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11: Construction by Government

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In the early Summer of 1965, I was reporting to the MTARTS committee on progress of the railway work by the commuter group, and it was clear that action would soon be needed on the government side. CN's Chief of Motive Power and Car Equipment, Les McGregor, had assigned staff to Highways from Headquarters in Montreal to oversee the technicalities with the manufacturers. The recommendations to Government to act had been made by the study group MTARTS, and they had overseen the placing of the orders by the Department of Highways.

Managing the government work

As already mentioned in "Buying the trains", that was when Cam McNab, Deputy Minister of Highways, had arranged for the whole responsibility to be taken over by the Department of Highways, and he had appointed Bill Howard, to manage it. At this stage, all the organizing and setting up staff had been done in the name of "The commuter rail project", not really reflecting the fact that it would be a service different from any that Toronto had had before.

But at Bill's request, we had worked with CN's Public Relations Department and the visual design company called Gagnon-Volkus, to develop a distinctive image for the project, that gave it the name of "GO-Transit". This improved the impact of any approaches that would be needed in discussions with organisations external to the Government and CN.

Political relationships

Bill had to meet with the municipalities at the political level, to continue the relationships that had been started while the study and decision-making were going on. When we met to talk about his memories, he told me he had dealings with fourteen different political organisations along the Lakeshore lines. A lot of the political aspects had to pass through Bill's hands for development, to answer the questions I brought up to him.

Bill had strong memories of being the M.C. at the public meeting at Lorne Park, when the residents didn't want to see their station closed. The Commissioner who carried the ball for Lorne Park was Lou Parsons, who in later years became Chairman of GO-Transit. The leading citizen was a Mr. Ferrar, who spoke for the residents. Bill was on stage to present the Government position, Norm Hanks explained the limitations of track and signal and why the increased frequency of the GO-Transit trains could not have the extra track time to make more station stops. I gave similar information about the design of the train equipment being matched to the service as planned.

As Bill expressed it: "They climbed up one side and down the other, and we can still feel the bruises!" More than once we had to walk away from the microphones, because we were being shouted down. Mostly the residents had chosen to live there in order to use the CN service from Lorne Park to commute to Toronto, so they couldn't accept losing the service at their station. When the Government conceded to have the best GO-Transit train of the day to skip Clarkson in order to stop at Lorne Park, they used that train for some time. The more frequent service at Port Credit slowly drew them away. Then there were more discussions, before the skip-stop was abandoned, two years later. Later Mr. Ferrar spoke separately both to Bill and to me, acknowledging that we had provided an excellent commuter service and the decisions we had made really were for the best.

Bill handled the liaison with the TTC, when I raised questions, such as our request for them to examine the possibility of changing the routing of the Bloor subway, to bring it to the commuter station at Danforth. The response was that it was already too late to make that change. The route followed exactly along The Danforth.

I asked him also to raise again the question of the intention to close the station at Sunnyside, where three TTC services meet. This closure had been a recommendation in the MTARTS report, because it was not the purpose of the commuter service to carry transit traffic within the city. The TTC was concerned about the risk of losing local traffic to a short-haul commuter service, so in both places I found opposition against the idea. I saw it in my view more as a potential interchange where the commuter trains would be delivering passengers to Sunnyside to connect with the streetcars on King, Queen, and Roncesvale. We had discussions together, but the opposition was too strong. Finally we had to let the first decision stand and Sunnyside as a station disappeared.

Demand forecasting

It was mid-1965 when the commuter rail project was put into Bill's hands, and significant changes in land uses and population distribution were still on going. There was a visible need to keep up to date with these developments that could change the numbers of commuters coming to each commuter station. It was still 15 to 18 months before the service was planned to open, so much could happen in land use in the meantime. Roy McEwen continued to work on the accumulation of statistics, working with Bob Schmidt, who continued with MTARTS for a time, and later was moved into a development section of the Treasury.

I recall discussions with Bob, even while we were in the early stages of planning the infrastructure. When we had fixed where the stations would be built, he was doing analyses of potential demand at each site. Danforth and Mimico had been the heaviest in the past services operated by CN, so the expectation had been that the greatest demands would come from the same areas, decreasing with greater distance from the city. He told me he had misgivings about these figures. It seemed to him that it could be Scarborough, or even Eglinton. The changes in population were taking place faster than the analysis could keep up. It was the same on the west end. Once the service had been announced, there was a speeding up of high rise building at Port Credit, so that the potential carryings grew as time went on.

This was information that Bill would bring back to me from time to time, then we would review the plans for the stations, and decide how it might affect the way we foresaw the way we would schedule the trains and operate the stations.

Planning station construction: rebellion at Port Credit!

When the commuter group was travelling along the line to select station sites, Bill Howard and Ed Ingraham went with us for the government side. We travelled from site to site by automobile. As decisions were made, they noted how the stations would be laid out, and what lands would have to be taken for access and parking. Harry Kier would do the track and platform layouts, while Gerry Griffin would put his staff to work with the legal departments to organise taking over the needed lands. Then he could move on to the construction departments, to have them start work on designing the layouts of the access and parking.

It was a bitterly cold and windy time when we made the inspections. On the first day, we started at Pickering and reached the CN station at Danforth before stopping for the day. The next day we started again at Danforth and continued on through Mimico, Long Branch as far as Port Credit. There I had a rebellion on my hands. These people were not accustomed to being exposed to weather like that. It had made them all so cold and miserable, that they would go no further. So they dragged me off to the nearest coffee shop, and quit for the day! I don't remember how or when we went back to finish the rest of the station sites, but we did them all in the end!

There were contacts to be made with the roads departments of local municipalities, touching on the roadways that would be affected, as well as what changes in traffic flows they might have to accommodate. Then his department could draw up the designs for roadway access, for parking lots, and for the station buildings. Electrical power supplies were needed to supply lighting in the lots and on the platforms, as well as in the work areas of the ticket booths. The stations would need water and sewage connections.

Turning the first sod

image11002 (25K)
Now that all the station locations had been decided, it was time to make the first moves to commence construction. A brief ceremony was organised where the first station was to be built as a forerunner and trial installation. The site chosen was at Rouge Hill station, where Lawrence Avenue East comes close to the CN tracks. The way the two alignments converge created a wide triangle of land, that would be well served by Lawrence after that road would be upgraded later.

There was much open land around and access for automobiles and bus services held out great potential. A sign was put up, proclaiming that this was to be "The site of the first Government of Ontario rail commuter station"—it had not been given the name "GO-Transit" yet. A bulldozer was brought in, and on the appointed day the official party arrived at the site. Later there were complaints from the public media that they were not given adequate notice, but the response was that the press had not attached much significance to the event anyway.

A small group of people was present. A few children came from Rouge Hill School. Mr. Louis M. Hodgson, the MPP for Scarborough was present. The Hon. Charles McNaughton, Minister of Transport, made a brief speech, then he climbed on the dozer. The regular operator showed him how to operated it. The blade came down, the dozer moved forward, lifting a wide swathe of turf and the new station was under construction.

Station construction by Government

Gerry had already selected the components of the shelters to be erected on the station platforms, so the same type of construction was chosen for the ticket booths. These were lightweight aluminum panels on a concrete base, simply bolted together, with the idea of low first cost, and that they could be easily dismantled and removed for other purposes, if this "experimental" service would be withdrawn later. As a first effort, an experimental booth was erected at Rouge Hill, so that all concerned could examine its potential usage.

The ticket system called for ticket windows, where passengers boarding or alighting would deposit the appropriate half of their ticket. This must not delay passengers in their entry on to the platform. With trains every 20 minutes, it was unlikely there would be a flow of passengers in and out at the same time, so the ticket windows were placed one on each side of the booth, under the shelter of the overhanging roof. This constrained passengers to single line flows, where they would pass close to the window. The Station Attendants could observe the half tickets being deposited and control the movements on and off the platforms. In the off-peak times, a gate closed off one side, so that a single attendant on duty could control the side that remained open. Recognising the decision that the trains would not have toilets on board, space was found for a toilet in the "fare-paid" side of the booth, so that passengers could have access if needed.

The aluminum panels on the sides of the booths were painted in the colour selected as "GO-Green".

As time advanced into late 1966, and the commuter group prepared the schedules for manning the stations and supplying the tickets for sale, it was government responsibility to have the ticket booths ready, water and sewage connections, and lighting and heating.

Gerry was heavily involved in getting the roadway access and the parking lots finished, so Bill recruited Jack Clark, from the Canadian Pacific Airline's city ticket office, to oversee the station construction. I was able to meet with Jack, at the home where he is retired, in Oakville. He had a clear memory of the date when he joined the commuter rail project, November 7th, 1966. The service had just gone public with the new name, GO-Transit, and the materials for the station buildings had been decided. "It was about three or four months before we inaugurated service. By the time I arrived, none of the station buildings were in place, except the experimental ticket booth at Rouge Hill. On the east end most of the parking lots were in rough grade position. Throughout the winter, some work was done to finish them, but mostly they were finished grading in the spring. There was no asphalt on them when we opened the service".

"I remember going out to Rouge Hill with Jack George, to review the size of the ticket booth there. We decided the doors were too wide, that might blow off in a wind. We changed them to sliding doors. We changed the windows where the ticket takers were to stand. There was a question of whether the toilet would be in the booth, or elsewhere. It was Gerry Griffin who worked out the drawings to show that we could put it all inside. There wasn't much space left over. There was interaction between the CN electrical group working on the platforms, and the MTC group installing the supply connections. It took a long time before we got an arrangement that everybody could accept."

Preparing for inauguration

I asked Jack whether the pedestrian underpasses were on the way when he came in, and if he watched any of them going in.

"The design was all done, and they were on the way. I remember the one at Long Branch, from the first shovel in the ground, until it was done. It was done sometime during the Winter, in the cold weather. Water started to run when the back hoe pulled the earth away in the north ditch., and it is still running there to this day. In that area, the water comes down from beyond Browns Line. They dammed it up and got pumps in, before they could lay the foundations in. Next time we visited that place, before they got the stairways in, there was about six feet of water in the tunnel. We got a steel liner in the north ditch, that got the water flowing down to the creek, and we put pumps to keep the tunnel dry. Every time I go by there, I take a look!"

I asked Jack whether he remembered anything special about other underpasses.

"There was a rather comic thing at Mimico. When I went there with Gerry, we commented that we didn't see how there could be room to put the ticket booth there, between the steps and the fence. The CN property plans showed there should be space there. I talked with Eldon and Gerry about it in Eldon's office. So he sent out a surveyor. He discovered that the adjacent industry had installed their fence a long time ago, encroaching 12 feet on the railway property! Then we reached the time when we had to install the booth, but the fence had not been moved. Finally, when it was being moved, I spoke to the man who was doing it, and asked how it came to him to be doing that job. He replied that he didn't know how it started, but the other fellow quit, and they had just hired him yesterday."

We had a long discussion about the pressures that came upon him as Winter set in, and there was still a lot of field work to be done.

"It became urgent with the parking lot at Clarkson. That was the last station to be finished, because there had been a strike in the construction industry. The original design of the lot had bumper blocks to show where the parking spots would be, down the middle, crossways, every which way. On a visit there, with the Construction Forman, everybody saw that we would have to pave before Winter. If not, the graders would be getting into the gravel instead of just moving the snow. We were asked to take it back to Bill Howard and the Project Engineer, Mr. Allan. It is not feasible to lay asphalt in Winter, so we quickly got the clearance to go ahead with the paving.

"Several of our stations were not on city water and sewage, so we had to put in septic tanks. The one at Pickering was a real problem. The whole field slopes downward to where the station is, and it was a poor location for drainage. There had been a ditch along the side of the track that had been disturbed when the stairways were put in to the platform. There was a lot of debris there, and that made the area somewhat smelly, especially after rain. The problem was resolved only when we did connect up to the mains on Bayly Road".

Jack's memories went on to his experiences after the service was inaugurated, that will be included in a later chapter.

In all of this, Bill Howard continued to be responsible for direction and budgeting. As he said "The construction was hectic". His main concern was to see that the parking lots were ready. There were a lot of stations where they still had snow fences, and such other things where they had not finished the jobs. "I can remember the pressure building up. Will we or won't we be ready in time? That was my main impetus in the last couple of weeks."
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