SkyTrain Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia

Photo Credit: TransLink


Initial Research by: Desiree Theriault

Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2017 



Project:  SkyTrain Vancouver

Type of Urban StrategySmart Cities 

Type of ProjectRapid Transit

LocationVancouver, British Columbia

Date Designed/Planned: 1985

Construction Completed 2016



Over the past few decades, Canadian cities have shifted their perspectives of the urban environment into one that strives to be economically competitive (Jones. 2015). The future of a city now more than ever relies on providing a high quality of life, a sense of place, and universal access to its citizens. The integration of transit-oriented development (TOD) provides cities with the ability to promote healthier lifestyles, renew identity within declining communities, improve air quality, and provide a network that connects all communities (TransLink, 2011).


The system creates corridors between neighbourhoods to facilitate easy accessibility to transit, diffuse downtown congestion, and provide affordable mobility. The Rapid Transit System and urban strategy has played a crucial role in creating a stronger, more attractive, and future-focused Vancouver - a necessity to thrive within the complexities of the Canadian urban planning landscape.




The City of Vancouver in the province of British Columbia is one of the first cities to delve into the world of TOD and establish a transit framework (Translink, 2011). This rapid transit development was introduced in 1986 under the name ‘SkyTrain’ which featured a fully automated, driverless, rapid transit system. Today (2017), the SkyTrain features 79.6 km of track that stretches across the Vancouver Region going both above ground and underground. It connects 53 stations across the city and serves three specific lines: Expo line, Millennium, and Canada Line (Translink, 2017).


The SkyTrain was a large and expensive project that ultimately changed the urban fabric of the City of Vancouver. Due to its substantial influence over large areas of the city, the project received funding from three levels of government (Russwurm, 2001). With a construction budget of $854 million, the Expo line was the first of the SkyTrain lines. The Millennium Line had a construction budget of $1.2 billion, while the Canada Line had a construction budget of $1.9 billion (Willmore, 2000). A fourth line, the Evergreen Line is expected to begin construction in late 2016.


The SkyTrain is located across Vancouver with three lines, over 150 SkyTrain cars and 53 stops. The Expo Line is the first and original line of the sky train linking Vancouver’s Waterfront to the King George neighbourhood, it also has a second route that connects the Waterfront with the Simon Fraser University. The Millennium Line opened in 2002 and joined Vancouver to the Coquitlam area of British Columbia and from there links to Port Moody, British Columbia. The last line is the Canada Line, which has two routes that are important to the City of Vancouver. The first route operates between Vancouver’s Waterfront and the Airport, while the second route operates between Waterfront and Richmond, British Columbia (TransLink, 2017).


The history of the SkyTrain dates back to the 1950s, where Vancouver began to realize the importance of connecting people within the city. However, the lack of rapid transit technology at the time delayed response to the city's rapid urbanization. In the 1980s, Vancouver city began to bust at the seams with many traffic, accessibility and connectivity issues. The City of Vancouver met with the Urban Transportation Development Corporation from Ontario, which had developed a rapid transit system that would respond to the needs of the city. Vancouver decided to build the transit system to showcase the Ontario project and see the viability of rapid transit within the city. The project would be showcased under the Expo 86.

The project was completed in 1986 and coined the name SkyTrain. The name came from the great heights that the rapid transit system took, allowing passengers to feel as though they were a part of the sky. After the exposition, the line was suitably named Expo Line and featured over 29 kilometres, 20 stations and over 150 train cars that allowed connectivity within the city. In 2002, the project expanded with a second line named the Millennium line. This line allowed for commuting between North Burnaby and East Vancouver and was utilized as a strategy to reinvigorate the surrounding communities for high-tech development.

In 2009, the Canada line was introduced to the city providing access to the substantial growth in ridership. The line connected Downtown Vancouver to Richmond, British Columbia and the Vancouver Airport. It was utilized to create a bigger and better connection between the surrounding small communities of British Columbia to the Greater Vancouver Area.

In 2016, the City of Vancouver completed the construction of a new line called the Evergreen Line which would provide connections between the cities of Coquitlam and Port Moody.

(TransLink, 2017)


One of the most significant issues with the rapid urbanization of Canadian cities is ensuring accessible connections throughout the city. Establishing a network that connects communities was at the forefront of discussion as early as the 1950s. To address this connectivity issue, Vancouver undertook a project with the Urban Transportation Development Corporation to showcase the power of rapid transit, and its ability to connect neighbourhoods across the city.

(John, 1977)


The Vancouver SkyTrain aimed to dramatically improve the lives of the city inhabitants by providing:

-Non-Rail Infrastructure investments to improve pedestrian amenities and access

-Parking management and shared parking

-Direct Public Investment in projects

-Local Transit Service Design


The undertaking of the SkyTrain began by looking back at the original plans for rapid transit in the 1950s. Wells Coates designed the plans and analyzed the Waterfront of Vancouver and community areas that were in much need of redevelopment. It was evident in the 1980s, that the SkyTrain could utilize this former plan and provide a new sense of place and identity to these abandoned warehouses and older industrial sites. This plan gave way to the first line of the SkyTrain – the Expo Line – which would also serve as a showcase for rapid transit networks to other Canadian cities. As years passed by, the SkyTrain project focused itself on bringing revitalization to areas that were underdeveloped and utilized this strategy to re-structure the form and urban growth of the city. In 2002, the City of Vancouver, alongside TransLink, introduced a secondary line named the Millennium line. This line would provide a connection between the city’s waterfront and Simon Fraser University.

The next phase of the project looked at integrating smaller cities surrounding the Vancouver area and providing access to these cities. At this point in time was when the Canada Line came in connecting these areas and the Vancouver Airport (Translink, 2017).

2016 brought the introduction of the newest extension of the SkyTrain, which was named the Evergreen Extension. This extension is the second phase of the Millennium Line and aims to extend the Burnaby area to the Douglas College campus in Coquitlam (Seattle, 2016).


One of the significant roles of the designers and urban planners for the SkyTrain project involved creating accessibility and growth maintenance. The City of Vancouver was in dire need of connectivity and re-development in a lot of areas. The SkyTrain project proved to be a strategy that allowed the City of Vancouver to evolve and become a champion of rapid transit.


All the SkyTrain lines in Vancouver:


-Millennium Line

-Evergreen Extension

-Canada Line

-West Coast Express


-B-Line bus routes


The SkyTrain has had a significant impact on not only the City of Vancouver but also on the rest of Canadian Cities. As one of the first rapid transit systems put into place in Canada, the project provided a comprehensive overview of how rapid transit can stimulate growth within a city, within dying communities and reinvigorate the patterns of urban development (TransLink, 2015).

The project is known as one of the best urban strategies to have shaped and reformulated the urban fabric of the City of Vancouver. Stations provide communities with a new identity and sense of place, while the network links each neighbourhood to another – creating a sense of uniformity and togetherness within the city (TransLink, 2017).


The SkyTrain is a broad framework for the City of Vancouver and needs a lot of maintenance and management to stay intact. The cost of operating the SkyTrain in 2008 was an estimated $83 million (TransLink, 2008). Much of the operating and management costs go towards security, technology, maintenance crew and operators.


Lee, Jeff (October 5, 1991). "City unloads $30-million SkyTrain debt; [1* Edition]". The Vancouver Sun. p. A4. CBC News. "SkyTrain critics: 'We told you so'." CBC News. 1 Feb. 2001. Web. 26 May 2017. Lani Russwurm. "SkyTrain." The Canadian Encyclopedia. 31 Jan. 2001. Web. 28 May 2017. Dan Willmore. "APTA: Skytrain: The Smart Choice for Greater Vancouver." n.d. Web. 28 May 2017. "TransLink Annual Report 2008". TransLink. Retrieved February 1, 2010. Jones, Craig E.. "." 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 May 2017. TransLink. "Millennium Line Broadway Extension." n.d. Web. 26 May 2017. N.a. "." 18 Dec. 2002. Web. 26 May 2017.