11/18/2014 06:53 EST | Updated 01/18/2015 05:59 EST

SkyTrain requires millions in upgrades to prevent system-wide shutdowns: report

VANCOUVER - Implementing 20 recommendations that could prevent shutdowns of Metro Vancouver's SkyTrain transit system and improve customer service will cost at least $71 million, says the operator TransLink.

The recommendations released Tuesday were included in a report written by McNeil Management Services and follow two system-wide, five- to six-hour shutdowns on July 17 and July 21.

On those days, passengers pried open train doors and walked along the elevated guideways next to electrified tracks back to the nearest transit stations.

Report author Gary McNeil, the former head of Toronto's Go Transit, said each shutdown was caused by a different problem, but a common issue was behind each of the extended delays.

He said after staff fixed the problems, they spent hours manually re-entering train information into the automated system known as SELTRAC.

"Because of the duration of the delay, unauthorized self-evacuation from the trains occurred," he wrote. "Severe pedestrian and vehicle congestion was experienced around stations."

He said customers were stranded in unfamiliar locations, had to find alternate transportation and their "experience was poor."

McNeill made 20 recommendations, and listed first is a new auto-restart program for SELTRAC, estimated to cost $5 million but expected to reduce delays.

He also said the system needs new guideway-intrusion technology that will allow staff to cut down on unnecessary alarms that stop trains and cause delays.

His other recommendations addressed issues like staffing and customer service and new technology.

For example, ensuring there are enough qualified front-line staff to respond to problems is expected to cost $1 million annually, and improving the passenger-address system and installing programmable message signboards could each cost $15 million.

A TransLink news release said the cost of all 20 recommendations is expected to hit $71 million.

"The service disruptions in July were unacceptable to customers and unacceptable to us," stated the document.

"We are committed to better service on SkyTrain and with this review, we now have a clear plan of action for improving our customers' experience with this vital regional service."

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he didn't think funding of the system was the problem. He said the question was about whether the dollars were being spent wisely.

He also said TransLink is responsible for making operational decisions, like those included in the report.

"Certainly, I acknowledge the frustration of the travelling public," he said. "I think on a system like we have in Metro Vancouver, the expectations are not unreasonable for the travelling public that these kinds of disruptions just should not take place."