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Worker caused SkyTrain shutdown

The union representing SkyTrain workers is questioning the blame being cast on one of its suspended members following a five-hour service disruption for two rapid-transit lines in Metro Vancouver.

TransLink issued a news release Tuesday saying an electrician installing a new circuit breaker for the Evergreen Line one day earlier accidentally tripped the main breaker feeding the systems at SkyTrain's operations' centre.

The system-wide breakdown, which occurred twice in less than a week, disabled train controls and left thousands of commuters without service on the Millennium and Expo lines.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 537 SkyTrain employees, reported a worker who was following directions was suspended after the cause was identified as human error. CUPE said the same consequence was not meted out to the worker's supervisor.

Louise Oetting, the union's national representative, said the panel being serviced was poorly designed.

"This problem, regarding the hazards and potential for failure, is well known by the employer and was raised on several occasions by our members," said Oetting. "This panel should not be worked on during SkyTrain operating hours. But they ignored this information.

"Now we have a situation where an individual has been suspended after being directed to work in an unsafe manner — and this public blame and suspension has occurred without a proper investigation having been completed."

Oetting said the union is conducting its own investigation of the shutdown and will be contacting WorkSafeBC.

The incident trapped many people in trains on the elevated tracks, and some pried open doors and walked along the narrow sidewalks.

The power outage also prevented TransLink from using the public address system to explain the situation to customers.

Doug Kelsey, TransLink's chief operating officer, said the trains are reliable 95 per cent of the time, but he knows that's little consolation for customers who were delayed for hours by a significant problem.

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