with Kevlar threads sewn in.

"All these little threads act like microgrippers and increase the area of contact on snow or ice for improved friction," said Simon Agnew who is heading the pilot project for Coast Mountain Bus Company.

"We are the first transit agency in North America that is trying these. These were developed in Norway, and commercial truckers have started using them in the Lower Mainland, and we have heard really positive feedback on them," he said.

Tire socks being tested out by the Coast Mountain Bus Company are one of several new ways TransLink hopes to combat snow and ice this year. (Susana da Silva)

Coast Mountain also hopes to do some testing next week on Mt. Seymour, if there is enough snow. A set of two for each bus costs $200, and Coast Mountain says it will look at expanding to other routes, if it likes the results.  

Last year, the company said that chains can cause damage to buses and that it does not have enough staff to use them. But, this year, it says chains will be a backup plan if the socks fail.

The bus company also says it has been approaching cities about snow removal. In previous years, it asked municipalities to clear certain bus routes, but this year it is taking a different approach — creating "snow routes" using the streets the municipalities have designated as priorities.

"Overlaying them with our service map and finding key corridors in each municipality to at least get people moving north, south, east and west and as close to SkyTrain stations as possible," said Donald Palmer, the vice president of operations.

Trolley buses will also have improved brass "shoes" that connect the bus to the line. They were improved to better operate on icy lines. Three trucks will also be spreading de-icing fluid on the 300 kilometres of trolley wires.

The company also promises better communication with riders, many of whom were unimpressed last year after being stranded by buses that couldn't get up hills or waited at stops for hours.

Changes also coming to Canada Line

Last year, the Canada Line was disrupted because of ice building up on the rails and preventing the power running through them getting to the trains.

A brass trolley shoe designed to work better on icy wires (Susana da Silva)

This year, they have installed a "heat tracing" system which runs a wire along the rail to warm it up and prevent ice from building up and they have added additional coverings to prevent snow from accumulating on the line.

An arborist is also looking at all trees and branches within 10 metres of all SkyTrain tracks to see if any could pose a problem.

TransLink says it will continue the practices from previous years of running trains all night and running four trains spraying de-icing fluid.