How an uninsulated screwdriver brought the Translink system to its knees

Translink’s welcome decision yesterday to accept all 20 recommendations of an independent review of last summer’s double Skytrain shutdown triggered straightforward but sketchy news reports of how implementation of the plan would take five years and at least $71 million.

But Gary McNeil’s report sets out in chilling detail how close the Skytrain system came to disaster, triggered in one instance by obsolete circuit boards that could not be readily replaced, and in the other by the improper use of an uninsulated screwdriver.

(The Vancouver Sun has a fairly comprehensive summary here.)

That screwdriver, in the hands of an electrician who was not directly supervised, took out the main Operations and Maintenance Centre, but not the Skytrain network. For more than 10 minutes the system was running without a brain until technicians took steps to initiate a complete shutdown.

When the shutdowns occurred, chaos ensued. Why? According to McNeill, some critical procedures are not written down and reside in the minds of long-term employees who are soon to retire. There were no clear protocols in place to engage and inform local municipalities, and so on.

It was a miracle no one was killed or injured, no train derailed or crashed. That is to Translink’s credit.

But without death, injury or derailment, no report is necessary to the BC Safety Authority, the provincial body ultimately responsible for Translink’s safe operation.

That has to be fixed. Translink cannot be expected to review itself. No one was hurt — that was exceedingly good luck. No one should count on such good fortune again.