Forty Years of GO Transit

Late last week, I did an interview for CBC in anticipation of GO’s 40th anniversary celebrated on May 23rd.  A few clips were used on both TV and radio, but we covered a lot of territory that didn’t get on air.  Hence, this post.

For a detailed history of GO’s many routes, including some ideas that never got off of the ground, please turn to the Transit Toronto website.  My topic here is more “what might have been” and “what might still be”.

GO began in an era when the wisdom of expressway construction was under attack, and the first train ran fully four years before the Davis government would kill plans for the Spadina expressway (not to mention a network of other horrors that would follow).  Clearly, someone understood the idea that just building more and more lanes had its limits and there were better ways to get people into downtown Toronto.  It’s worth remembering this context.  What we now call the 905 was largely rural, and there were still a few farms in outlying parts of Metropolitan Toronto.

The original Oakville-Pickering rail service was to be a short-term test, a trial to see whether running a regional rail service could forestall or even eliminate the need for capital investment in highway expansion.  Suburban development was concentrated along the lake, although soon it would grow to the north, and the primary demand for commuter service was in that corridor.

Then, just as today, the battle between capital and operating budgets clouded the decision.  Avoiding capital costs for new highways was a plus for GO Transit, but the ongoing operating losses of actually running the service was a burden Queen’s Park did not embrace happily.  Over the years, GO has starved for funds not only to physically expand its reach, but also to operate the service.  Like other provincial services, its cost was dumped on the municipal sector even though the savings in road expansion and maintenance accrued to Queen’s Park.

Today we are in a period of modest expansion, a lot of which is catch-up for years of disinvestment in public infrastructure.  We have not yet seen anything on a regional scale to compare, for example, with the scope of Transit City for local services in Toronto.  Many will laugh at me for saying this and claim that the Toronto plan is all dream and no substance, but it has one vital component missing from decades of plans for the Toronto region — a will to think of changing what transit does and how that can support changes in land use, development, the very feel of our neighbourhoods.  Sadly, while there are hopes for redevelopment and intensification in the 416, much of the 905 is comparatively young and very strongly wedded to its existing development patterns.  Change there is a decade away, at least.

GO Transit is still, predominantly, mired in the job of getting people into downtown Toronto.  This is a worthwhile endeavour, but the problems in the suburbs and beyond are daunting.  Unlike downtown, the 905 does not have a single point to which tens of thousands of commuters can be delivered in a few hours each morning, and then ferried back home again in the evening.  In the 905, a GO bus running every 15 minutes is not going to make much of a dent in the modal split anywhere whether it’s on a reserved lane or not, but that’s what passes for service on the GO bus network.

I can’t help feeling that much of the busway planning and construction now in the works is little more than highway building in disguise.  Busways are great for long-haul express services, but the middle of the 401 or 407 is hardly the place for a transit station.  The very nature of highways sterilizes the land around them, and major nodes of employment or residential development will not be served by busways alone.

We hear a lot about the need for integrated fare systems and “seamless” travel across the GTA.  One of our greatest failings is that much transit is still fragmented in the 905, and where services do integrate with GO, they serve primarily as an extension of the downtown commuter market.  People cannot use GO to travel around the GTA if the service design is overwhelmingly based on getting people to work at King and Bay.

GO faces a crisis in feeding its services.  The parking lots are full now, and who knows where more riders will stash their cars for a commute to downtown.  Parking garages are expensive, and the entire park-and-ride scheme has negative long-term land-use problems.  The very node one would want as a development centre is poisoned by a gigantic parking lot.  (We have the same problem at suburban subway stations where provision of parking takes precedence over good bus service.) 

For GO to double its ridership, as planned, extensive improvements to feeder bus networks will be required in the 905.  Even then, the entire network will only carry about 400,000 daily trips.  This is a large number, but small in the regional context.

Looking back at the early days of GO and the original plans for an extensive network, we can see how blinded planners and politicians were in studying the future.  The GO-ALRT system has its proponents [please don't write me long essays -- I will not publish them unless you have something really useful to add to this discussion], but it was flawed at its heart.

There is a long history of our transportation plans and needs being highjacked or misdirected, and GO-ALRT was a classic example.  On the premise that nothing could fill the place between a bus and a subway at reasonable cost, Queen’s Park set out to invent a new transit mode, to fill a “missing link” in the evolution of transit.  [Yes, this is the point where we cue up the pitch for LRT and even for conventional commuter rail services.]

The GO-ALRT network was visionary in hoping to build regional infrastructure before the regions actually existed, but it foundered on the need for a new technology to be developed, perfected and implemented at reasonable cost.  The first iteration, the maglev-based system, failed miserably and never made it past rudimentary testing.  Years later we got the RT, but even that was early days for automated systems and we have been paying the price for its “new technology” ever since.

On the cost issue, GO-ALRT’s incarnation as the Scarborough RT failed miserably.  Part of this was a question of accounting.  Much if not all of the development losses were billed to the Scarborough project that acted as a funnel for Ontario money to pass into the crown agency developing the system.  All the same, the reputation of a high-cost system stuck (the RT cost well over twice the estimate for the original LRT line in the same corridor) and once again transit was seen as “too expensive” an option.

If GO had set out simply to run a good regional transit system and to expand into new areas with available technology, the system might have grown far larger and far faster.  However, available technology is rarely politically sexy with the possible exception of subway extensions.

So where do we go from here?

GO commuter rail is the backbone of the system and it must be expanded aggressively.  It’s ironic that after years of complaining that the railways screwed up GO’s operations, we are finally building additional tracks for GO trains, and one excuse for service quality and capacity will be whittled away.

But the rail service needs to become a truly bidirectional and all-day operation.  Imagine if we shut down the subway after 8:00 pm and didn’t even run the Sheppard line on weekends.  I’m sure someone can make an economic argument for this, and that’s the sort of thinking that keeps GO from becoming the regional equivalent of the subway system.

Bus services, both GO’s inter-regional express routes and the local services, need much improvement so that there is “something there” both to feed the rail lines and serve riders from them.  Some inter-regional services may start off as heavy bus routes, but the option to upgrade to LRT needs to be kept in mind. 

Services in the outer 416 need attention too.  Already, we know that projected demand north of Finch Station on Yonge will outstrip bus capacity within a few decades at most, but nobody is making plans for anything more than platoons of buses pouring into Finch Station.  Moreover, suburban TTC services must enable people to move easily around the city, not just to subway/RT terminals.

The fare structure needs serious review.  Smart Cards will give us the technology for all sorts of complexity, but the underlying truth is that making it easy for people to move around by transit is going to cost a lot of money.  Fares are not going to come close to covering the capital and operating budgets.  We can spend years debating how to achieve “equity” or “fairness” in transit fares, and inevitably we will either make it punitively expensive to take a long trip (thereby discouraging the very people we want to move onto transit), or we will stick it to the loyal, local riders on the TTC in order to pay for suburban services.  With the long decline in TTC service quality and the growing affluence of city-dwellers, especially in the old city, this is again not the sort of transit recipe we want to brew up.

Whether we go to a truly flat fare, or its equivalent, a fixed-cost pass with a system of major zones, we need to recognize that the cost of not building and running more transit is worse than the alternative.  That was the original premise of GO:  building and operating a commuter rail system was preferable to continued highway expansion.

We can have a region gridlocked in cars that won’t fit on its roads, or we can make massive investments in better transit.

Today, with GO at 40, I’m not convinced that the GTA is ready to embrace that vision.  By the time GO reaches its 50th year, what will we have to show for it?

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28 Responses to Forty Years of GO Transit

  1. David Cavlovic says:

    If GO were to operate all day train service (and single track should NOT be a hinderance, with the use of appropriate passing tracks, combined with actually operating more lines (say, along the CP corridor north of Davenport Rd, and even more aggressive service to, say, London and even Peterborough, has GO ever considered, or would it ever consider, using the type of Bombardier vehicle that OC Transpo in Ottawa uses for it’s O-Train? Essentially, it’s double-ended articulated vehicle whose trucks are more like that of an LRT. This vehicle, originally designed for a German system that went belly-up (Bauchen?), seems perfect for inter-city runs, much like what happens in Europe anyway. It is ironic, however, that its current use is entirely within a city boundary and barely 6km long.

    Steve: The problem with starting a service with smaller equipment is that ridership grows and you have to run full-size trains at least in the peak period. There is no point in having two separate fleets, but yes, GO has artificially constrained its service territory when it could have expanded to Peterborough and at least Guelph years ago.

  2. John Galeazza says:

    Interesting thoughts. I’ve always felt that GO enabled sprawl type development in the 905 because of the parking lot moats that surrounded each station. Rather than building around each station (where it may even serve as a focal point for each community) and serve it with well planned out bus routes. Riders are expected, even told to drive to the station rather than take their local transit.

    Many of the early stations seemed to have done this well. However with every new station on the GO system it seems that it is becoming an extension of our cars rather than our transit in general.

  3. Kent says:

    GO is the orphan of our transit system. Most of us like to pretend it’s not there.

  4. Ned Carlson says:

    Just thought it’s worth mentioning that from what I’ve been able to pull apart, other than in the artists impressions, GO ALRT wasn’t truly so much a new mode, or some spin off of ICTS as a long haul subway with automation. There weren’t plans for LIM motors or anything weird, just high speed light vehicles with automated control. Still overpriced, but not so bad as what we got in Scarborough.

    Steve: That’s correct. The original GO-ALRT was a lot closer to existing technologies even if the scheme for automated control did create the need for complete grade-separation and a sophistication of operation that was ahead of its time. It didn’t take long, however, for this basic idea to be highjacked by the technology gurus of maglev. At the same time, car-oriented planners moved from looking at line-haul systems to “personal rapid transit” with little cars spinning around the city on a network of guideways. We all know how far that went.

    The single biggest problem with both politicians and professional planners is that they think in road/auto terms even when talking about transit. People use transit in a fundamentally different way, and road models just don’t work.

  5. David Cavlovic says:

    Steve said :”The problem with starting a service with smaller equipment is that ridership grows and you have to run full-size trains at least in the peak period.”

    The beauty of the Boambardier equipment in Ottawa is that it has the capacity of running as multiple units if necessesary, much like our old 4400′s and 4600′s. As for expansion, does GO still have dreams of operating train service to Niagara Falls?

    Steve: The issue here is still that it is generally cheaper to leave longer trains running in the off peak than trying to build the lengths down and up again between them. If there were many potential “O Train” lines around Toronto, having a separate fleet for them might make sense, but my gut feeling is that we would have a small orphan fleet.

  6. James says:

    To me, GO Transit is a service with lots of potential, very little of it realized. But, I don’t think that potential really lies in routes to far-flung areas, at least as a commuter line. Running train service to Peterborough or beyond is a way of ensuring new subdivisions sprouting up, where they have no business locating.

    The key is better service the areas we’ve already built. Such new service needs to be accompanied by intensification of land use around GO stations, wherever practical, and by much better feeder service from local transit providers.

    On the existing lines:

    • Nothing makes more sense than vastly improving Lakeshore service, which could easily be doubled in rush hour, and which should not run less than every 20 minutes mid-day and early evening.
    • Georgetown is next most ready for high-growth. Its already running limited day service, and could run at or above current levels on the Lakeshore line without much new subsidy.
    • The Richmond Hill line is all highly urbanized, along with Milton, Stouffville (which serves the new ‘downtown Markham’ and the southerly portion of the Bradford line, which connects to York U.
    • Only the northern fringes of the Bradford and Stouffville lines don’t yet justify massive investment. And as these areas are yet fully sprawled, I would prefer they don’t get it either.

    All these lines can support full-day hourly service, and contra-flow service in rush hour.

    ***

    The most important new GO lines are those could run east-west and link the suburbs to each other.

    I think the MTO would have a heart attack at the thought, but I think the most sensible place for a line is right down the middle of the 401 linking Pickering GO Station on the Lakeshore line to 401/407 interchange in the west (possible connection down to the Milton line). Such a line would link Downtown Scarborough (such as it is), Downtown North York (Yonge subway), Yorkdale Mall/Spadina Subway)and the Airport.

    It could also be used for interlining — Board a GO Train at Scarborough Centre, which using the Richmond Hill line ends up downtown.

    ***

    After that the 407 route makes the most sense.

    Finally, I think they could really use to build a spur off of the existing Bradford line so that they actually ran service into the campus, instead of having students have to take a shuttle from the line. The current line is 300 Metres from campus, about 450 from where the nearest buildings are on campus.

    The above being completed would be a great way for GO to celebrate its 50th.

  7. Michael Vanner says:

    My experience as a former 10 year GO veteran is that local transit (Newmarket) had a service that starts too late for many commuters in the morning and cuts off too early in the evening. Making matters worse is the fact that the density with 50′ or larger lots is such that transit isn’t very cost effective. My understanding is with YRT this hasn’t changed. Taxi service in the ‘burbs is expensive, so the alternative is walk, ride a bike or drive and park at the GO lot. As John noted the stations are not very inviting to pedestrians. Newmarket’s all but openly discourages foot traffic with signs threatening fines for taking the shortest route to the platform!

    GO further excerbated the problem by assuming that Newmarket/Aurora patrons either wanted to go downtown (400 to Yorkdale or bus/train to Union) or to Yonge-Finch-York Mills via Yonge local service. The management at GO has no concept of express-limited-local service. Express being station to station non-stop, limited being a few stops and local stopping everywhere. And if GO is bad at this the YRT/VIVA service is worse.

    I wouldn’t describe GO as an orphan, it’s more like the weird cousin with goofy ideas, that lives in the basement at his parents, is generally ignored and only shows up at meal time!

  8. Robert Wightman says:

    A couple of comments about 40 years of GO.

    1 Buses:

    The 407 express bus service has been a remarkable success because it takes a group of riders where they want to go relatively quickly and conveniently. Most of its service is to post secondary educational institutes: McMaster University, Mohawk College, Sheridan Oakville, York University, Centennial College, Durham College and UOIT. These places provided semi captive riders and a demand that exists throughout the day, not just at rush hours. These institutions are connected to major GO terminals that make connections with trains, subways, SRT, and local bus service.

    This is probably the most successful GO bus service and it is growing faster than most other GO services. An interesting thought is that the CNR Halton and York Subs parallel most of the route. I doubt that CN would ever let you run GO trains on it though. They would probably hire armed guards to keep people away from looking at it.

    2 Shorter trains:

    If you want to start with shorter trains DO NOT even think about introducing another type of rail vehicle. It is very easy to convert or build GO style double deckers that are diesel-electric multiple unit cars. On the 2500 series cars remove the three seats in side the doorways and place a 3 phase 575 volt diesel generator, about 250 to 300 hp. This would provide hotel power to run the existing heating/AC and lights. It would also provide power to traction motors in the truck at that end of the car.

    If the service built up to the point where MU’s could not provide adequate service they could be converted into cab cars or coaches by removing the prime movers and traction motors. People seem to forget that when you run MU’s you add to the maintenance costs as there are now 24 prime movers and generators and 48 traction motors plus other ancillaries to maintain instead of one prime mover, one head end power unit and four traction motors in a new locomotive.

    3 Land use:

    GO can cause a change in land use if you will alter the zoning by-laws. Port credit had no high rise buildings in 1966 but it had just about all that it has now in 1969. Downtown Brampton is experiencing a rash of high rise construction because of the upcoming all day service. If you provide the correct zoning AND all day service, then you will get an increased building density. This will reduce the need for parking lots.

    Another thing that helps is to provide better terminals that integrate with local transit. GO seems to be doing this in the 905 area but I bet land cost in Toronto plus the TTC reluctance to having its buses make major diversions to get to some stations will keep this from happening.

    The new Mount Pleasant Station in west Brampton has provisions for 11 bus bays. It will be the terminal station when they finish the track upgrades through Brampton. There will be a major platform on a new track on the south side of the main. The north platform will only be used by the four afternoon trains that will go to Georgetown. If they zone this area for higher density it will be built but there are more amenities in the downtown than out at Mount Pleasant. There will also be a new platform built at Brampton on the south side for inbound GO trains and an extra track will be added from the junction with the Weston sub to just past Mt. Pleasant that according to the construction crews will be finished in 8 or 9 months.

    One can only hope. Brampton is to grow by 50 000 people per year for the foreseeable future. There is no way that the road system can handle the existing traffic let alone the extra traffic that this growth will entail.

  9. Andrew Cowles says:

    As a former resident of both the UK and Ottawa, I’d like to correct a few misconceptions presented in the thread.

    First, the Bombardier Talent multiple units used in Ottawa aren’t allowed on railways where traditional heavy rail services operate. The O-Train line has derail switches at the end to prevent freight trains from entering the O-Train portion. Also, that particular trainset is used in several locations in Europe. How sucessfully, I don’t know. Bombardier equipment, in the UK anyway, has had a history of teething problems.

    Most local and regional rail service in the UK is run with multiple units and quite sucessfully. Multiple units have many advantages over head end power system most notably redundancy and lower track loadings. The redundancy is a big one. How often do Subways trains end up dead on the tracks. It’s really not that common an occurance. A single prime mover on the other hand has one engine and one generator, if either fail you’re not moving that train for love nor money. In the UK the multiple units range from 1 to 4 or more cars in a set, each car is typically powered (faster acceleration) and usually they have an internal gangway all the way through the train, even between units although to achieve the later, the trains are very slab-fronted.

    In the UK, multiple units can be assembled and dissassembled very rapidly. There used to be (and probably still are) services out of London Victoria that were divided enroute. First four cars for one destination, last eight for another. I suspect the big advantage was that two trains would travel through the most congested part of the system (i.e. closest to London) as a single unit. As I remember it, the time to seperate the units was less than 5 minutes. I also remember trains of varying lengths at different times. On some routes a four car train on sundays woudl be a twelve car train at rush hour. I believe that they would also reduce capacity during the day

    Finally, as frequent YRT/VIVA rider (Finch – Markham) there are most definitely local, limited and express services available during rush hour. YRT still operates local services up Yonge and across Hwy 7. The VIVA system is limited stop (direct to Markham during the rush hours) and there are express services that don’t stop between Finch and Hwy 407/Leslie.

  10. Joseph C says:

    I must Comment on Point #3 in the post by Robert W. since I lived in that exact area, Fletcher’s Meadow, for about 5-6 years before moving more centrally to Vaughan.

    Downtown Brampton is losing the off site parking lot to a brand new 22-24 floor Condo on George Street. But there is still some across the tracks by Railway Street. Still, with better transit improvements and the new Mount Pleasant Station, no more Parking is necessary. Downtown Brampton has great potential but the small streets need to be converted to “one-way” system since currently George St and Nelson St are one lane roads that are in front of present or future high rises. Not to mention that it slows down Brampton Transit operations as well.

    I clearly remember the brand new opening of the 11 bay bus terminal at Mount Pleasant station. Clearly it is a great addition to the brand new Fletcher’s Meadow neighborhood and a good point for buses to terminate. The current problem however is that the area is all farms. It’s probably the most peaceful GO Station setting on the Network. All you can see is rolling hills. As a result, all these buses are terminating at a GO Station and just that, no other purpose.

    With the brand new (very well done) Chinguacousy Rd grade seperation, and the new Williams Parkway extension, the only at grade crossing between Brampton and Mount Pleasant station is at Mill St. (right beside Brampton Station). Hence, adding a new track will increase capacity AND speed. Very good to hear.

    This will be a great step forward to a proper all-day service that will make GO more integrated with Brampton Transit as a supplement rather then an orphan.

    This still won’t help the traffic problems because it’s the only line that cuts across the city diagonally. The north East and South West still remain devoid of transit.

  11. David Cavlovic says:

    “The O-Train line has derail switches at the end to prevent freight trains from entering the O-Train portion.”

    The hilarious thing about the derail switches is that there is essentially nothing to derail. Maybe not on paper, but in practice, the line has been abandoned, with weeds growing over the unused portions ( and signals de-activated) north and south of the O-Train line. The only other user of this line is the Wakefield steam train in Gatineau (an absolutely fabulous dinner train for anyone thinking of visiting the area.

    The flexibility of MU that Joseph C. points out is precisely my point, but Robert Wightman’s comment about not introducing new equipment is correct. Single-unit 2500′s are the kind of equipment that could be utilized. Alas, the idea of an orphan fleet would probably be true. If the province were really serious about GO, then there would also be lines across and above Toronto as a bypass, and, again, along with an expanded but interconnecting bus service, the scope of GO could go as far as Sarnia, Niagara-on-the-Lake/Windsor, North Bay, and heck, even Belleville. I know, dream on….

  12. Karem Allen says:

    There is a suggestion by David [...] that GO should charge for parking instead of free parking. This would hopefully spur using local transit and force the local transit to beef up service but at the same time it re-inforces the shuttle to station and catering only to the train clientele. Something that bugs me at times as I arrive on a GO bus just as DRT are leaving because I am not worth waiting for it seems.

    Ajax spread north instead of around the station. I see businesses come and go because they think the army of people that get off the train are going to flock to them because they are at the station, wrong. They just want to get home after a long day.

    There should be residential right across from the station but it is car dealers down the road and others.

    I still think LRT is the way to go and extend it all the way through Durham to the University.

    I see pockets of attempts at higher density in Ajax and the first thing that happens is people complain about the traffic that will increase, no one thinks to demand that transit be better to accomodate the residents.

  13. Andrew Cowles says:

    There’ll always be a transit gap in the GTA unless GO or someone else introduces services that lie between buses and the existing GO stock. Those existing bilevel cars are massive and it takes a crew of what 3 or 4 people to operate them. There’s no way they’d stand a hope of operating the kind of marginal services that are needed to fill the gaps without looking at something smaller, quicker and less crew-intensive (and if we could make it electric, that’d be sweet too).

    The problem with smaller vehicles seems to be regulatory. As David pointed out, nothing uses the O-Train line except the O-Train, but they still had to put derail switches up. Regulations and poor planning (i.e. needless fiddling by various governing bodies) will doubtless prevent GO from reaching it’s full potential anytime soon. It’s a real shame, I know a number of people who’d abandon their cars for a GO train north in the morning.

    With regard to the GO parking lots, if the system can get several hundred people to commute from a house in Newmarket to the GO station instead of downtown, that’s nothing to be sneezed at. Those cars in the parking lot represent a measurable reduction in energy and road use. As the outlying communities mature, densities will increase and transit will become more attractive, but until then, I don’t think we should be trying to get rid of the parking lots. Improve local transit yet, but let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot while we’re at it.

  14. Brian says:

    It would be very nice to see improved GO service to the outer parts of the city. We could really use something above the subway for long haul commutes, and I doubt the answer is rebuilding our subway network as a four track express/local system.

    However, as it is now the subway is easily the superior choice for most travelling within the city. The TTC surface routes feed right into it and the trains run conveniently frequent throughout the day. With no routes serving it, except by accident, and trains running infrequently GO isn’t providing an alternative to the subway.

  15. Mark Dowling says:

    Don’t be afraid of another rail fleet – just make it big enough!

    A DMU service should be a substantial order rather than five or ten, and used on route proving of new peak routes as well as providing off-peak/weekend service on the existing lines. GO could operate them or a shared fleet (separate branding but shared training/heavy maintenance) could be operated on behalf of GO, Grand River, Durham etc.

    The O-Train Talents were intended to run light rail to Scarborough GO I understand, but given the death of the LRT some Ottawans are pressing for an expansion of the diesel service. We’re unlikely to see the Talents here any time soon.

    If mixed traffic is a requirement then either single or bilevel Colorado Railcars are an option, perhaps as a joint order with other transit systems. If eventually GO can fill every route with 12+loco at minimum headways – sell them on to another burgeoning transit market, like Alberta or Vancouver Island.

    As Steve said, we need more expansion – once Barrie is reopened we can’t rely on widening the existing lines but rather we should be looking at cross-radial routes like Kitchener-Hamilton, at bringing Peterborough back into passenger rail – perhaps by building a connection between Stouffville and Milliken if CP won’t go for direct running into downtown, and perhaps a connection between the Bradford and Richmond Hill lines to allow some Barrie trains to run into downtown that way to loop around.

    In the next loco replacement phase, I’d like to see electrification pursued for GO if Ontario proceeds with expansion of low greenhouse gas power sources. If GO is going to be marketed as the greener way, burning diesel is not going to look consistent with that.

  16. Robert Wightman says:

    Andrew Cowles said …

    There’ll always be a transit gap in the GTA unless GO or someone else introduces services that lie between buses and the existing GO stock. Those existing bi-level cars are massive and it takes a crew of what 3 or 4 people to operate them. There’s no way they’d stand a hope of operating the kind of marginal services that are needed to fill the gaps without looking at something smaller, quicker and less crew-intensive (and if we could make it electric, that’d be sweet too).

    The problem with smaller vehicles seems to be regulatory. As David pointed out, nothing uses the O-Train line except the O-Train, but they still had to put derail switches up. Regulations and poor planning (i.e. needless fiddling by various governing bodies) will doubtless prevent GO from reaching its full potential anytime soon. It’s a real shame, I know a number of people who’d abandon their cars for a GO train north in the morning.

    Actually the crew for a ten car train is three people and it will be for 12 car trains also. A single diesel-electric bi-level car would require a crew of two and could carry 140 to 160 passengers depending seating arrangement. It is more cost effective to operate the same type of equipment than to introduce a new type of vehicle, especially one that will not be allowed to operate on track that has, or could possibly have, regular trains on it. The problem is the crash worthiness of the O-trains cars; they would not survive a crash with standard rail equipment.

    I do not follow your claim that the O-Train is less crew intensive than a single GO bi-level. The crew requirements are basically for safety purposes, Main line trains operate with a two man crew and so could GO if they wanted too. They put a conductor in the cab car or locomotive so that there is a two person crew there in case something happens to the engineer and a second conductor to open and close the doors and put the wheel chair ramp into place. With a single, or even a two or three car DEMU train you could still work with a two man crew if the conductor rode in the front car where he could monitor the engineer.

    Mark Dowling said …

    In the next loco replacement phase, I’d like to see electrification pursued for GO if Ontario proceeds with expansion of low greenhouse gas power sources. If GO is going to be marketed as the greener way, burning diesel is not going to look consistent with that.

    As I said before I inquired about electrification when I worked for CN while at university in th late 60’s and was told that it would only happen if it was at 25 000 VAC and that just about every bridge over any rail line would have to be rebuilt because of inadequate clearances. I bet that still is a problem.

    Also look at the capital cost to install the system; it would take a long time to recoup your investment, if it ever happens, in fuel savings. Electrification is nice, but not cost efficient for a relatively few trains a day. I believe that someone mentioned that there would be less pollution from electrification. I doubt if you could quantify this since most GO service runs in the peak when you have all of the peaking generating units running and they are almost all thermal units of some sort. Take the money that would be saved by NOT electrifying and build more GO lines to take more people out of their cars and you would have a much greater reduction in pollution.

    Karem Allen said …

    Ajax spread north instead of around the station. I see businesses come and go because they think the army of people that get off the train are going to flock to them because they are at the station, wrong. They just want to get home after a long day.

    There should be residential right across from the station but it is car dealers down the road and others.

    This is the main problem with existing zoning; it does not change to accommodate the existence of the GO trains. If you increased the density around the station then there would be local people to use those businesses that keep failing.

  17. Mike Olivier says:

    Andrew Cowles said “I know a number of people who’d abandon their cars for a GO train north in the morning.”

    There was a short lived northbound express GO Train service on the Stouffville line from Union to Milliken about 8-10 years ago. Basically a deadhead train on which they let passengers board.

    I communicated with a guy who worked at IBM just north of Steeles and lived downtown who used the service.

    But I lost track of which run it was and when it was discontinued. Given I hadn’t heard about this anywhere else, and I do take GO Lakeshore a couple times a month & read their newsletters, I assume GO didn’t advertise this service at all, and it died a low passenger count death.

    I still think it’s a good idea in general to provide counter peak service, but timetables probably wouldn’t allow many stops. Given the dispersed landscape the suburban GO stations are located in, and the absence of double track on most non-Lakeshore GO lines, we probably won’t see it again anytime soon either.

    Here’s hoping the GTTA will be able to see past their political masters to establish a true passenger vision of integrated GTA transit.

  18. Andrew Cowles says:

    In response to Robert Wightman, the O-Train is crewed by a single person. That particular train does have the advantage of not having any barriers between the carriages just like the proposed new subway design so the driver can see back through the entire train if needed. Having any more than one person in the driving cab seems excessive. After all, shouldn’t the deadman be able to ensure that the driver is alert (there are active systems now available that will watch the drivers eyes to assess alertness) and automated systems should ensure that red lights aren’t run and speed limits followed. The French operate their TGVs with one person in the crew (although the TGV has a particularly advanced automated management system).

    As for the comment about the O-Train not doing particularly well in a crash with heavy rail equipment, trains don’t do too well in crashes with anything; lighter or heavier. Generally the system should be designed to avoid collisions so I’m not certain that that arguement should carry as much weight as it does.

    As for electrification, Robert’s quite right, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense for infrequent service. It might make sense on the lakeshore line given it’s once per hour or better service. The big advantages would be better acceleration (shorter headways), the ability to recoup the kinetic energy of the train, and lower equipment weight and cost. After all, with a diesel locomotive you’re buying an electic train and a million dollar generator set. A lot is dependant upon the prices of electricity and diesel, but if the operator could lock in a good contract for electricity (i.e. something close to the cost of nuclear power) the numbers might look acceptable. It would also allow the motors to be distributed throughout the trainset for better adhesion and improved reliability.

    As to Mike’s comment: I knew about that train, but I lived at Main Go Station at the time and, while that train ran through Main, you had to catch it at Union. Also, it took an hour to get to Markham I think and when it got there it didn’t go to the station near highway 7, the main east-west drag, it went to the station north of town. I wasn’t too surprised that it was cancelled. A proper northbound AM service would likely require stops within Toronto like the oft-talked about Eglinton GO station on the Richmond Hill line. It wouldn’t take too many passing points to set up a decent two way service. It does take proper management to ensure that the trains arrive at the passing point on time. This was the most surprising acheivement of the O-Train, they seemed to be really good at getting the train to the passing point in the middle without too much fuss.

  19. Robert Wightman says:

    Andrew Cowles said …

    In response to Robert Wightman, the O-Train is crewed by a single person. That particular train does have the advantage of not having any barriers between the carriages just like the proposed new subway design so the driver can see back through the entire train if needed. Having any more than one person in the driving cab seems excessive. After all, shouldn’t the deadman be able to ensure that the driver is alert (there are active systems now available that will watch the drivers eyes to assess alertness) and automated systems should ensure that red lights aren’t run and speed limits followed. The French operate their TGVs with one person in the crew (although the TGV has a particularly advanced automated management system).

    As for the comment about the O-Train not doing particularly well in a crash with heavy rail equipment, trains don’t do too well in crashes with anything; lighter or heavier. Generally the system should be designed to avoid collisions so I’m not certain that that argument should carry as much weight as it does.

    The O-Train operates on its own (at its time of operation) line. It cannot be on a line with heavy rail equipment because of safety regulations. These are not going to go away because you don’t think they are valid. ON existing rail lines you are going to have to have two man crews for train protection. (I know it is antiquated.) The vehicle has, I believe, two sections joined by an articulation, not separate carriages. If you couple two together you cannot walk between cars. Its single vehicle capacity is less or about the same as a single GO bi-level car from which you can walk to another car in the train so what is the O-Train advantage?

    Dead man pedals do not always work, just watch the train wrecks on Discovery Channel. You will NOT have an automated operating or even a cab signal system for quite a while, especially on something like the Havelock sub (Peterborough line.) Rail vehicles, especially passenger equipment, have to have buffer strength to withstand a collision. If you submitted an O-Train to that loading it would be crushed like an accordion. You may think that the rules are stupid but that will not change them. Why would you want to put an articulation joint in a vehicle that does not need it to meet any operating requirements like tight curves when they run on a main line railway?

    I think too many people are on an LRT is the answer to every transit problem when it is not. I don’t think anyone would want to ride an O-Train or a Bombardier Flexiswift car to Peterborough. Even a GO train with its existing seating might be pushing it but at least it has a washroom. I think that the O-Trains are cute and have there place but it isn’t on GO trains. Perhaps if you wanted to run from Cambridge up to Kitchener-Waterloo and then to Waterloo and Laurier Universities then I think that they would be great. If you keep pushing an unsuitable mode then people are going to ignore you, or worse, ignore the legitimate need for the appropriate service. We cannot appear to be trolley freaks.

    I know that I am opinionated and possibly even arrogant on this but I believe that your arguments will hurt the chances of getting better service. If you have DEMU GO bi-levels these could be attached to the end of existing GO trains, say to Burlington or Georgetown, and then the end units could uncouple and continue on while the rest of the train returned to Union. Or at Milliken you could join up a section or train from Stouffville with one from Peterborough. I don’t think that you could do this with O-Trains. Repeating my rationale:

    - You have only one type of equipment even if some are DEMU and some are locomotive hauled.
    - You have a smaller parts inventory.
    - You have a better and more comfortable vehicle for the distances involved.
    - It has a better chance of happening.

    Keep up the fight for better transit and don’t let opinionated b*st*rds like me put you down. I appreciate your zeal and arguments even if I don’t always agree with your choices.

    R. Wightman

  20. Michael Vanner says:

    “I think too many people are on an LRT is the answer to every transit problem when it is not. I don’t think anyone would want to ride an O-Train or a Bombardier Flexiswift car to Peterborough. Even a GO train with its existing seating might be pushing it but at least it has a washroom.”

    Robert well put! The seats on the GO train seem mighty uncomfortable on the Bradford run after about 45 minutes! With Newmarket, Green Lane and Bradford over an hour from Union I couldn’t fathom what the trip to Barrie or Peterborough would be like!

    (I’ve heard the VIVA buses aren’t like the GO buses for seating either. The VIVA Blue to Newmarket must be a real joy too!)

    We certainly don’t want to confirm the suspicion/accusation that we are some sort of “trolley freak foamers”. I think Steve has said it many times, the right mode in the right place!

    Steve: Please don’t blow my cover! What I really want is a nice spur track from Broadview Station down the lane to my street, a private car with lots of wood panelling and stained glass, a full galley and bar, and an LRT network everywhere to run it on. This is my secret plan.

  21. Andrew Cowles says:

    I’m not trying to advocate O-Trains for all, just trying to point out that there are alternatives that aren’t fully realized on this continent. I chose the O-Train because it’s fairly local and people are obviously familiar with it. An ideal commuter system would be slab-fronted to allow gangways like the electric trainsets used by the MTA which are essentially above ground subways with nicer seats and a bar car (maybe that could be another thread). As I understand it, the O-Train is not LRT, it’s standard european rail for lightly trafficked lines and it does have a washroom, it’s just locked and un-advertised. So, really it has a washroom shaped block taking up seats. Good thing it’s only a 15 minute trip.

    Right mode at the right time is definitely the order of the day and if I could get a train north in the morning I wouldn’t care if it was a GO train, the O-Train or something never before seen just as long as it was reliable, cost-effect and reasonably comfortable. My feeling is that we’re a long way from realizing that goal, let alone Steve’s private car. This week’s announcement that the GTTA has no business in roads was another indication that our Governments still need to be educated about how best to provide the means for people to move themselves around. Take a look at Transport for London’s mandate to see an alternate method of running local transportation.

    The talk in the thread about running trains to Peterbrough brings up another issue – at what point should VIA be contributing to the solution. Greyhound seem to be doing their part to get people out of cars, but the publicly run agencies need to get their act together and come up with better integrated service quickly. Traffic’s not getting any better and as the Condos go up in Markham the problem’s only going to get worse. We need a solution for trips between 10 and 50 km that’s significantly quicker than the existing bus service. Heck, I can bike the 20k to my office in Markham in the same time as the bus. The region needs whatever will make 40 km/h average trips a reality. That’s the only thing that’ll get people out of their cars.

    (oh, in my opinion, the VIVA seats are better than those on the “little” GO buses they replaced, just not as good as the coaches)

  22. Robert Wightman says:

    A few thoughts about future GO Transit lines and equipment:

    Most people want GO transit to extend beyond its current termini, mostly to Barrie (in the works), Peterborough, Guelph/Kitchener, Bradford, Niagara(?) and what about Galt/Cambridge.

    The lines to Barrie (Newmarket Sub CN), Stouffville (Uxbridge Sub CN) and Peterborough (Havelock Sub CP) need major track work, especially the Havelock Sub as it is restricted to about 10 or 15 mph and they all run on OCS (train order) for most of their length. You cannot run faster or more frequent service without a major expenditure on track, passing sidings and signalling. If you want to run to Galt (it has a very poor bus connection to Toronto) you would probably have to double track the CP Galt Sub from Guelph Junction (Campbellville) to Galt (Cambridge). The Georgetown line is restricted to 60 mph for passenger service or less for most of its run but the station spacing probably prevent faster running anyways except on express services. This line is getting a major upgrade to allow hourly off peak service soon.

    Via runs some commuter type intercity service from Stratford, London via Brantford and Niagara in the morning but the cost and the equipment are not conducive to attracting more passengers. The Via train through Brampton can take up to eight minutes to unload and load. This is because of the nineteenth century style coaches with a single vestibule, high steps, and archaic ticketing procedure. I believe that this is the biggest problem with Via: their dumb end loading, one passenger at a time through a single vestibule. They should convert to GO bi-levels and change their ticketing so they could get into and out of stations in 80 seconds not 8 minutes. The GO bi-levels are the only main line passenger equipment which meets ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for handicapped passenger with out the requirement of extra equipment like a front end loader for wheelchairs.

    If these services were run by GO with a bi-level DEMU cars that had improved seating for at least part of the car, (reclining seat that were in pairs facing the middle of the train from each end and not groups of four), then they would load faster carry more people for the same number of cars and be more attractive because of their reduced costs and running times. They would need automated knuckle couplers that could connect to an existing GO car and make air, communications and MU connections. They would not need to make the hotel power 575 vac connections as they would have their own power supply. The trains that they connect to in the peak should then run express for most of their trip into Toronto Union. Go used to run a train to Guelph but its loadings were about the equivalent of two or three buses and then Harris came along so they were withdrawn. CN used to run RDC trains that went up to Stratford and then split into sections that took off in different directions. The idea is not new; it just needs to be updated.

    I believe the biggest problem that needs to be overcome with the idea of MU cars is the memories of the maintenance problems with the RDC’s. Their hydraulic transmission became real maintenance nightmares as they were getting the crap beat out of them by high speed running on jointed rail. With Diesel Electric Multiple Unit most of these problems would go away. The RDC’s also had only one powered axle per truck so that they would have less than 45 tons per car on the drivers. In the old days this allowed them to run without a fireman. Did you ever wonder why the GE 44 ton locomotive was so popular? I think that if Bombardier built a couple of these as demos they could build up a demand for them. Has anyone seen the Colorado Rail Diesel Car? It looks like a locomotive with a space for a few passengers in the back.

    As an historical footnote the original GO single levels were modified TTC H1 subway cars. They had the same windows, side panels design and trucks except for gauge. The trucks even had the mounting holes for traction motors and there was a conduit and supports up to the roof over one truck for a pantograph. It cost almost nothing to put these in and probably would have cost money to change the truck design. The cab cars had the cab in the right front door where it blocked half of the stairs and delayed loading and unloading from that side. The CN Tempo cars were of a similar design and had their electrical connectors converted to match GO’s so they could use GO cars and locomotives on weekends. I rode them to Windsor and back a couple of times and they rode like a subway car. It was not a pleasant experience.

    The GO self propelled cars had a couple of major problems.

    • They only had one 330 hp Rolls Royce diesel engine that powered both axles of one truck. (The 44 ton rule).
    • They were grossly underpowered and if one engine died the train could not limp home easily with the other car pushing it. RDC’s had two engines (except the cabless 9’s) and always had enough power to get home.
    • They did not have enough of them. They only built 9 (3 single cabs facing east, 3 facing west, one extra single cab and 2 with double cabs,) and they planned on running three 2 car trains with 3 spare cars but the demand soon out stripped the capabilities of the 9 cars.
    • They only had 4 position controllers like the RDC’s instead of the standard 8 on most locomotives but they had a standard locomotive controller with the last 4 positions blocked off. By 1969 GO was modifying these cars to be cab cars by taking out the prime movers and transmission and putting in standard 575 vac heating, cooling and lighting.

    I believe that GO still has a corporate memory of the problems with self propelled cars and does not want to look there again. The other problem is that every DEMU coach would need to be fuelled, sanded and serviced every day instead of once or twice a week as happens now. They are cleaned daily though. Servicing one is as much work as servicing a locomotive though the fueling would not take as long.

  23. John Galeazza says:

    Andrew said

    “The talk in the thread about running trains to Peterbrough brings up another issue – at what point should VIA be contributing to the solution. Greyhound seem to be doing their part to get people out of cars, but the publicly run agencies need to get their act together and come up with better integrated service quickly. Traffic’s not getting any better and as the Condos go up in Markham the problem’s only going to get worse. We need a solution for trips between 10 and 50 km that’s significantly quicker than the existing bus service. Heck, I can bike the 20k to my office in Markham in the same time as the bus. The region needs whatever will make 40 km/h average trips a reality. That’s the only thing that’ll get people out of their cars.”

    Exactly what I was thinking. With all this talk of lines to Barrie/Niagara/etc. At what point does VIA take over from GO’s Role as an inter-regional transit system. Will we be extending the Guelph line out to London, how about the Lakeshore East line to Kingston? At some point the idea becomes absurd.

    Steve: I am amazed that anyone thinks that Via will ever come to the table with anything serious by way of substantial service improvements. Ottawa hasn’t cared about anything but airports for decades, and passenger rail service is a shadow of its former self. Moreover, there is always a conflict between those who dream of a return to the days of long-haul passenger service complete with sleepers and dining cars, and those who just want frequent, fast intercity service.

    Frankly, I would rather see GO expand its service, but let’s concentrate on the core of the system before we start running trains to London. It would be amusing to see the GTTA forced to expand rail service into what might be thought of the GTTA suburbs at the expense of core services. Sort of like what happened to the old City of Toronto.

  24. Dan Garcia says:

    Robert, a couple of corrections about the history of the Hawker-Siddeley cars…

    First off, they were not identical to TTC’s H-series subway cars. Identical construction method, yes, but different in every other way.

    I’m not sure how you found that the self-propelled cars were “grossly underpowered”, but they had more horsepower than an RDC and weighed about 25% less. Their major shortcoming was the lack of reliability of the Rolls Royce powerplant, and that’s why they were stripped of their engines.

    The reason why they have refused to look seriously at DMU/DEMU’s is because of the regulatory headaches that they can be. Any piece of equipment with a traction motor is regarded to be a locomotive, as right or as wrong as the regulations may be. That means more stringent crashworthiness standards, and mandatory 92 day inspections. With a big fleet of self-propelled equipment, that’s a lot of switching that has to be done.

    Dan
    Toronto, Ont.

  25. Mark Dowling says:

    From an urban planning point of view I’m not sure it’s appropriate to encourage VIA as a commuter service. That’s a reality at present but from a sustainability point of view hardly good. VIA’s Renaissance cars are not disabled friendly because they were bought second hand from Eurostar rather than constructed new and adaptation was not specified before delivery.

    Ontario may have to step up with funding if VIA service in this province, including high speed service to Ottawa and Montreal, is to improve, just as Ottawa has grudgingly funded metro and regional transit.

  26. Robert Wightman says:

    Dan Garcia said …

    Robert, a couple of corrections about the history of the Hawker-Siddeley cars…

    1 First off, they were not identical to TTC’s H-series subway cars. Identical construction method, yes, but different in every other way.

    2 I’m not sure how you found that the self-propelled cars were “grossly underpowered”, but they had more horsepower than an RDC and weighed about 25% less. Their major shortcoming was the lack of reliability of the Rolls Royce powerplant, and that’s why they were stripped of their engines.

    3 The reason why they have refused to look seriously at DMU/DEMU’s is because of the regulatory headaches that they can be. Any piece of equipment with a traction motor is regarded to be a locomotive, as right or as wrong as the regulations may be. That means more stringent crashworthiness standards, and mandatory 92 day inspections. With a big fleet of self-propelled equipment, that’s a lot of switching that has to be done.

    Dan

    In reply to you points which I have numbered for clarity:

    1 I did not say identical but modified. They had the same trucks (but different gauge and no traction motors), the same windows, the same style side panels inside and out, and the same Vapor door control mechanisms with the addition of a third button to control the local door. If Go had been a bust after three years the province would have re-cycled the trucks, the window, the inside and outside wall panels and the door control mechanisms into “new” subway cars. The TTC would not have been in any position to protest as the province paid a hefty portion of capital costs back then. While at university in the late 60’s I worked at CN in “Motive Power and Car Equipment” and saw the construction specs and blue prints of the GO cars and the TTC H1’s. They had a hell of a lot in common.

    2 The Rolls-Royce engine was more powerful than the RDC’s GM tank engine, 330 HP vs 275 HP, but the RDC’s had two and the GO SP’s had only one so 550 HP vs 330 hp. If you take into consideration the weight differential the RDC still had about 25% more HP per pound than a GO SP. With a single engine the reliability is even a bigger problem than if you had two engines. I also believe that the hydraulic torque converters on the GO equipment were not very efficient and not much HP got to the wheels, especially at low speeds. Reliability was one reason that they were stripped of their engines; the fact that they needed to run at least six car trains to handle most off peak loads was another. There was not any need for short trains.

    3 I forgot about the 92 day (quarterly) inspections; it just adds to the high maintenance costs that I was talking about. I am not sure about the crashworthiness difference, but is it any different for an RDC than a GO cab car? I seem to remember that the cab cars had to have extra bumper posts attached to the car sills to protect the engineman and passengers from a collision.

    Robert

  27. Jordan Kerim says:

    When I first discovered GO ALRT in the early-mid 1990s I thought that I had discovered something amazing. “Wow!” I thought “If only it had been built”. But upon further examination I discovered that the GO ALRT cars from the original October 1982 announcement looked almost EXACTLY like the ICTS cars for the Scarborough RT.

    Then in 1983 they were increased in length with one unit consisting of a married pair of two cars with an articulated walkway.

    Then the unit was redesigned again in 1984, it was even longer and the front end was redesigned — I assume to keep people from thinking that it was a LIM ICTS.

    Then it was redesigned again in 1985, this time with each car being the length of a LRC car with the front ends redesigned again (approx).

    To sum it up I can only assume that the engineers at UTDC and civil engineers and urban planners doing the reports could only assume that more carrying capacity was needed.

    Interesting note: in early 1982 before GO ALRT was announced there was a report released outlining the options being considered for system expansion, these options included:

    1. using existing diesel electrics hauling the then new bi-levels,
    2. acquiring electric locomotives and installing overhead catenary,
    3. now this option really stirs my imagination: electric multiple unit cars based on the bi-level design and
    4. the UTDC ICTS ALRT.

    Considering that the length of the GO ALRT cars kept increasing every year, one has to wonder what they were really up to. I mean, if they wanted to go with something fancy why not just go with the EMU bi-levels with regular tracks, catenary and no automation?

    Surely Bill Davis and James Snow knew that they were leading the province to bankruptcy. I mean between the extremely flawed GO URBAN maglev, allowing TTC subway construction to halt in the late 70s early 80s and the large sums of money wasted on the UTDC, you have to admit that something was awry.

    Only now is Ontario starting to recover from the foolish spending and urban planning policy of those post war governments who bought into the suburban and modernism dream, allowing socially unstable public housing projects to go up and give the go ahead for faceless suburban neiborhoods (that were then divided by eight lane arterials and sixteen lane freeways).

    I know you feel unoptimistic about the future of GO Transit Steve but don’t lose hope. A new generation of professionals are making their way to the scene, yes the echo baby boomers. And having been born into the world when the home pc came about and the internet shortly after, we’re more than capable of navigating the web to make better informed decisions so that some day we can rise into the ranks of power and elect a premeier and mayor that will stand up for transit and proven transit technology and not some toy train pulled by a magnet.

    Sincerely

    Jordan Kerim

  28. Tim says:

    Hi.
    Can you help me with some information?
    GO Transit – Single level cars? What are they? Who built them, etc.?

    Thanks. Tim

    Steve: They were built by Hawker-Siddeley (the same plant that is now owned by Bombardier and produces the bilevels) and their look externally was similar to Toronto subway cars.

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