– Michael Phillips’ great train ride

From http://www.francesbula.com/?p=1883

Michael Phillips // Aug 17, 2009

I waited two hours to get on the Canada Line at Waterfront, there was about a mile of coiled line-up. It was amazing seeing people so excited about something new in the city, with all the complaining we (rightfully) do. It was sweltering hot on the cement plaza outside the station (one lady needed paramedics) and I couldn’t help but think how old-fashioned the whole excitement was, it was so civic. I felt like I was back when people would watch space shuttle launches on TV. I had to explain to two sets of tourists why we were all lined up, and when I said “it’s for a new subway line” they looked at me like I was crazy and then walked away chuckling to each other, like we were 3000 Beverly Hillbillies in ecstasies over our first motorcar. Anyway, there was none of the promised “entertainment” except one magician who simply asked you to pick a card and the only card which was overturned when he fanned his cards out was your card. Finally we shuffled passed the last guard and went exploring:

The stations are fine but a bit boring, the dominant colours are grey and dark blue. Everything is very prim and proper, the electric signs tell you when the next 3 trains are coming and where they are going. The trains are spectacular, best in the world in my experience. Very wide, lots of empty space without seats, presumably for baggage and standing but it gives a very pleasant, open feel. This comfort is added to by the temporary lack of advertisements, the calming effect of which is very tangible. It would be interesting to see whether people might be inclined to spend more on a ticket equal to ad revenue just to not have to look at ads. Each underground station sadly looks almost identical, I’m shocked they used different architects. Unfortunately there is virtually no public art, although on the bright side there are also no rows of hot pink stop signs.

I got out at “Olympic Village” because it was the first station that didn’t seem to have a line up to get back in. It is in what is currently by urban standards the middle of nowhere. I wandered around not even knowing really where I was and I asked a young woman where exactly this intersection was and she said “You’re at the wrong end of the Cambie Street bridge” which I thought was an odd but poignant statement. I went back to the station and onto the next train.

The train is very quiet and smooth, and the female voice that announces the stations is the loveliest, classiest computer voice I’ve ever heard, fabulous. Everybody let out an excited gasp when the train finally came out into the sunshine below Oakridge and quickly ascended high above the ground. It was like we had never been on a Skytrain before. Usually commuters look so drab but I think we all enjoy public transit, and especially the Skytrain, a bit more than we let on. I got off at Marine Drive, and looked around the neighbourhood but there’s nothing really there except a gas station and houses. Then we crossed the bridge and the bridge is gorgeous and contemporary and the cycle paths are brilliantly held as an undercarriage folded under the Skytrain grade. Fantastic design!

The above ground stations are all essentially the same, reasonable architecture, similar to some Millenium stations, some or all have wood paneling on the ceiling, but not much excitement. I have only been to Richmond twice in my life so one highlight was simply being able to go to this new city so easily. I didn’t look around because of what looked like at least 30 minute or longer lineups at each station to get back on. Then I came back but rather than go all the way to Waterfront I went to Vancouver City Centre because I couldn’t believe that I had heard there was no formal transfer between the Expo and Canada lines at Granville Station. Unless I’m very mistaken, this will be the main criticism of the Canada Line.

If you want to transfer at Granville City Centre to the Expo line at Granville station (and they are yards away it seems) you have to a) find your way to the street level, walk to the corner of Robson and Granville, cross two crosswalks to the opposite end of the intersection, go half a block and go into Granville station and proceed back down into our deepest station to catch the train or b) walk into the underground portion of Sears adjoining the station, go through Sears, walk down Pacific Centre, go into the Bay and walk through the Bay to Granville Station. Otherwise you have to connect at Waterfront which is I believe what the transit gods want you to do even though this means an extra Canada Line trip one station to Waterfront, a transfer to the Expo line, then a trip to Burrard, and then back to Granville, yards away from where you were 10 minutes earlier. That’s 3 extra stops. Why no underground direct tunnel unifying the stations?

In any case, the line is on the whole pretty impressive and so necessary, although I have to say I was even more impressed with the commuters than the commute today.

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