Closure of Metrotown SkyTrain station considered during reno

The SkyTrain station at Metrotown will be undergoing extensive renovations to keep up with passenger demand and improve accessibility. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
The SkyTrain station at Metrotown will be undergoing extensive renovations to keep up with passenger demand and improve accessibility.

A major renovation of the Metrotown SkyTrain station could lead to closure of the busiest station in Burnaby for 15 months, according to a TransLink request for proposals (RFP) for the project.

Whether that closure will happen has still not been decided, stressed SkyTrain spokesperson Jennifer Siddon.

The renovation of the station is part of upgrades to seven stations being funded with  $124 million from the federal and provincial governments and $29 million from TransLink.

Metrotown, along with Main Street-Science World, are sites of the two biggest projects on the list, which also includes work at New Westminster, Scott Road, Commercial-Broadway, Surrey Central and Joyce-Collingwood stations. While construction will start on Main Street station early in the new year, Metrotown is in the conceptual design phase, Siddon said.

Those two stations have not yet had faregates installed as they will be put in as part of the renovations.

Metrotown station has not had any renovations since it was built in 1986, apart from the walkway connecting to Metropolis at Metrotown shopping centre, which didn't exist when the Expo Line first opened, Siddon said.

"When the station itself opened, there was something like only a bowling alley and a department store and some apartments on the other side [in the area]."

Today, the station is busy all day long and into the evening. It's now the second-busiest in Metro Vancouver, after Commercial-Broadway.  "It hasn't been able to keep up with the growth so it's time to improve it."

The work at Metrotown will include everything from adding another entry and increasing the size of the platform to replacing one elevator and installation of another, and addressing passenger flows between the station and both the mall and the bus loop.

"It's a significant upgrade project geared towards increasing the capacity of the station," said Siddon. "There's incredible growth in the area, let alone the region. It's about improving accessibility. It has been a challenge having only one elevator at that station and also at the side away from the walkway."

As a major project, TransLink has scheduled a year-long process for design work and development of an alternate service plan before any construction begins in early 2014, she said.

The request for proposals for detailed design and construction engineering services states that a cost review has identified "significant savings" if the station could be shut down during construction, mainly due to the resulting shorter construction period, from 28 months if it stays open to 15 months if it's closed.

If closure occurs, alternate service could comprise a "bus bridge" to neighbouring stations, changes to existing bus service or use of a temporary station. If the temporary station option is chosen, it could be built on the pocket track just east of  Metrotown station, with access to the platform level from temporary staircases.

However, as elevator service would not be

provided, the RFP said, "transit users requiring an elevator will use Royal Oak or Patterson Stations."

Proponents are being asked to show the difference between a 28-month station-open project and a 15-month station-closed option, and what that alternative would look like.

While acknowledging cost considerations, Siddon said the main reason for the option of shutting down the station is safety.

"One of the challenges we have with Metrotown is it's relatively narrow and where its emergency exit is located ... There's also concerns about how narrow the platform would be if we are asking our passengers to navigate around temporary fencing."

Any potential cost savings of completing the work sooner would have to be weighed against the cost of providing an alternate service, she said.

It's like renovating a house and having to decide whether it makes more sense to move out to allow work to proceed more quickly, or doing it in bits and pieces over a longer period.

"The most important thing is understanding the impact on our customers and their safety," she said, calling safety the No. 1 priority.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan was surprised to hear first about the potential of the station being shut down from reporters. He hadn't even considered it as a remote possibility.

"One of the problems with TransLink is the Mayor's Council isn't included in any level of detail about any of the projects that go on. Essentially that remains with the private board so we're not involved with those discussions."

Corrigan planned to talk to city hall staff on Monday about the issue, in hopes that they were consulted "and that there may be more information within the bureaucracy than there is for the politicians ... I would hope we weren't left in the dark on it."

As for the potential shutdown, he said, "they would have to make a pretty persuasive argument in order to do it.

"It's a big inconvenience for people that are going to be taking that SkyTrain station but it's also a big impact on the mall."

Currently, he said, the mall gets about 30 per cent of its business from SkyTrain passengers.

Corrigan sees the push to get the station renovated more quickly as being connected to a desire to get faregates up and running as a "feather in their cap" for the provincial government.

"You're seeing projects all being pushed as hard as they can be pushed, whether it's the Port Mann [Bridge] or faregates on SkyTrain to try to get it in before their election mandate is up. So there will always be a premium being paid in order to deliver."

Siddon said the contract is expected to be awarded in January, with the resulting detailed design to be done by September, and public consultations to follow sometime in the fall.

If all goes as planned, construction is scheduled to start in February 2014, with completion in 2016 or earlier.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.