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14: The days before inauguration

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All of the preparation work was moving towards the inauguration date of May 23rd 1967. There were four train sets in the depot that had run 5,000 miles each. If there had been any problems, they should have already shown up and been rectified. The depot staffs had been servicing these trains for weeks, so they were experienced and ready to send them into service. We had enough train crews experienced in handling the new equipment. Station attendants had completed their training courses, and were staffed-in ready to man the stations. Tickets had been printed and delivered into the ticket stockroom.

The part where the deadline was the most pressing was in getting the new signal installation ready in time. From the beginning, this had been the hardest to pursue. Even when we were running these preliminary operations, not all the signals were in operation. The trains were still running on manual block. The installation crews were working long hours on the new signals to have them ready in time. At the diversion for the construction of the grade separation at Clarkson, the tracks were restored to the main line only one week before, so they were able to prove out the signals for the interlocking only during the night before opening.

The next part of train operations was to run the new trains out on the Oakville-Pickering lines, both to start crews getting the feel of their equipment on these tracks, and having a GO-Transit train showing up on the dispatcher's control panel for the first time. The first trip out was on April 2nd, with one round trip from the depot out to Oakville and Pickering, then returning to the depot. That was where George Dollis got a serious cut in his finger from a hazardous part of the door. He needed ten stitches, so a quick modification of the door design was called for right away!

This was the first time the GO-Transit trains had been seen along the line, and it provoked a few phone calls from people wanting to know what was happening. They had seen a train speeding along, with the locomotive pushing from the rear instead of at the head end.

Now the assigned engine and train crews had bid on the jobs, and it was time for them to come on to the payroll. On May 1st, we received six enginemen, six foremen, five conductors and ten brakemen. To start off they reviewed the rules and the equipment books. Then there was enough length of track in Willowbrook for them to run a train up and down at slow speed, just to handle the controls and learn how all the components worked. There was still a need for these train crews to gain operating experience making station stops from full track speed, before we would be carrying passengers in full service. The main lines in Toronto could not spare the time for this kind of stop-and-start running, so twice we took a train from Willowbrook all the way to Fort Erie. The trainmasters gave the controls to different enginemen in turn, and to the train crews handling the doors.

In the Government offices, Bill Howard's men were finishing their construction work on the stations and parking lots. They were hard pressed to have them all ready for opening day. The stations at Mimico, Danforth and Clarkson were still to be finished, but still advanced enough that we could use them. Also they were into a lot more activity, putting out a series of publicity announcements, telling the public what to expect.

The press run

The publicity drive started with a train inspection and trip for the press and television media. The media had had a continuing interest in the government plans, but there had been very little for them to see until the trains were ready for an unveiling. In the chapter about how the new image and logo "GO-Transit" were developed, we mention that this was the period when "Go-go-girls" were all around. So the publicity people in Government brought a couple of their office girls in uniforms as "GO-girls", to serve as guides!

As Bill Howard said: "We had a half-coach at the CNE in 1966. We built a mock-up of half a coach and a station. We had that open for display, before any of the trains were here for display on the main line. People went through that car by the thousands. They sat down, tested the seats, asked questions, and had their pictures taken. We had the original "GO-girls". We took some girls from the offices, had uniforms made for them, and that's how they got the name "The GO-girls". So the name started out at the CNE, on the mock-up of the car. Then we had them on the display trains at Oakville and Pickering."

With confidence in the performance of the train equipment, representatives of the publicity media were invited to travel on a "Press run" on Monday, April 10th. We operated a full 10-car train out of Spadina coachyard, so that it could run westbound and make a station stop at Mimico, where the press had been invited to join it. At Oakville, Premier Robarts and Vice President Gonder joined the train, and rode back to Union Station.

Then the train was placed just east of Union Station for a publicity photograph, with the cab car on the east end. The train was returned through the station back to Spadina. Everybody was very happy with the way the day went, and the press reported it had been "Successful".

The day of inauguration had already been announced, Tuesday, May 23rd, so this date was getting close. Now the public was given a similar opportunity to go through the trains. We had team tracks at the Simcoe Street freight shed, where we parked a train for six hours, on Saturday, May 13th. The next day we had a train in Oakville and another in Pickering, with invitations to the public to walk through them. Public interest was high, and a total of over 10,000 people visited them in those two days.

I was able to talk with Johnny Monick, who was conductor on these trips. At that time Johnny was working off the spare board, so it was his first exposure to the new train equipment. He said the Trainmasters were very helpful, and he quickly learned what he had to know. Answering all the questions that the public put to him helped to impress the facts into his mind!

Once again, the Government brought their GO-girls to serve as receptionists on the trains! They handed out flyers, brochures, pamphlets, and schedules, explaining that we would inaugurate on May 23rd.

The publicity campaign

The publicity campaign had started years ago with the first announcement that the Government and CN had agreed to move the freight yard out to Maple, that would remove some of the trains from downtown Toronto to be able to run more commuter trains. From then on there had been a series of announcements, informing the public about the various stages of progress. As inauguration date grew closer, more information was published about what the service would be and how the stations would operate.

The program for advertising and promotion was Bill Howard's responsibility. As he said: "I can remember the anticipation. The advertising started many months before the date of inauguration. An awful lot of work went into it. There was a public-awareness program, advertising and promotion of the service, the service was coming, when it would come, what they could expect of it. We had a 'lead-in' campaign, our count down to GO. At every highway intersection, we had 'GO is coming in 7 days'; 'GO is coming in 6 days'; and so on. We changed those billboards every night, until we got to 'GO now!' The newspapers carried the same thing. I well remember the climax building up to May 23rd, when the first train ran in service, at ten minutes before six in the morning."

Advanced ticket sales

If all the passengers arriving at the new GO-Transit stations would have to buy tickets on the first day of open service, we had foreseen that the sudden influx could be overwhelming. There could be a first-day demand for buying tickets much more than the daily demand expected on a steady basis.

So the Station Attendants were brought on the payroll a full week early, and assigned to their stations. This allowed advanced ticket sales on a steady basis, and gave them time for them feel comfortable in the booths with their ticket stocks in front of them. Jack George and Don Martin had the time to travel round all the stations, to guide and oversee the way the work was done, and help in personal conduct and attitude towards the clients.

This decision worked out well. The passengers were able to practice making their purchases in a completely new routine, and to scout the layout of the roadway access and parking arrangements in the new station locations. Timetables for the train services were handed out, and any questions answered. From later experience, we judged that advanced sales of tickets in that week just about equaled one-day's traffic levels.

Progressive increase in trains on line

Although a good part of the heavy freight movement had been transferred to the hump yard, making space for the new commuter service, the main lines still carried a heavy movement of both passenger and freight trains. The new trains would be slotted in between these movements, so it would be unwise to try to put them all into service all in one day. We had arranged to introduce the first trains progressively day by day, starting six days before May 23rd. This was part of the inauguration that the passengers did not see.

On Wednesday and Thursday, May 17th and 18th we sent out one train in the morning peak and in the evening peak. This was the train-set that would go out for peak periods only, and return to Willowbrook between these times. On Friday and Saturday, May 19th and 20th, our second train-set continued in service all day, making a round trip every three hours. Before these days, the two commuter trains operated by CN from Hamilton still operated, so the GO-Transit trains could not run in their place. But Monday was a provincial holiday, so we were free to run in their place on Sunday and Monday. This meant that the full four-train GO-Transit service was attained two days before the official inauguration day.

Our whole management staff was out watching the operation. The Trainmasters were riding the trains, the Station Supervisors used the trains to visit the stations, and the Transportation staff worked closely with the Dispatchers in the control room up at the hump yard. It was of special value to the Station Attendants, to have a week of low pressure, not having to work to tight deadlines. They were new to passenger train operations, and many of them had never been in sales to the public. This was their opportunity to get the feel of customers walking up to the window to buy tickets. They were receiving money, making change, keeping book, and chatting with the clients about the opening of the service on Tuesday next.

By the time all the trains were put to bed on Monday night, we had confidence that we were ready to carry passengers.

Last days of the CN commuter trains.

CN had operated passenger trains along the Lakeshore lines since the line was first opened. These trains had been a lifeline, bringing supplies, and taking travelers in and out of the small villages on the lakefront. The trains slowly became the commuter service as the outcome of the massive increase in population in the various communities. Now the demand had grown beyond the capacity of trains like that. The new residents used automobiles along the highways, also beyond existing capacity and creating congestion up to the limit of economy.

The understanding with the Government of Ontario was that the two CN trains would be withdrawn, to allow their schedules on the tracks to be absorbed into the GO-Transit timetables. So, on Friday, May 19th, these two trains left Union Station, stopping for the last time at the CN stations that would be closed. I rode the second train as far as Oakville. I didn't see any special observation of this event. The train stopped at CN Long Branch, at CN Dixie, and at CN Lorne Park, and CN Clarkson. Except for the special arrangement for GO-Transit at Lorne Park, this was the last time these stations would handle passenger trains. The commuters alighted, and the train went on. They already had their GO-Transit tickets, and they would go to the new stations for their trains next Tuesday morning.

It was the end of one era and the beginning of another.
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