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TransLink keeps snow out of SkyTrain doors in the most Canadian way possible (PHOTOS)

At any given time, there are 48 of these specialized tools on hand to clear snow and ice
TransLink using hockey sticks in Vancouver3
TransLink has been using this very Canadian tool to clear ice and snow from SkyTrain doors for the last 25 years.

How can such a Canadian problem as too much snow be solved with an even more Canadian solution?

When Metro Vancouver receives its uniquely wet and heavy brand of snow in winter it can make bike lanes impassible, sidewalks a hazard, and roadways a nightmare. It can also build up between the SkyTrain doors and prevent them from opening and closing. To overcome this problem the minds at TransLink came up with a shockingly easy fix that has been used for the last 25 years.

A hockey stick.

TransLink using hockey sticks in Vancouver1
A SkyTrain technician prepares to clear snow and ice from the doors of an arriving SkyTrain. TransLink

Art Wittich, a vehicle technologist with SkyTrain recalled the days before the sticks were used in a post by TranLink’s Buzzer blog. 

In SkyTrain’s early days, Wittich said ice would be cleared from the doors using a “chunk of aluminum.” Not only did it not work well but the aluminum scratched the paint of the car.

Technicians then started using a thin piece of wood but that broke easily. Next, they switched to a thin piece of plastic. That worked fine but it hurt the hand, so they started wrapping tape around it.

See where this is going?

“Wouldn’t it be nice if it was curved a little bit and then somebody had the brainiac idea. ‘Isn’t this [a hockey stick] what we’re looking for?’” Wittich said. “And of course, it is the hockey stick. The hockey stick is perfect.”

TransLink using hockey sticks in Vancouver2
Art Wittich picks up a hockey stick from the SkyTrain store. TransLink

A quarter-century after that breakthrough, hockey sticks are kept fully stocked at SkyTrain stations across the city. The junior-sized street hockey sticks are cut down so they can be stored at stations for rapid deployment. 

Today, each station has eight hockey sticks, so at any given time there are 48 hockey sticks clearing snow and ice around Vancouver. They’re often used at Stadium–Chinatown, Commercial–Broadway, Edmonds, Gateway, Production Way–University, and Moody Centre stations.

Wittich, who joined SkyTrain in 1991 as a tradesperson, says he’s never seen a SkyTrain car where all the doors are frozen shut. The hockey sticks are just that good.

“Everybody likes to kid around and laugh at us with our hockey sticks, but it’s super effective,” Wittich said.

It isn’t the first time TransLink has had to use out-of-the-box thinking to combat Vancouver’s wide-ranging weather patterns. The transit operator has designed its own trucks to de-ice trolley wires; they've worked with manufacturers to create a bus tire best suited for Vancouver’s snow.

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