Closing system

How Vancouver SkyTrain’s “ding dang dong” became its signature sound

In its heyday, Vancouver’s Little Mountain Sound Studios was a hit factory, a place where rock bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams recorded songs that helped define ’80s music.

It was also the birthplace of a little piece of music that has had as much stamina as those 80s mainstays: the SkyTrain chime, a three-note signal that tells passengers that the train doors are on the point of closing.

According to Ian Fisher, head of operations planning at the BC Rapid Transit Company, the chime was the product of a kind of jam session between Ian Graham, his predecessor, and Little Mountain sound engineer Murray Price, in 1985.

“They went through a whole bunch of different sonic options,” Fisher said. “They wanted something that sounded a bit natural but also modern to take advantage of the digital readout technology that was new at the time, so you could have something that sounded a bit more realistic than, say, a buzzer or another mechanical sound on the trainer.”

The original cassette recording of the SkyTrain chime. (British Columbia Rapid Transit Company)

The end result was a sequence of three rising notes played on a Yamaha DX7, the digital synthesizer that was ubiquitous in the 80s.

According to Fisher, Price said he tried to make the chimes sound like composer Aaron Copland’s opening notes. Fanfare for the common man.

Nearly four decades later, the carillon has become inextricably linked to the region’s public transit system, so much so that TransLink dropped it. “SkyTrain Door Closing Chimes” can be found in the Canadian Trademarks Database, including a graphic that describes the sound as “ding dang dong”.

The chime waits for no one

The chime is part of a sound infrastructure that tries to make boarding and leaving driverless trains as easy as possible.

About 25 to 30 seconds before a train pulls into the station, a single chime sounds followed by Laureen Regan’s voice announcing the name of the next station.

The train doors are open between 12 and 35 seconds, depending on the station and the time of day. The three-note chime sounds when the doors are about to close.

“On older trains, the door begins to close at about the same time the chime begins,” Fisher said. “The newer trains have a bit of a delay there. So once all the trains are replaced… we’ll see a bit more warning there.”

Prime Minister Bill Bennett at a SkyTrain dedication ceremony on March 1, 1982. (Radio Canada)

Construction of the SkyTrain began 40 years ago

Construction of the SkyTrain system began 40 years ago on March 1, 1982. Premier Bill Bennett donned a helmet during a groundbreaking ceremony on Main Street and Terminal Avenue, the station’s current site Main Street–Science World.

The SkyTrain welcomed its first passengers in late 1985, before the opening of Expo 86. It remains the oldest driverless rapid transit system in the world.

Mike Richard, vice president of operations for the BC Rapid Transit Company, said using the SkyTrain today is a better and safer experience than it was in the 1980s.

“Our automatic train control that’s used to drive the system, it’s advanced in a lot of ways and it’s so much more reliable now than it was then,” he said.

Although the system has evolved over the years, the chime has remained the same.

Fisher said the same recording from the 80s is still used. A digital master was made a few years before the original cassette wore out.

When he first got the job about eight years ago, Fisher came up with the idea of ​​changing the chime, thinking the three rising notes might create a bit of “tension”, which isn’t ideal for passengers getting on and off trains.

The idea turned out to be short-lived.

“People love it,” he said of the signature sound. “They identify it with the system. It’s also used on our buses, so I think it would be very difficult to change at this stage.”