West Coast Express commuters have sat through more than 100 delays in the past six months, almost twice as many as a year ago.
For harried workers starting the day on May 1, it was a freight train blocking the track that put train No. 5 a half-hour behind the morning’s schedule.
Passengers that day had the option of jumping on to a shuttle or taking the No. 701 bus to Coquitlam.
The next Tuesday, May 5, train No. 3 lost its engine, creating a 45-minute wait, requiring the train to limp into Vancouver Watefront station. being pushed by train No. 4.
Then that Wednesday, a freight train blocked the track, putting the afternoon’s train No. 1 behind by 35 minutes. A day later, the same thing happened.
The examples are part of the 358 CP-related delays to the West Coast Express so far this year, almost double the 291 delays for all of 2014.
But if anyone’s frustrated, don’t get mad at TransLink.
TransLink redirects queries about the delays to Canadian Pacific which rents the track time out to TransLink.
“We’ve been talking to CP to see ask if there’s anything that can be done. We really need them to come up with some solutions,” said Colleen Brennan, TransLink vice-president of communications and engagement.
Brennan said the dozens of delays have hurt the commuter rail’s reliability rate.
For the past five years, the on-time performance of the West Coast Express has been 98 per cent.
Even if that drops to only 95 per cent, passengers won’t be impressed.
“But the reality is, if you’re the customer sitting on the train for 25 minutes, it’s cold comfort,” she said.
“These incidents are very concerning to us.”
Brennan didn’t have an exact number of complaints from customers, but said the volume is substantial.
“Our staff are being called directly by customers. They’re very upset.”
Between 5,000 and 7,000 commuters ride the five rush-hour trains daily from Mission to Vancouver and back. The service started in 1995.
Brennan said the 13-year average for train delays is only 1.6 per cent, meaning only that amount of the time a train is late because of CP.
But so far this year, the rate is six times that – 6.3 per cent.
The problems, though, weren’t bothering the few riders of the last morning train at Port Haney station on Wednesday.
Igor Sintsov hasn’t had many delays on his trips during the past few months and is happy with the service.
About two weeks ago, however, there was a delay for about an hour.
“As long as my employer is OK with that.”
Rose Lagiglia who also takes the last train daily has no complaints ,while Jose Santos, in the last four months, has only sat through one delay.
Maple Ridge student Jahnikka Rensmaag had the same account, remembering only one delay on the few days she rides the train in a week.
But Brennan doesn’t want to take those customers for granted.
“We don’t want to lose those customers. We want them to stay with us. Asking them to be patient only goes so far,” she said.
“We’re really impressing on CP the importance of this. We’re really hoping that they’re going to come forward and do what needs to be done so our customers are not going to be delayed as they are.”
In January, upgrades and maintenance on the track caused another drop in reliability, bringing the on-time performance rating for that month to 87 per cent, the lowest since the service began.
No one told TransLink, however.
Almost all delays to West Coast Express service in the past three months have been CP related, B.C. Rapid Transit Company president Doug Kelsey said in a letter earlier this year to Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read.
CP apologized in a January letter to its customers for the delays caused by the track work. The delays are similar to what happens when a road is closed because of construction. That requires parts of the track to be closed, outside of the hours when the West Coast Express is running. But the work doesn’t always go as planned.
Salem Woodrow of Canadian Pacific said that the railway will attain the on-time performance rating of 95 per cent for all of 2015.
She said high-level talks will continue between CP Rail and TransLink to resolve issues that cause delays, but wouldn’t say what measures would be taken or when.
A few of the delays were caused by maintenance being done on the track in the area but that work is now complete.
“It makes good business sense for all of us to continue to work together to minimize all these disruptions.”
She wouldn’t say if there was any particular reason behind the increase in stalled trains.
“Over the last few years, that track has become a very busy corridor.”
Pitt Meadows Coun. Janice Elkerton said the delays are unproductive. People rely on the train to get to work on time and can’t miss work. The unreliability will force more people to get back into their cars.
She said it’s unfortunate because the system has been reliable for years and it’s happening during the middle of the referendum on raising the provincial sales tax by .05 per cent to expand TransLink services.
The agreement between CP Rail and TransLink allowing the latter to use CP’s track expires Oct. 31.