9: Designing the train schedules
<< 8: Locating the stations || 10: Building the plant >>
The scheduling and crewing of train operations on the railway is the responsibility of the
Transportation Department. Transportation provides and trains the staff to operate the services.
Trains cannot run, until they have been provided with the infrastructure, the train equipment, the
tracks and signals to run on, customers who have contracted for service, the yards to make up the
trains, dispatching systems that clear them to run on the tracks and tell them where they are to
go. The involvement is really the reverse: when a service is contracted to a client, Transportation
has to determine what plant it needs to do the job. So the first thing CN required was a
preliminary train schedule, to show what service had been contracted for with the Government.
Then Transportation could identify available plant capacity and see what more might be needed
to merge the new service into existing operations.
The De Leuw Cather study contained a recommendation for service levels, with a diagram for
train schedules and station selection. The MTARTS document was derived from an forecast of
plant capacity to be released after the freight services had been moved out of downtown, but now
we needed to lay out the new operation in front of the staffs running the operations on the
ground. Our first chore was to take it out of the report and translate it into railway language, so
that Transportation could examine how they would accommodate the added trains. For the
weekday operations, the schedule would have more than 50 new train movements, over the 42
miles between Oakville and Pickering, and the two trains that were still to reach Hamilton. The
eastern terminus then was called "Dunbarton", and the story of how it came to be changed to
"Pickering" is given in the chapter on station locations.
Putting the timetable together
All the members of the commuter group had their own input to this. In a small group like this
it was easy to develop such a schedule jointly, so that each understood how the whole thing
would work. Bob Withrow would prepare and dispatch the trains to fill the service, Harry Kier
would locate and design the stations and platform tracks, George
Dollis would look after all the commuter train operations, Jack
George would man the stations, control the cash flow, and
organise the accounting and billing to the client, and I would
develop it all internally with the railway and externally with the
client. I am happy to say that everybody understood and agreed
what it would mean to them.
The first draft timetables were worked out round the table and
hand-written in double-quick time. George Dollis only came into
the job in September, so the draft was ready a few weeks after
that. For starters, the proposed commuter departures from Union
Station were anchored on the hour and half-hour times. A
westbound train could depart Union at, say, 10.00hrs, and arrive
Oakville at 10.37hrs. Given 10 minutes to change ends, it could leave Oakville at 1047hrs, arrive
Union at 11.24, depart on the half hour at 11.30, Dunbarton at 12.07, return at 12.17, be back in
Union at 12.54, ready for the next westbound at 13.00hrs. The hourly trains would pass through
Union Station half an hour apart, one eastward and one westward. With the 20-minute headways
of the peak, the trains would be ten minutes apart.
This was long before computers were available to do this job, and drafting a schedule like this
on an ordinary typewriter typing 8 lines per inch needed a wide spread of paper. Fortunately,
CN's Department of Statistics had just newly been put on one of the earliest mainframe
computers, and I knew that they had previously used special typewriters that typed 12 lines per
inch. So we asked Jessie Smith to go after one of these machines, and it soon arrived in the
office. On this machine, with that size of typeface, the draft covered two lengths of legal size
There were two special features to this work. A timetable that tries to present times in AM
and PM becomes wider and less manageable than if written in the 24-hr clock. Airlines and
steamship lines publish their timetables in the 24-hr clock, so we had no hesitation to adopt the
same practice. Also in those years it was railway practice for all operations to be controlled in
standard time the whole year round, completely ignoring daylight-saving time. Our operating
timetables were drafted in standard time.
Copies were made and distributed to
the offices at Region and Area levels.
This was the first time they had been
confronted at all levels with solid
information, and the reaction was not
long in coming back to us. The new
hump yard was not in operation yet, so
they were still living with most of the
existing problems, planning the re-arrangement of train movements was another demand on their
time, and now we were proposing to add over 50 new train movements!
This had to be referred to the General Superintendent of Transportation, Bob Tivy, in the
regional offices, and he delegated the analysis to Norm Hanks. Norm had been brought in to the
regional office only in the Fall of 1964, from a position as Assistant Superintendent of
Transportation at Barrie, so he already had a close experience with the details of operating the
railway round Toronto. Norm had the title of "Transportation Planning Engineer", with the
assignment to understand all the growth in railway traffic that was taking place, and to plan the
extensions in rail infrastructure that would have to be built, as well as the new facilities that
would be needed to support the different flow of traffic that the new hump yard would create.
To quote his own words, "The position had been set up in the beginning because there was so
much growth in railway traffic at that time, that needed a tremendous amount of railway
infrastructure to be built, not only in mainline, but also yards, terminals, line improvements, new
signaling, with centralised traffic control (CTC), and consequential changes in operating
practices. The economy was booming, rail traffic was rising, every rail line and every rail
terminal in the whole of the region from Toronto to Winnipeg, from Sudbury to Montreal, was
finding itself pushed up against operational limits of plant capacity".
I talked with Norm at the house where he has retired, in Winnipeg, and I asked him what he
remembered most about the commuter project. He said: "It was the extremely short time in
which everything was made ready, if not finished, at least
ready for inauguration in May, 1967, when, in September
1965, we did not even have a plan. The commitment had
come down all the way from the top, and there was no
negativism. There was a genuine, positive approach of every
officer and employee, who had any involvement in it. They
were faced with a formidable task, to superimpose a new
commuter system on a line, where they were already having
difficulty with the rate at which traffic was growing, and
where the new hump yard had not yet given the relief they
were waiting for. There was no room for "Nay-sayers", only
room for positive thinkers. We were meeting new and
original problems all the time."
Yet, at first gasp, Norm himself had cried out "No way". It was in a big room, with a lot of
people sitting round a table, listening to the presentation of the draft timetable for the first time.
"Everybody turned round and looked at me, so I thought I must be in for it now! I felt I must
have been leading with my chin there. They set up a meeting of Senior Management, where the
general tenor was to question whether I was off on a negative kick. So I started to explain what
were my concerns, and it turned out everybody saw it the same way. We just had to think our
way all the way through it, then we simply asked ourselves what were we to do about it. Even
then, the reaction was not in any way negative, but rather to ask ourselves how we could
accomplish it". Industrial traffic was still growing, switchers would be working all up and down
the line to service them, and the transfers would be hauling them to and from the hump yard.
Surveying rail traffic growth
Before this, it had been the responsibility of the Trainmasters to train and supervise the way
the switcher crews did the job, but they had no need to record the details of exactly how they did
their work each day. The signals along the line were what is known as "Automatic block". These
signals were not connected back to a control office, so the dispatchers had no indication of how
often these switcher moves were running on the main track or crossing over it, nor how long they
were off in the industrial tracks and yards. An analysis would be needed, to find out how much
of the present traffic would remain after the transfer was completed, and how much track
occupancy would be involved. The decision was to do a field survey, by the name of a
"footboard study". This meant sending staff out on the ground, or in the cabs of the locomotives
running transfers or doing the switching, to record exactly how they made each move, how much
track time they used, entering or crossing the mainline, and how much use they made of all the
Many members of the staff were pulled out of the offices to do this work, covering a total day
of 24 hours. For some of them from inside work, it was their first exposure to operations out on
line. There was no snow on the ground, but the weather was very cold, and for some of the
indoor workers, it was a chilling and an eye-opening experience.
With reports coming in from the observers in the field, this created a mass of new
information, coming into the central offices, so now Transportation had to develop a technique
to put it all together for analysis, and identify any problems. So Norm Hanks resorted to a
drafting technique known as "String-lining". For all the small details that had to be drawn on it,
this became a long and wide piece of drafting paper, with locations along the track scaled in
vertically, and time of day along the base line. In effect, it was an enlarged graphical timetable,
with multiple tracks drawn in. So every train movement was entered on it, showing which track
it was on, and how long the track was occupied. Then the future changes were put in, how the
transfers would be changed, and how much time the commuter trains would need on the main
Coordinating the original schedule
There were three surprises. The growth in the industries remaining along the line still would
require a lot of switching and transfer services. It would be necessary to modify the yard layouts
to allow switchers to do their work without having to come out on to the main line to make their
moves. The long distance passenger trains needed to stay with the practice of setting their
departures at good round times, such as on the ten minutes or the hour and the half-hour times,
so the commuters could not be scheduled at those times.
So the commuter group did a quick revision of the proposed schedule, to move the departures
to the quarter and three-quarter hour times. These changes meant that now it would be
westbound to Oakville at, say, 09.45hrs, return at 10.32hrs, and eastbound to Dunbarton at
10.15hrs, return at 11.02hrs.
By this time, findings were coming out of the stringline analysis. The long distance passenger
trains would be running their schedules on both the east and the west ends much faster than the
commuter trains, and even the freight transfers ran faster than the commuter schedules allowed.
So there would be need of a way to permit the faster trains to overtake the commuter trains
somewhere out along the line.
The commuter group answered from previous experience, knowing that a faster train can
overtake a commuter train from being five minutes behind to being five minutes ahead while the
commuter train makes three station stops on a side track. So out on the main lines on each side
of Toronto, there could be a section of three tracks, where the side tracks would have three
commuter stations, and the centre track could permit the faster train to run through without any
Putting this proposal on the string line diagram showed it would work, but the commuter
times could not be on any round figure. If a commuter train left Union at 15 minutes past the
hour, and a following train should not catch up until the commuter would have reached the side
track, the fast train would have to wait until 22 minutes after the hour, before departing. To let
the fast train depart on the 20-minute mark, the commuter should be scheduled out two minutes
earlier, at 13 past the hour. So this is the way the final commuter schedule was adopted, hourly
departures to the east at 13 past each hour, and to the west at 43 past. The peak hour departures
of the commuter service then were at every 20 minutes, making 13, 33, and 53 to the east, and
03, 23, and 42 to the west.
There was a side benefit to this. The trip time of 37 minute meant an arrival at the outer
terminals at 20 or 50 minutes after the hour, so departures ten minutes later would be from
Dunbarton exactly on the hour and from Oakville on the half hour. That is the schedule arrived at
by January 1966, and it remained unchanged for more than 30 years since.
Times at all intermediate stations
The other part of setting the schedules was to assign departure times at all the intermediate
stations. These would be the clock times that passengers would rely upon for their daily
journeys. Our philosophy to ensure reliable operations has been to avoid ever setting run times
shorter than could be attained with the train equipment. Between any two stations, no matter
what fraction of a minute might be the calculated run time, we always rounded up to the next
whole minute. On average, we were adding half a minute at every station. There were some runs
where the marking-up added almost nothing. I remember hearing Jimmy Morrison instructing
one of the enginemen about the minimum reserve time between two of the stations on the
Oakville run. He used an old steam engine phrase. "You've really got to put the coals to it there!"
Creating needed line capacity
With the results of the survey of line occupancy under the existing industrial services, and the
analysis of future industrial demand, Transportation quickly reached the conclusion that the plant
as it stood could not meet the needs of the future. Switchers servicing industries along the line
could not continue with the mainline time they were using, working in and out of the industrial
tracks. Service tracks would have to be modified, so that once a switcher had exited the main
line, all the switching work could be completed, before coming back on to the main line to
proceed to the next industry.
Under the regime of timetables and train orders, a switcher crew used the authority of the
timetable to know what train movements were scheduled, then they could safely enter or leave
the mainline on their own authority. These decisions could no longer be left to the discretion of
the switcher crew. There would have to be signals to control their entry and exit to the main
lines, and the switches into the yards would have to be operated from a central control room. The
provision of three main line tracks to permit faster trains to overtake the commuter trains, while
they did their station work on the main line side
tracks, meant that there had to be power switches
to put them into the appropriate tracks, and
control of routing from a central office. In effect,
the routes would have to be fully signaled, under
a system know as "Centralised Traffic Control",
Until the commuter project was studied and
adopted, the levels of passenger train movements
had not been intensive. Many of the rail lines in
Canada were single track with passing tracks.
CN's main line between Montreal and Chicago
was double track, with extra side tracks in some places so that slower trains could exit the main
line to allow faster trains to overtake them.
Everywhere, the tracks were not fenced, so that people could walk freely across and around
them. When passenger trains were standing at a station, it was an accepted practice for
passengers to walk across the tracks to get to or to leave the train. On the double track sections,
most stations did not bring all the trains to the platform closest to the station building. To serve
the far track, there was a platform between the tracks, where passengers would walk across the
near track to board or alight from the train.
There had to be protection so that a second train could not run into the station where there might
be people walking on the tracks while one train
was standing there. So the rules of long standing
required that all trains had to approach stations at
a speed that would allow them to stop if a train
were there already. Then they had to stop and wait
until the train ahead had move away.
That was rule 107 in the current rulebook.
Under the concept of intensive commuter service
negotiated with the Government of Ontario, there would be many more trains stopping at many
stations on the double track line between Dunbarton and Oakville. Additionally, there would be
the intercity passenger trains, running through without stopping at all stations, and the transfers
hauling freight cars from the hump yard to the industrial service yards. It would be impractical to
have so many trains running slowly and stopping to wait for the other trains to move away from
their station stops. A solution was required to eliminate the need for rule 107 in commuter
Recognising that the rule existed to
protect people who might be walking
across tracks at the stations, the solution
would be to prevent them from walking
across. Fences would be placed between
the tracks, to prevent them walking across
the tracks, and access to the platforms
would have to be by pedestrian underpasses
or overpasses at all the stations along the
line. This solution was helpful in respect of
the decision to go to on-ground ticket
control, explained in the chapter on
designing the ticket system. The ticket office could be placed close to the entrance to the
underpass, where passengers could pass by as they accessed the platform.
Installing the underpasses
Installing underpasses under a busy main line is a complicated process. If the tracks where the
underpass is to be built must be taken out of service while the excavation is made, then all rail
traffic over it would have to be stopped for the duration. For a large underpass, such as a road or
highway, the practice has been to build temporary side tracks for trains to bypass the work site,
then excavation is done and the bridge built, before the tracks are put back in place on top of it.
The commuter service would be creating 10 new stations requiring pedestrian underpasses
within less than two years, clearly the traditional technique could not be used. The underpasses
were needed in order to avoid rule 107 at commuter stations.
CN's Bridge Engineer, John Jeronomus, designed a new method of installing the narrow type
of underpass for pedestrians, using prefabricated concrete sections, that could be installed in a
very short time, and this is discussed in greater detail in the chapter on "Building the plant."
Changing the rules is never easy, since safety in rail operations is paramount, and the longer a
rule exists, the more it becomes deeply engrained. More than that, the rule had to remain in the
rule book, since it would still apply in all other railway territory, so the commuter group could
only ask for a special instruction in the working timetables, saying that rule 107 did not apply at
the commuter stations. There were long discussions and interchange of correspondence with the
Railway Commission in Ottawa, before permission was received, just in time to be included in
CN's working timetable that applied for May 23, 1967.
Publishing the final timetable
Only when this permission was received could we confirm that the proposed schedules would
be allowed, so the Government was free to release the final publication of the timetable for the
inaugural step to take effect on May 23rd 1967. The next timetable that showed the full service
in the 24-hr clock was published ready to go into effect on June 26th 1967.
In some quarters there was reluctance to accept the 24-hr clock, so a year or two later the
Government chose to revert to the 12-hr clock for the published timetables. They learned from
experience that this brought concomitant disadvantages, so this arrangement lasted only another
year or two. Since then the timetables have been back in the 24-hr clock. This type of
presentation seems to find ready acceptance in the modern era.
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