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16: The two years to 1969

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After the experiences of inaugurating the new service and meeting the various challenges of the first year, the next two years were simply continuing the service. Still there were a couple of notable events to write about.

Releasing the ONR trains

When the spring weather came along, Alan Wright and his staff had more confidence that they had found the cause of the unwanted shutdowns in the S.P. cars. This was believed to be a feedback in the control circuits that put power to the wrong wires. So modifications had been made, and the cars should now be able to perform properly. The ONR trains had served us well almost ten months through the worst of the Winter. We released the last one on June 21st.

Problems with the S.P. cars

Unfortunately, the S-P cars still proved very unreliable, and we could put them out only to run in the peak service, then we replaced them with locomotive trains during the off-peak.

I was able to meet up with Roger Gellel at his winter home in Florida. Roger was one of our enginemen in the first days of GO-Transit operations. By a strange coincidence, Roger spends his Winters in a complex of condominiums in Largo by the name of "Willowbrook", the same as our depot. I made the comment that clearly he couldn't get away from it!

Roger was not an engineman with us on opening day. He was assigned to the new hump yard, but as a man on the spare board, he could be called to run on GO-Transit. First he had to be qualified and passed for service before his turn would come up. So he had made several runs with an operating engineman to learn the equipment, then the Master Mechanic tested him and gave him his certificate.

So I asked him what had been his experiences running the S.P. cars. He remembered how one or more engines kept shutting down, then the train would lose time on the schedule. If more than one shut down, then they had to get down and restart them from the ground. They could not be relied on to run a full schedule all day long. He compared them poorly against the locomotive trains that had enough power to maintain schedule even when the trains were fully loaded.

He was proud of the brakes. The older trains had the straight Westinghouse air brake that needed more distance to stop. So those brakes had to be applied further back from the station. The GO-Transit trains had a brake that was faster to apply and had better braking power, so they could stop in a shorter distance and provide shorter running times.

He had similar comments about running the ONR trains. With a 1,500-hp diesel unit on each end of the train under push-pull control, the performance was adequate for GO-Transit service. This was train equipment that had already run many years of proven service, so all the problems had been cleared up long ago. As long as an engineman was familiar with this older equipment, he had no problems operating it and keeping to schedule.

Hawker-Siddeley kept trying to solve the problems with the S.P. cars for several years, even after I was moved back to Montreal. In the end, all concerned decided there was no future with that model, so the engines were removed and the cars converted to simple coaches. More cars and locomotives were purchased to replace them.

Problems with snow clearance

I heard an interesting story from Joe Desjardins about his initiation into the tribulations of work in the field. Joe was quite the junior in the GO-Transit office of the Government at the time that GO-Transit was in its first few years of operation. In the terms of the contract between CN and the Government, the responsibility for clearing snow at the stations extended all the way from the access roads and parking lots as far as to include the platforms of the stations. Jack Clark had covered the need for access to the platforms for snow-clearing machines through gates in the fences. But it was not normally Joe's job to work outside clearing snow.

One very snowy night, Joe was wakened up by the phone ringing at three o'clock in the morning. "Joe. This is Jack Clark. We have a terrible snowstorm. You know that Joe Hooker is the maintenance man who supervises the snow clearance crews. Joe has been hit by the front-end loader. He is pretty badly banged up and bruised, and off to the hospital. Can you go out to Port Credit station and take over the snow-clearing crews?"

Had you any experience of working in the field in that kind of weather?

"None whatsoever. Those were the days when you had a specific job, but when the chips were down, you didn't worry whose job it was. You just jumped in to make sure the job got done, then resolved the problems later."

"I remember arriving at Port Credit about four o'clock in the morning. It was one of the worst Winters we have had. Already the crews were absolutely worn out. They were just finishing up there when I arrived, so we moved on to Long Branch station. Just across the street from the station there was a little coffee shop called "Red Cap". I had $30 in my pocket, so I crossed the road and brought them hamburgers and coffee. They seemed a little happier, and we started work. Now there was freezing rain on top of a lot of snow. As the operator was driving the snow along the platform, the motor burned out! So we had to manhandle it on to the little trailer we hauled behind our half-ton pick-up. Then we had to finish the rest of the job by hand."

"The snow was horrendous. We did Mimico all by hand. That was finished just before the first trains left into service, so we were in reasonably good shape for our passengers. It was snowing so heavily that we ordered up a fresh crew, bringing another machine and started again at Oakville. While I was waiting at Oakville station for the new crew to arrive after rush hour, Jack Clark's wife phoned me inviting me to come up to their place where she fed me breakfast. Then Jack sent me back to work."

"It kept on snowing just as heavily as it had all night. We went through the whole process again, through the off-peak all day. We ordered up another crew, and I stuck with them right through the night. I walked into the office the next day, having been up a lot more than thirty hours. Bill Howard was at the door when I walked in. What are you doing here? When were you last in bed? Jack came in saying I had been doing Joe Hooker's job since Joe was hurt two days ago. You are crazy to be here now. Go home, go to bed, and don't come back for two days!"

The flood at Rouge Hill

One of Bill Howard's men was Joe Downing. Joe is retired now. I met him at his home in Ajax, where he told me an interesting story. Joe was on the staff of the Department of Highways on things like maintenance and survey work, when the Personnel Branch put out feelers to see who might be interested in working on a new project. Joe responded and the next thing he knew, he was transferred to Bill Howard's office. That was only a couple of months before the service started, just time enough for Jack Clark to take him round the premises to see where everything was. Joe's main memory of that tour of inspection is that it was snowing hard, again!

 The title of the position was "Inspector", but there was no accurate definition of what he was supposed to inspect. Many different works were in hand for the Government part of starting the service, but exactly who would do what remained to be found. There were access roads, parking lots, station buildings, platform shelters and underpass drainage systems. So here was another case of doing just what the job needed next.

All the staff went to the office first thing on the first day, and they all got the same instructions: "Ride the trains, observe the operation, talk to the passengers, and see how everything goes." So Joe rode a train at mid-morning, out to Pickering and back.

Well, what did you find?

"The people who were on that train were so excited. Many of them had not been on a train in years. They were all elated at the thought of having this as a regular service. That's the way it was."

"After the service had been running for some time, one day we had a problem at Rouge Hill. It was a Saturday when we had a torrential rain. The water came roaring down the hill and across the road into the parking lot. It brought a lot of debris that jammed up the grille on the culvert that should have let the water flow out to the lake. Everything blocked back. We had 64 cars inundated in the parking lot, and the water was building up round the ticket booth."

"When I got there, the water was escaping by going through the pedestrian underpass. The underpass was flooded to the top, and there was a plume of water coming out the other end, flying about four feet in the air. The Station Attendant was trapped in his booth, standing in water above his knees. I got him out and he waded up to the platform."

Was this all because the culvert was plugged? How long did it take to clear?

"You will remember it was all fields round there then. All kinds of debris had washed down from the fields above. Once we had extracted that, it flowed away fairly quickly."

"Then we had a tornado that passed over the parking lot at Eglinton. The tornado sucked the air out of the insides of the cars, then the weight of air coming back collapsed the roofs and blew the windows in. As many as 100 vehicles were damaged. All those cars were collapsed and the windows gone. When the passengers arrived to see the damage, we could only tell them that it was an Act of God, something beyond our control."

A new station for Exhibition

It was a long-standing practice for intercity trains of both CN and CP to have served the CNE at an old station located just to the west of Dufferin Street Bridge. This is close to the Dufferin Gate entrance to the CNE. This station was normally unused at other times of the year.

Then there was that one Monday in 1967 when the GO-Transit trains made unpublished stops at that station, and carried more than 8,000 passengers in. So we started planning to serve the CNE every day in 1968. Ed Ingraham of the Government arranged for a temporary booth to be set up at the old CN Dufferin Street station for our station attendants to use. We did not have regular Attendants assigned to that station, so we called on any of them willing to work overtime during the days of the Exhibition.

The result was big usage. Every day we carried many passengers in and out. On the heaviest day we carried in a total of more than 24, 000 passengers. One day I was standing on Dufferin Street Bridge looking down at the platform when the next westbound GO-Transit train pulled in and stopped. I was thrilled to see more than 1,600 passengers get down from eight cars in less than one minute. They poured out of the doors, turned right towards the exit stairway and filled the platform with a moving mass of people. That was when I was thankful I had pressed for a double door at each end of each car when the cars were under construction.

When I was asking Jimmy Morrison what had been his biggest memories, he said he had two. One was the trip on the first train in service, when he had Premier Robarts sitting at the controls. The other was "In the Fall when we ran the Exhibition trains. We were keeping track of the numbers of people using the trains. The day we took in 23,000 passengers was quite a feat for us, to get to that stage in the first year."

It was a simple decision to recognise that GO-Transit should serve every big activity that took place at the CNE grounds. The old station was on a curve to the west of the overpass. Just one wide stairway gave access to each platform, from the Dufferin Street overpass. It was not the most convenient for either the train operations or for pedestrian access to the CNE grounds. So plans were laid to find a better location for a station there. There was a long-enough stretch of tangent track beside the grounds and opposite the sports stadium. Storage tracks would have to be removed to make space for the platforms. All trains stopping at the new station would be routed on the sidetracks that would be upgraded to main line with signals. Passengers to or from the north platform would have to cross all four tracks on a pedestrian overpass.

Knowing the heavy flow of passengers we could expect, I pressed for a doublewide overpass so that arriving passengers could get off the platform quickly. I was provided with two Bailey bridges side by side. When over 1600 passengers descend from one train, the double overpass really paid off.

The old station continued in service for the CNE of 1968, but the new station was ready to be used for the first time to serve the Royal Winter Fair in November of that year.

Buying more cars

The original fleet comprised 32 coaches, eight cab cars, and nine S.P. diesel railcars. The cab cars were the same as coaches for carrying passengers, so we had 40 cars that could be coupled into our six locomotive trains. We had shown that the locomotives could haul trains of ten cars on schedule, but this fleet was not enough to make trains up to this length. The Government recognised how popular the new service was, so it was no longer a question of terminating as an experimental service due to be abandoned after three years. So orders were placed for 14 more coaches.

These cars were received in 1969, when they were needed. The trains were filled out to handle the new levels of traffic.

Request for more capacity

The last action I was into before I moved away from the commuter responsibility to take a new position in Montreal was to respond to a letter from Bill Howard, asking for suggestions for increasing the capacity of the service. This was recognising that the agreement between CN and the Government defined a service of trains every 20 minutes, so it was either longer trains or higher-capacity trains.

The GO-Transit stations had been laid out for trains of ten cars, on the premise that trains longer than this would be difficult to handle in commuter service. It is not easy for the crew to see the passengers on the platform at that distance, and rain and fog make it even more difficult. I hesitated to suggest operating trains longer than this.

I was already familiar with some developments in Europe, where passenger cars were being designed to have two decks in the space between the trucks. The entrance doors there were above the trucks to suit their raised platforms. There was no space for double decks over the trucks. The space between the trucks allowed an upper deck accessible by upward stairways at each end, and a lower deck, with downward stairways.

 The Chief Designer for Hawker-Siddeley was Mike Murzynski. The picture below shows Lorne Main on the right of the picture, and Mike Murzynski in the centre. He had been a fighter pilot in the Free Polish Air Force, and that made him an interesting character in himself. Bill Howard told me that Mike was the only person he knew who carried his own shot of vermouth with him. He had it in his pocket in a small atomiser, then he could mix his own martinis. When he went into a bar for a drink, he would order straight gin. Then he would bring out his atomiser and squirt his vermouth into it. Surprise to the bartender! Mike wouldn't rely on anyone else to mix martinis for him!

Mike knew about developments in Europe and the potential for high passenger capacity in double-deck cars, and had already talked to me about his preliminary thoughts. He was ready to move on it if the Government indicated an interest in buying some.

So my response to Bill Howard was to suggest working with Hawker-Siddeley to develop a satisfactory double deck car at the earliest moment, ready for growing traffic levels that were clearly foreseen.

By the time these cars finally came into service, I was no longer responsible for the operation of the GO-Transit service. This was done after I left. When they were put into service, there was an immediate increase in the total carrying capacity of the trains. The released cars were used on the new services that were introduced along other lines radiating out of Toronto. At first the double deck cars were used on the peak hour trains, to handle the heavy demands of those hours, leaving the single deck cars to run the all-day trains. The radiating lines tend not to have all-day trains, so the double deck cars suit those services best. So more double deck cars were ordered and put into service, displacing the original cars altogether. Now, 30 years later, all of the original single deck cars have been taken out of service, and replaced with double deck cars of Mike's design.