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4: Buying the trains

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The Government of Ontario and the CN had already written specifications for train equipment and had called bids for their manufacture when I first came into the picture. I had been with CN for 13 years, working in several different departments. In the mid-fifties I had lived in Toronto as Regional Transportation Engineer, so I knew Toronto reasonably well. The work at that time was to identify what models of diesel locomotives should be purchased to take over the work of the steam engines that were to be withdrawn from service. After that I was moved back to Montreal with the St. Lawrence Region. Before I left England, I worked on the London Subway system, and before that I had training with a manufacturer of streetcars and subway trains. I knew the set-up of transit and how to move large numbers of people in commuter service. When the CN's Personnel Department pulled the records of who might be available to do the new commuter service, my qualifications popped out. I got a phone call from Toronto asking me to come for interview. It was a job I couldn't refuse, so I returned home to Montreal carrying all the files under my arm for me to study.

 When I moved to Toronto, I found that several departments had been somewhat involved in the contacts with the Government, but mostly they had been waiting for someone coming on the job to pull it all together, so right away, lots of people wanted to talk to me. There were two people who had been directly involved in it, so it was to my advantage to get them on my staff right away. These were Jack George, at that moment in the Accounting Department, and Bob Withrow, on special assignment in the Equipment Department at Regional level. During those few weeks while the ordering of the equipment was the main subject, the new Commuter Group consisted of only three people, getting our feet under the table!

Purchase specifications

Something else had been going on just before I came on the job. Of the two senior officers of CN, who had been intimately involved in the MTARTS work, one was Jack Spicer, the Area Manager. The other was Eric Wynne. Eric had risen from his position in the mid-fifties, as General Superintendent, Motive Power and Car Equipment, through positions of General Manager for the Great Lakes Region, and Vice President, at Headquarters, all the time retaining an involvement in the commuter project around Toronto. It was natural that his interest should centre on the type of train equipment that might be used.

He well understood that the first development should be on a low-cost scale, until the population and the governing bodies could acquire enough experience and conviction to go into it in a bigger way. So he had been having discussions with other operators, looking for available equipment that might be used for the first services. The result was the loan of an old car from Chicago, that he arranged to bring to Toronto in 1964 for inspection and testing.

Eric Wynne was not acting alone, while these ideas of using old car equipment were being followed. The Superintendent of Motive Power and Car Equipment on the Area had been Dick Veenis. Then he was moved up to General Superintendent at Region level, so the position at Area was filled by Dick Babb. These were the people who worked on the preparations for displaying this car, arranging to have it brought from Chicago, getting it moved from place to place, putting it in the coachyard at Spadina to have the craftsmen examine the various components, and negotiating with Can-Car at Hamilton to have it tested.

The first question naturally was whether a car of that age would meet all the standards of structural strength needed according to the regulations of the Association of American Railroads (The AAR) and the regulatory bodies of the Government of Canada. So, as part of the arrangement with Chicago, the car was sent to Can-Car's plant in Hamilton, to verify its structural integrity. So it was tested to destruction on the compression bed. Even at its age, it met all the required standards of strength, but it fell far short of reflecting the image the Government had in mind.

Memoirs of Bob Schmidt

I spoke with Bob Schmidt, who had gone on staff with the Government at MTARTS in early 1964. He remembered that the car had an open platform, like the traditional railway cars, with a clerestory roof, and could easily have been at least 50 years old. There were many like that available from there, so it would have been possible to get a whole fleet on the cheap, to start the service with. As Bob said: "One of the flavours of the service was, that it was a trial. Happily, the various parties gained confidence as we rolled along. As soon as we saw that car, some of us immediately had a mental blockage. This would be counter-productive, in marketing terms. So the sooner we could think up something else, the better!" It may have been easy, persuading the Committee that it was not worth coming down to inspect it. They needed only to see the photographs, and the politicians were ready to "Bite the bullet".

Examining the details

So in CN headquarters in Montreal, Eric Wynne had already put in hand the drafting of purchase specifications for new cars and locomotives, that would be ready for use, even before the final acceptance of the idea at government levels. Bob Withrow was Special Assistant to Dick Veenis at Region, for just this kind of special assignment, so Bob had been doing the liaison between Region and Headquarters, while these specifications were being drafted. All of these principal decisions had to be approved by the senior officers, but time was of the essence, so Wynne was running ahead of the game. Bob Schmidt had it in his records that the memo of March 22, 1965, from Roy Cowley to the Executive Committee, proposed that the service should start with new equipment. This was approved and acted upon so quickly, that bids had been called in May 1965, even before I came on the job. The purchase specifications, against which the suppliers were bidding, called for 8 locomotives, and 49 coaches.

When I was offered the responsibility of bringing the new commuter service into being, it was emphasized to me, that the success of the service rested upon my coordination of the whole, at least on the CN side. So my first weeks were devoted to becoming part of the decision process, as far as placing orders for the train equipment was concerned. While the equipment would be purchased and owned by the Government of Ontario, CN would operate it, and the way it functioned would govern the quality of service that we would render.

The concept of "Push-pull"

In the history of railways across the world, the locomotive had always been coupled at the head of the train, hauling the cars behind it. No departure from this tradition had yet been made on Canadian railways, so the purchase specifications as usual called for locomotives to haul passenger cars. At each end of each run, the locomotives would be uncoupled, to run around the train, and be recoupled at the other end, to haul the train in the returning direction. It would take time to do this, because at any time after uncoupling and recoupling a locomotive, a full brake test had to be done. A member of the train crew would walk the full length of the train first in one direction, checking that the brakes had applied in all cars, then in the other direction, to check they all had released properly. At all stations where commuter trains might have to change directions, there would have to be time in the schedule for this work, and a second track for locomotives to run-around.

Since the introduction of electric or diesel-electric locomotives, the electrical controls had permitted operation of several power units in "Multiple unit" (MU), under the control of an engineman in the leading cab. The controlling wires passed from power unit to power unit through jumper cables. So when the engineman operated the throttle or the brake on the lead unit, all units responded accordingly.

The electric railways in Switzerland had been operating for some time a new concept that went by the name of "Push-pull". The MU wires were installed through all the cars down the whole length of the train, so that an engineman in a control cab at one end of the train could command a locomotive coupled at the other end. The locomotive then would push the train from the rear, yet under complete control from the front end. The magic of this was that a train could be reversed at any location on the track, whatever might be called for by the operating department. There would be no need for a second track to run the locomotive around the train, nor would the full brake test be needed, since the train would not have been uncoupled. The only terminal time required would be to unload and reload the passengers, and for the engineman to walk from one end to the other along his train.

This would be a great advantage for the new commuter service. The performance calculations had shown that the new trains could make the journey between Oakville and Pickering, with all station stops, in 80 minutes. The study had made reference to the possibility of using push-pull, but did not have clearance to actually propose it. If the cars would be set up for push-pull, the turnarounds at each terminal could be just 10 minutes. Allowing 90 minutes each way, a single train set could complete the round trip in three hours. The study called for an hourly service all day long, so if we had push-pull, we could fill the all-day service with only three train sets on line, and the trains would keep moving, rather than using up time at the terminals.

The offer of self-propelled (S-P) cars

There was another complication. In most railways of the world, and most especially, in electric transit systems, they did not use locomotives at all. The passenger coaches had their diesel or electric power units installed under the floors of the cars. The cars could run singly, or they could be operated in multiple-unit ("MU") in trains, This arrangement brings great flexibility in matching the lengths of trains to the varying levels of passenger flow. Trains can be long for the peak periods, then some cars can be cut off, and only the shortened train continue in service through the lighter hours of mid-day. So there are important operating advantages.

CN had already had some experience along these lines, having owned and operated a fleet of almost 100 diesel self-propelled (S-P) cars, to designs of the Budd Company in Philadelphia. It had not always worked out well, because, with every car having diesel power units underneath, it proved expensive, keeping them well tuned up and available for their scheduled services. Wynne understood the good and the bad of this situation, and always hoped that a good, reliable, diesel self-propelled car might be forthcoming.

The bids were opened on July 20th in a public meeting. The two manufacturers in Canada, Montreal Locomotive Works, and Hawker-Siddeley jointly with General Motors, had put in bids meeting the purchase specifications for locomotives and coaches. The surprise was that MLW had added an uninvited bid, to supply 49 diesel S-P cars.

In view of the operating advantages that S-P cars would bring, this offer could not be rejected out of hand. Yet the invitation for bids had not been open to S-P cars, so other competing manufacturers had not had that option. If S-P cars were to be considered, the purchase specifications would have to be amended, and new bids received on an official basis. It created a strange situation, where both manufacturers had been present and had heard the bid prices of the original submissions, and now were to compete in the broadened specifications.

When the revised bids were opened, naturally both manufacturers had covered both the locomotive-coaches combination and the S-P cars. In both of the bids, the designs of the S-P cars were new and unproven, but the prices were most favourable with Hawker-Siddeley. Now it became an internal decision, where to place the orders.

It was time for me to speak up, together with the equipment specialists of CN, to bring in practical considerations. We were charged with inaugurating a new and truly innovative form of intensive rail commuter service, with significant departures from traditional railway practice, and here we were faced with the possibility of opening the service with a wonderfully flexible fleet of 49 unproven S-P cars. We simply could not take the risk that the new service might prove unreliable, if the new designs failed to give reliable service.

Going back to Push-pull

So it fell to me to carry my decision back the policy makers, and to negotiate a compromise position. Yes, it would be good in the long term, if all the coaches could have power units added to them at a later date, but not until the designs could have been fully developed and proven in service. It was enough that there would be significant new functions in any equipment we would start the service with. Meanwhile, we could face up to having a mixed fleet, with a small number of S-P cars, for trial and demonstration, but most of the fleet must comprise locomotives and coaches to designs that would not introduce untoward complications.

Clearly, introducing S-P equipment would have offered the advantages of easy reversal of trains at terminals, but we needed locomotives and coaches to reverse in the same way, so this decision immediately brought back on the table the idea of push-pull. The only place on CN where there was anything similar was in Montreal. The electric trains through the Mount Royal tunnel were units comprising one electric power car pushing two trailer cars. In that operation, three such units coupled together in MU made a train of 9 cars.

So the proposal to use push-pull in the new commuter trains brought the equipment specialists into the picture, and there was considerable debate on the acceptability of introducing this new concept for trains that would be as long as one locomotive pushing 10 cars. A locomotive train in the push-pull configuration would require that the coach at the rear end of the train should have a control cab, where the engineman would operate, for that direction of running. The cab cars would have all the usual engine controls for power and brake, headlights, locomotive bells, and whistles. All the coaches would have MU wires and electric couplers connecting the control car to the locomotive.

The merits were clear, and authorization came down from top levels to go ahead with a mixed fleet. Now the Government knew that CN would opt for push-pull, the question was what mix of S-P cars and locomotives with coaches should be ordered. The original intention had been to order a fleet of 49 passenger cars, so the fleet would be a mix of S-P cars, cab control cars, and coaches. But the hope of arriving at a reliable diesel S-P design in due course meant that sufficient S-P cars should be brought in, to give a fair trial, and resolve any complications.

Finally, the selected mix was to order 32 coaches, eight cab cars, and nine S-P cars, with eight locomotives to haul the coaches. The design of the coaches was to be compatible, as far as possible, with the design of the S-P cars, so that we might install diesel power units under them at a later date that would release the locomotives. The thought was that the nine S-P cars would operate in trains of three or four cars each, so for this arrangement, they would have control cabs only at one end of each car, and be coupled back to back. But in a fleet of only nine cars, this did not afford flexibility for cars to be out of service for normal maintenance and overhaul when necessary, so two of the S-P cars came with control cabs at both ends of the car. These two cars could have operated as single cars, but I think they never went into service that way.

The Hawker-Siddeley family of cars

The designs for the cars from Hawker-Siddeley derived a kind of "Family Relationship" from a series of rail transit cars they had supplied over the years to the Toronto Transit Commission, (TTC), for the Toronto subway. Including the orders for the commuter cars, Hawker-Siddeley now had on the order books, four different series of cars, all in this same family. They already had an order for another series of subway cars for the TTC. 1967 was the year for the World Exhibition in Montreal, and they had contracted to supply the automated transit system on the exhibition grounds. Now they had the Government of Ontario commuter cars, and CN was ready to call for 25 new cars for main line trains in Southern Ontario that went by the name the "Tempo Train".

It was an exciting year for this manufacturing company, with four different designs of cars to follow, one after the other, down the same production line, all similar, but different in various degrees. The lead, at the management level, was taken by their General Sales Manager, Lorne Main, and by the Chief Engineer, Mike Murzynski. They had to maintain running discussions with the World's Fair, with the TTC, with the Government of Ontario, and with CN for the commuter equipment, as well as for the Tempo trains. My part was to finalise what the combinations would be for the commuter trains, so I was working with MTARTS, Hawker-Siddeley, and the CN staffs at Headquarters and on the Great Lakes Region in Toronto.

Calculating train speeds

In the early days of rail operations, performance calculations for journey times of trains were all done manually, using slide rules and plotting tables. Since CN had installed mainframe computers in the mid-fifties, naturally, programs had been written to put this kind of calculation through the computer. I traveled to Montreal to meet with Roger Spack, who worked in CN's Transportation Department and did a lot of the work in calculating the expected performance of the train equipment at the design stage.

In those days they did not talk to the computer using a keyboard. The input was prepared as a whole series of punched cards that passed through a card-reader, into the computer. At first, even the output came in the form of another set of punched cards that then had to be translated into either diagrams or tables of figures. Later, the machine typed out a long table of figures that saved more time, and made the output readable to staff outside the computer room. This was a remarkable improvement over manual calculation, with an immediate reduction in time to complete each job. It made it possible to examine more options, changing the combinations of lengths and weights of trains, more powerful locomotives, changing permissible speeds on the tracks, and many other changes that might be made, to improve the performance and economy of the railway as an economic enterprise. The whole process went by the name of the "Train Performance Calculator", or the TPC.

That was the status when the orders were placed for the new commuter equipment, so we quickly put in a request for Montreal to do some TPC's to tell us what performance we could count on for those trains in service. The De Leuw Cather report had recommended that the journey times from Oakville and from Dunbarton should not exceed 40 minutes, and their first graphical timetables had been drawn up based on this figure. A graphical timetable showed the movement of trains in time and distance, according to the train schedules and availability of track space. The output from the TPC's gave us figures for the minimum running from end to end, making all the station stops, but the computer could not include for dwell time at each station stop, nor could it include time allowance for recovery in case of delays.

In all operations, it must be recognised that there can be random variations in time required for people to perform their actions. Some passengers may be crowded together on the platform, or there may be a handicapped passenger, extending the boarding time. Other events along the line might interfere in a way that could cost a minute or two in the run. The tradition in setting schedules had been that, at intermediate stations, the schedule would be set for the fastest speeds the train could keep up to. This meant that in these parts of the run, there was no reserve. If any delay occurred, the train would be late on schedule, up to the point where there would be any reserve time. This practice assigned all the reserve time until just before the final destination. If a train proceeded along the route with no delays, this time remained in reserve, in case there may be a delay later. If the train had suffered any delay along the way, it could be back on schedule before the key points.

This would not be good logic for a commuter operation. The schedule publishes the time the train should depart from each and every station that it will serve, so the train should be on time at all points. So we set the commuter schedule so that there were no station to station times shorter than the calculated running time. Whether the calculation said 4 minutes 50 seconds or 4 minutes 10 seconds made no difference, we set it at 5 minutes. There were sure to be some shorter and some longer, so on average we were adding just half a minute to each part, enough to cover the dwell time at each station. The result was that the total time from both of the outer stations into Union Station, making all of the station stops, would be 37 minutes.

On this basis, one train, making a full round trip in 3 hours, would use only 4x37 = 148 minutes in movement, leaving us 32 minutes for reserve time. We chose to put 6 minutes of dwell time at Union Station in each direction, leaving us 10 minutes for turn-around at each outer terminal. This was ample time for crews to change ends in changing direction, and still time at Union Station for a few minutes of recovery time, if any time had been lost on the way in.

Managing the government work

That was when Cam McNab, Deputy Minister of Highways, 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.

The GO-Transit name and logo

The contracts for the train equipment had already been placed with Hawker-Siddeley, so Bill quickly picked up the public relations side of this contract. The mechanical design of the cars was well advanced, and it was becoming urgent to know, how the cars were to be finished, concerning names and identification. Only about three weeks were available to come up with the specifications, so that the manufacturer was not to be delayed. So he wrote to me, requesting the participation of CN to create a new image for the government commuter services. CN had just completed the process of revising the corporate image, with the adoption of the new symbol, the continuous CN. This work had been supervised in the Public Relations Department in Montreal, by Lorne Perry, and executed under contract by a company called Gagnon-Volkus.

So I relayed the request to Public Relations, and talked with Lorne how to handle it. The staff at Volkus had become fully experienced in the technicalities of railway hardware and operations, so he recognised that the simplest way to get the job done quickly enough would be to put it to Volkus, almost as an extension to the CN contract.

In 1995 I travelled to Montreal to meet with Lorne Perry, now that he is retired from CN's Public Relations Department. When we started to talk about the creation of the new image, he said that the man in Volkus who supervised that work was Frank Fox, now a professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. We got Frank on the phone, and had a three-way conversation.

Memories came flooding back as we were talking, so it was more like a group of enthusiasts talking together. Lorne remembered how the previous commuter services used old style passenger cars, an antique image that had existed for a long time. The design brief was challenging us to come up with something that expressed super-modern rail, to counter the old image. This was to be an impressive service, conveying motion/action/swiftness. Whatever name we came up with had to become a household word, to be able to penetrate the market.

A change of colour would help to underline the departure from the old image. The new CN logo was red, train crews were wearing uniforms in a grey-black cloth with hats having a red band round the sides, and the old cars had been a dark black-green. They asked me what colour I thought it should be, so I immediately said: "Oh, make it a good clear green, that should make it go!"

In those years, the fashionable phrase was "Go-go", go-go music, go-go girls, everything a-go-go. Frank remembered how they came to a quick recognition that those were the initials of the Government of Ontario, so it would do well to bring those letters into a logo. As Frank said: "I started working on it conceptually right away. We started thumbnail sketches and in one of those surprising things that happens every now and again, the actual concept of the GO symbol came up very quickly. We were thinking of two circles with a letter "T" somewhere in them. We had cut out two circles, then literally put a square into the circle, then "Bingo", there was the G, in green, and we could lay a white "T" on it. Sometimes that happens in design, a happy accident. More or less, we had this feeling among us that this couldn't be true. We went off trying many other solutions, but nothing else was good enough. I know we were surprised, this thing happened rather quickly. We played with the proportions a bit, because we did not want the overlying "T" to disappear, when the logo would be reduced in size."

Lorne and Frank brought the concept to the commuter group in Toronto, then we all took it to the Government. The logo was drawn on a large sheet of squared paper, so that the proportions were well identified, by how many squares each part occupied, and that was the item that was registered in copyright. This information was passed to Hawker-Siddeley to be used for the logos to be applied on the outsides of the cars, and to General Motors in London for the locomotives. The logo lent itself well to being incorporated in badges for the staff, so as we moved closer to inauguration, we provided badges for everybody involved in the operation.

The design specification to Gagnon-Volkus called for more than just a logo. A concept of interior furnishings was needed to make erstwhile auto commuters feel comfortable in the new railway cars. Automobiles had bucket seats, so they worked with railway seat manufacturers to make a similar arrangement, very different from the bench seats of the old cars. With fluorescent lighting overhead, cream coloured walls, and black bucket seats arranged two by two, they created an image completely new and welcoming. They hoped that these finishes would not be defaced later with advertising inside and outside, and it was only much later that this happened.

There was also consideration of uniforms for the train crews and station attendants. Several alternatives were offered, but the idea of creating a complete departure from present practice was judged to be too expensive, for a service where the intent in the beginning was for only a three-year demonstration. The decision was to use CN's standard design of uniforms, and the present tailoring contractor, for economy. One part of the proposal was adopted, not to use the red bands that CN was using on the crews' hats, but to substitute a green band of the same colour that had been adopted in the logo.
There was a mysterious departure from the copyrighted designs in the early days of it going public. The Gagnon-Volkus design had left a space between the first and last "wheels" of the logo. This was to be of the same width as the bars of the letter "T", and was intended to prevent the two parts from running together when printed small. Unfortunately, in the first items that went public, this space was missing, so the two "Wheels" were touching, and it made the logo into more of a solid block. Several months elapsed before someone noticed the error, so from then on, everybody was alert to this error, and it was quickly corrected. The logo as originally presented was intended to appear without adornment on a pure white background. It has not always been possible to stay strictly within this concept. Depending upon where the logo was to go, there have been other departures from the logo originally intended by the designers. The awnings on some bus shelters have a black finish that does not easily accommodate a logo requiring a full white background. So white rings have been added to suggest the white/green contrast. Buses operated by GO-Transit in the outer suburbs have a white or silver background. In this case white rings have been put around the logos on the fronts and sides of the buses instead of the white rectangle.

Other new features

Additional to the arrangement of push-pull, the equipment in the locomotive-hauled trains introduced new features in several other ways.

The transit cars, from which the design of the commuter cars was derived, were to be constructed in aluminum alloy, so that they would not require frequent repainting. The light weight of the cars was an advantage for the performance of the trains hauled by diesel locomotives, so that the calculations for journey times showed the benefits of aluminum construction.

All the electric power for heating, lighting and air conditioning was to be supplied from a second diesel engine-generator on the locomotive. The standard in Canada at that time for power train lines was 575 volts, 3 phase, alternating current, so all cars were wired through with a power cable to deliver electricity to all the cars. The locomotives were to be manufactured by General Motors, at London, Ontario. Their designers worked on the arrangement of an auxiliary engine, to be installed in the locomotives, but intended to operate continuously, to supply the power to the train. So the shorthand phrase to describe this arrangement was "Head-end Power".

The car doors were power operated, which also was a first in our rail commuter service, although already well established in transit operations. Knowing that an important feature of good commuter train performance had to be the shortest possible dwell time at stations, we had pressed for a set of wide doors at each end of each car, allowing a double line of passengers boarding or alighting. In most cases, dwell times at stations along the line proved to be less than thirty seconds. In peak periods, cars would be carrying more than 200 passengers each, but time to unload a complete train of 10 cars at Union Station was less than two minutes.

The communication signal between the conductor and the engineman was electric, giving rapid communication of start and stop signals. This differed from previous main line practice, where the communication was by an air signal that was distinctly slow to react, and certainly delayed the departure of trains, while the engineman waited for the starting signal to reach him.

It was a well-established technique to have a public address system installed in transit trains, so this was included in the bids and orders placed. The Government representatives were trying to offer a transportation service that would attractive to commuters who had been driving to work in their own automobiles, so they had already requested that there should be subdued background music, similar to what might be heard on radio stations. But a new idea was promoted, that there could also be loud speakers directed towards the outsides of the cars, that would allow the conductors to speak directly to passengers standing on the platforms. When we picked up on this idea, we asked that the speaker circuits should be interlocked with the door circuits, so that the voice would be heard on the outside only when the doors were standing open. The conductor could announce from the position inside the car, or could step out onto the platform to look along the length of the train. The ability for the train crews to announce directly to the platform proved to be an excellent facility, and was of great value when the service was in full operation.

All commuter stations along the line were to have washrooms available to the passengers, and trains were to operate at 20-minute intervals, so it was decided that the cars would not have washrooms on board. With electric heat and no washrooms, there would not be any water on the cars. This avoided need for steam supplies in the yard, or for supplying water service to the cars. With no risk of freezing up, trains out of service in the service depot could be allowed to go cold.

The original intent had been to rely upon the auxiliary generator on the locomotive to warm up the train before departure, but complications arose from the noise of the engine causing complaints from the neighbourhood. Shortly after the inauguration, electric connections were installed beside the holding tracks, so that trains could be heated and lighted silently, from ground power.

So the Government placed the orders with Hawker-Siddeley, according to the details finally agreed on. In total, the decision to go with new equipment allowed innovation in many different ways, including the manner we were able to use the trains in service, that paid off handsomely when the operation started.

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