The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | E-books | Canada | Designing the train schedules

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

image9001 (20K)

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 paper.

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 supporting trackage.

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 tracks.

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 delay.

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", or CTC.

Rule 107

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 territory.

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.

<< 8: Locating the stations || 10: Building the plant >>