An experienced electrician TransLink believed to have accidentally caused a full SkyTrain shutdown has been suspended, prompting a scathing response from his union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 7000.
"TransLink’s decision to suspend a power technician before a proper investigation had been held is not only inappropriate, but raises serious concerns about health and safety and how SkyTrain employees are given directions," the union said in a statement.
CUPE 7000 represents 537 SkyTrain workers.
According to the union, TransLink suspended the electrician for the system shutdown, but not the supervisor, who had directed him to work on the panel said to have caused the failure.
"The panel is of poor design. This problem, regarding the hazards and potential for failure, is well known by the employer and was raised on several occasions by our members. This panel should not be worked on during SkyTrain operating hours. But, they ignored this information," said CUPE national representative Louise Oetting in a statement to media.
"Now, we have a situation where an individual has been suspended after being directed to work in an unsafe manner, and this public blame and suspension has occurred without a proper investigation having been completed."
Oetting said that the union is now conducting its own investigation into the incident. She said that the union would also be contacting WorkSafeBC.
"The employer has agreed that we mustn’t candy-coat the issue, as people want answers. Their answer was to throw our member under the train," said Oetting.
The electrician was installing a new circuit breaker for the Evergreen Line at a power distribution panel when he accidently tripped the main breaker feeding the critical systems at SkyTrain’s operations centre. It caused a system-wide shut down of train controls.
TransLink is still reviewing the details of the incident.
The power outage halted trains and impacted TransLink’s ability to communicate with customers over SkyTrain’s PA systems.
Riders, frustrated with hours of waiting, pushed open SkyTrain doors and began walking along the elevated tracks.
Additional resources were mobilized to ensure continued customer safety and to help people get to their destinations.
Every available bus was used and employees from all areas were called in to help or stayed well beyond their shifts for several hours.
TransLink also relied on the news media, social media, television screens in the stations and its website to communicate with customers.
Bus-shuttle hubs were set up at the busiest locations, with 42 buses running to keep people moving.
"Our trains are reliable 95 per cent of the time, but we know that is little consolation for customers who are delayed for hours when we do have a significant breakdown," said Doug Kelsey, TransLink chief operating officer in a press release.
"Two major disruptions in one week is unprecedented and the two incidents are completely unrelated."
To show appreciation for customers, TransLink will offer a free day of transit on B.C. Day with details to be announced later.
It was the second time recently riders saw delays.
On July 17, trains were stopped for more than three hours after a computer card failure in the communications system.
For a Storify of reactions to the Skytrain shutdown, click here.