Freak accident during maintenance leads to SkyTrain shutdown

WATCH: A fire in a bird’s nest is being blamed for a 13-hour shutdown of a section of Vancouver’s SkyTrain system. Ted Chernecki reports.

The Expo Line returned to service after a fire damaged a communications cable late Thursday night, causing a major headache for thousands of commuters overnight and into Friday morning.

The service went down at approximately 11 p.m. Thursday when a spark produced by track grinding equipment caused a bird’s nest to catch fire under the guideway, approximately 150 metres east of the Main Street SkyTrain station.

The malfunction shut down all service between Joyce and Waterfront stations.

Crews worked to eliminate the problem overnight, and a bus bridge was set up. But full service was not back up until noon on Friday, resulting in major delays and long line-ups for people needing to take the bus bridge.

WATCH: Geoff Hastings looks at the commuter chaos caused by a 13 hour shutdown of SkyTrain’s Expo Line

TransLink interim CEO Doug Allen said it an unusual ‘freak’ accident caused the fire.

He says the communications cable that was severely damaged in the fire was a very significant item and the repair work was difficult due to the location. The cables had to be spliced from the top-down, and workers had to lie on their stomachs to do the repairs.

While he said TransLink responded “very well,” he offered an apology on the News Hour.

“Let me start by apologizing to our passengers, to our customers. Many people faced a real disruption this morning, and we apologize for that. People have places to go, and we responded in the best way we knew possible given this freak incident,” he said.

WATCH: TransLink CEO Doug Allen on Skytrain service disruption

The delays in setting up the shuttles, along with the inability of TransLink to honour expired transfers Thursday night, frustrated many commuters who were forced to find new ways to get home late at night.

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Allen says 33 extra buses were set up to handle the crowds.

“It is never enough when you have an issue like this, but I think it is one of the biggest responses we’ve ever had,” he says.

Because of the system meltdown,  all modes of transit were free on Friday, and TransLink said they planned to provide an arrangement for their customers with monthly passes and those who already purchased tickets.

With just a week left for people to vote in the transit plebiscite, many wondered what impact the closure – and TransLink’s response – would have on last-minute ballots. But Allen said he wasn’t worried.

“We’re going have a million more people in a couple decades, and we need more transit,” he said.

“We’ve got a big, integrated transit system we think works very well. We do have challenges, we’re responding to those, but when you’ve got the growth greater Vancouver is going to experience, we have to have a bigger transit system, and it has to be funded.”

© 2015 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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