Transit riders all too familiar with those rail switches

I’ve been monitoring the aftermath of crew reductions on GO Transit’s Lakeshore rail line, as well as GO’s performance in this first week of winter weather.


Low morale is to be expected among the train engineers who are dealing with significant changes — including less paid work hours and split shifts that start very early in the morning and finish later that night.


There are now a maximum of three crew members on GO trains, and only two on the Milton line.


Meanwhile, Monday’s snow and ice reacquainted riders with those infamous rail switches that caused so much trouble a few winters ago.


Patrons stuck waiting for train delays had ample time to ponder whether GO Transit was caught unaware by winter. At this point, it seems the agency got through the season’s first tempest no worse than the rest of the GTA transportation system.

Canadian National Railway is responsible for the stretch of track where major delays occurred due to freezing rain.

CN’s Mark Hallman states “our problem was between Mimico and Port Credit. We had some malfunctioning switch heater-blowers.”

He tells In Transit that CN is generally “well equipped” for winter. “It’s not a systemic issue -— it was a specific corridor; we had a problem with three or four of the blowers and it’s been addressed.”

GO Transit managing director Gary McNeil says, “This was a major winter storm … and you’re going to get switch problems and any type of mechanical problem (in) a system that’s exposed to the weather. Somewhere … there’s going to be a weak link that’s going to break down.”

Asked if GO can identify such problems in advance, he says “we have ongoing operating meetings with the railways to talk about those weaknesses,” He says that for the last five years, the province has been paying to install or upgrade switch equipment and to build extra tracks that bypass chronic bottlenecks.

McNeil says about half of all the switches near Union Station now have hot-air blowers and about 10 to 20 are added every year. He says most switches on the CN and CP rail lines used by GO also have heaters.

What is a realistic expectation for GO service?

He says, “We want to be on time 100 per cent. But if we can get to 90 per cent on a regular basis, even in bad weather, then I think we’re doing very well. And that recognizes the fact that out there in the world, there’s many things that happen and go wrong.”