I found myself one day at a standstill in bumper to bumper traffic heading up Clark Street in Vancouver and noticed the Skytrain fly right over us and envied the riders as I looked at the sea of big semis and trucks that I was stranded in. It was at that moment I had an epiphany and my grad project was born with the question:
“How do we use the existing Skytrain system to further lessen our dependency on fossil fuels and free up our roads?”

In order to address my problem space I would first need to thoroughly understand the entire Skytrain system, the timing of trains, load capacities, dimensions, every station layout, hours of down time for maintenance, management, politics, laws, bylaws, and the difference between the three lines running in Vancouver (Expo, Millennium, and Canada) and the future Evergreen Line. After many weeks of research, interviews, and hands on exploration I had a clear picture of the entire system and how it operated. Now I needed to find a way to better use this system for more than just moving people around.

After researching the various kinds of goods from different industries that are transported throughout the city, I identified the top three sectors to address with this project: The Port of Vancouver, the grocery and farmers markets that bring their goods in from outside of the city, and the courier/postal business.

Designs for the transport system.
Designs for the transport system.

I researched the shipping industry and found that it is a very efficient means of transportation; its major problem being the distant location of all the warehouses due to real estate prices and shortage of land near the Port of Vancouver. This industry’s challenges would be better addressed with proper urban planning or a rail network of its own connecting the port to the warehouse lands of Richmond and surrounding areas.

I then looked at how the Skytrain network could be used to connect the food producers of the Fraser Valley to the city of Vancouver. Over a month during harvest time, I visited many farmers’ markets and gathered information from farmers, producers, and vendors to find leverage points. Unfortunately, the research showed that a majority of vendors at these markets needed their vehicles and thought it wouldn’t be efficient for them to use the Skytrain network. In fact, the seasonality of the industry would make this new system of transport only be used at capacity for about two months of the year and only for little volume during the shoulder seasons.

The third sector was the courier and postal business. The volume of goods in this industry is immense and growing at an exponential rate mainly due to e-commerce. I dug deep into how these businesses operate and found that the majority of the shipping hubs of all the major courier businesses are located near YVR airport, which is ideal for connecting with the Skytrain’s Canada Line.

As I progressed through this project, I explored many possibilities as to how the goods were going to enter and exit the trains and then be connected with other delivery methods at each station. Looking at industry precedence and expanding upon them, I came to the conclusion that the best system would be a mobile container that could easily adapt to many delivery methods. The container that I designed has the ability to transport sixty cubic feet of goods while still being able to navigate each individual Skytrain station and their current parameters, such as elevators, compass pass gates, and entrances and exits. This container has the ability to be hooked up in series like a train with an electric powered vehicle, be placed on a modified pedal powered tricycle or, if needed, many can be loaded into a larger truck for delivery of goods in more rural areas. This system enables higher productivity as there are no wait times for loading and unloading; the containers are loaded and unloaded without the need of the delivery vehicle present.

Beyond the added efficiency and reduced delivery times, this system would create a great environmental benefit. A single cargo train on the Canada line travelling from YVR to Waterfront Station can carry 18 containers with a total goods volume of 1080 cubic feet. If this same volume of goods were to be delivered today by the current system of gas and diesel powered vehicles, it would take on average 5 trucks to perform the same task and they would have to travel much greater distances as there is no secondary form of transport. With each truck travelling an average 40 miles per round trip, the total sum of cargo would be putting an average of 390 lbs of CO2 into our atmosphere. That is just one trip and with thousands of these per year, this new system in operation would have the ability to reduce the amount of CO2 being put into our environment by 15,000 metric tons per year, and lessen our dependency on fossil fuels as we transition through and beyond peak oil.

Industrial designer Romney Shipway is inspired by the perfection in the design of the natural world as he lets materiality and experiences dictate form.

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