Monday, 16 September 2013

Cab Ride on GO Train 166

July 15, 1994

Since moving into our new home about a year and a half ago, I have regularly watched and sporadically photographed the GO trains on GO Transit’s Milton Line (CP Rail’s Galt Subdivision) near Erindale Station. While not situated too close to the tracks, I can see the trains and station from my back yard. 

Milton GO Train schedule effective from April 26 1994

On the last day of my July vacation, I managed to talk Kie into accompanying me on a series of short rides between Milton and Union Station that I had worked out from the schedule. A day pass for unlimited travel from Union Station to Milton is a bargain at $12.10 per person. Two round trips can be accomplished on the afternoon/evening trains alone.

Ticket to ride...but only on the date shown

Our journey started at Erindale Station on Train 164 which pulled out exactly on time at 16:08. Twenty-nine minutes later at 16:37 we were on the platform in Union Station, slightly ahead of the schedule’s indicated 16:40 arrival time. This allowed us to make a very brief pause in the station concourse to pick up a snack and newspaper as we circled around from GO’s boarding area through to Via Rail’s boarding area to catch the next westbound train, GO 159 slated for a 16:50 departure. The Milton GO Trains board passengers at Via Rail’s gate 13.

We rode GO 159 as far as Meadowvale. My plan was to wait at Meadowvale for train 161 which was following twenty minutes behind. The short wait gave me a chance to choose the best possible photo location on the platform.

Westbound GO Train 161 arriving on the north track at the Meadowvale station. Only the north track has a platform for passengers. GO Trains on the “Milton Line” operate push-pull; eastbound morning trains are hauled by the locomotive whereas the westbound evening trains are pushed. Kie is the person sitting on the bench.

At 17:52 we boarded train 161 for the quick downhill dash between Meadowvale and Milton. We rode in the first car and I watched the track from the doorway window. The train’s consist was being pushed from the rear by an F59PH. The profile of CP Rail’s double track mainline is almost identical to the profile of the nearby Highway 401 stretch between Erin Mills Parkway and James Snow Parkway interchanges; not surprising since the rail and road routes are almost parallel to each other.

The Milton GO Station is literally in the middle of nowhere and quite a way out of the town. This of course may change in the years ahead as city sprawl and housing development catches up. While I took photographs of the head end of terminated Train 161, the CP Rail crew was preparing the parked equipment for a return run as Train 166.

Westbound Go Train 161, stopped at Milton, has completed its run. The engineer already left the control cab of car 203 and the crew is preparing the consist to return to Union Station as GO Train 166

F59PH-2 numbered 545 will be pulling Go Train 166 eastbound to Union Station, making all regular stops. Just after this scene was recorded, I boarded the train and was then invited to ride in the cab of 545 to Erindale.

After capturing a couple of frames on film, Kie and I walked the platform to the opposite end. I also wanted a shot of the F59PH-2. Unit 545 would be pulling Train 166 to Union Station. A few moments later we boarded the train. As soon as we were seated, I noticed a man on the platform motioning me to come over to the door.

“How far are you going?” he asked

“Erindale.” I replied.

“Do you want a ride up in the cab?” he offered.

He was the engineer and I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. For me, this was one of those rare invitations of a lifetime. Momentarily returning to Kie, I informed her that I was going to be riding in the engine for our return trip to Erindale. I also wanted to assure her that I would exit the train there. 

The north track in Milton as seen from the cab of F59PH-2 numbered 545. The crew of Train 166 is ready, waiting for 18:15, and the final authorization to depart.

Upon entering the cab through a pair of steel doors, I heard the conductor repeating back train orders to the dispatcher over the radio. A few moments later at 18:15, Train 166 pulled out of Milton on the north track, slowly rounded the curve and approached a crossover just beyond the curve. The signal aspects were displaying red, flashing yellow and red from the top of the signal mast down.

Limited to stop
“Limited to stop.” the conductor called out.

“Limited to stop.” The engineer called out also.

Both men read aloud their interpretations of the signal indication displayed to verify they both had the same understanding. Train 166 moved through the crossover from the north track to the south track for the train’s uphill charge over the main line’s wave-like profile. Train 166's consist quickly gained speed while proceeding to the next signal, in spite of the previous signal having informed us that the next signal would be instructing our train to stop. The crew knows well every detail of their route. Looking up the miles of straight track ahead, I was unable to see the aspects of the next signal.

In the distance I saw the headlights of an approaching train. Westbound GO Train 163 was charging downhill toward Milton for its 18:22 arrival time. From far away it was impossible for me to determine which track the approaching train was on. A lot of faith was being placed in the information the signals had been telling us.

Train 166 slowed as the glowing aspects of the signal mast came into view. All three lights were displaying red. Our train was almost stopped when the top lamp flickered and changed from red to green; thus giving us a clear track over which to continue.

“Clear.” The conductor called out.

“Clear” the engineer confirmed. 

When he pushed the throttle forward, the floor vibrated as all cylinders in the engine behind the cab’s rear wall thundered. The F59PH-2 worked quickly to pull the following string of bi-level cars uphill toward Meadowvale. Repeatedly engine 545’s horn blasted for crossing just beyond the signal masts, yelling at impatient drivers to stop. Finally cars yielded the right of way to 166.

Upon approaching the next signal the conductor called out, “Limited to clear.”

“Limited to clear.” The engineer called out in confirmation. 

Train 166 slowed and crossed back over to the north track. The station at Meadowvale does not have a platform on the south track. Our consist passed a speaking detector which faithfully reported on the status of our train’s wheel sets, “CP detector, mile twenty-five naught zero, Galt Sub, north track, four naught zero axles, no alarm.” and then concluded with, “Detector out”

“Is that reporting on our train?” I questioned, just to confirm it was.

“Yes it is.” The engineer replied.

The cab’s large digital speedometer was displaying 40 miles per hour as the already slowing train reached the west end of the platform. The engine was just clear of the east end of the platform by the time the speedometer displayed zero; a perfect stop that could only have been perfected through years of experience.

A few moments later and out of Meadowvale, Train 166 rounded a curve and approached the small yard at Streetsville Junction at 67 miles per hour. Streetsville Junction is the location where the Orangeville Subdivision joins the Galt Subdivision. A pair of SW units was switching cars on the adjacent north track and our train’s lead, 545, sounded the bell as a warning to the crew of the opposing movement.

Less than a minute later Train 166 neared Tannery Road in Streetsville. A little more than a month earlier, this road crossing of the CPR tracks was the location of a tragic death. A young lady in her mid teens, who had been waiting for a westbound train to pass, accidentally stepped into the path of an eastbound container train traveling on the second track. The unfortunate train crew was powerless to change the outcome but those men will have to live with the consequences nonetheless. Today, no persons or vehicles were waiting at the Tannery Road crossing as eastbound 166 commenced slowing for the Streetsville station.

While leaving the station the train gingerly approached the Mississauga Road crossing through the banked sharp curve. Not long ago at this crossing, a stopped car was rear-ended by another vehicle and shoved into the passing freight train. Miraculously, nobody was killed nor the train derailed in that incident. As soon as the crossing protection gates were seen to be down and all road traffic stopped and waiting, the engineer nudged the throttle a notch or two higher.

“Limited to limited.” Our conductor called out.

“Limited to limited.” The engineer confirmed upon approaching the next signal.

The Erindale GO station is just around the curve. After passing the signal mast, Train 166 will cross over highway 403 on the bridge at the start of the curve. The unprotected crossing shown is a location where I have photographed trains from trackside.

A signal mast is located near the north end of CP Rail’s bridge over Highway 403. Seeing one of my favourite train watching/photo locations from the locomotive cab rather than trackside was a treat. Today, to make the stop at Erindale, Train 166 would diverge and enter the third track.

When the train was stopped I exited the cab of GO’s unit 545 and descended to the ballast beside the right of way. The engineer looked down from the cab to ensure that I was safely off the train and out of the way. He gave me a thumbs-up and I gratefully returned his signal. I waited for Train 166 to departed and watched as the green and white consist disappeared around the curve en route to its destination at Toronto’s Union Station.

That was my first cab ride in the head end of a CP Rail train traveling over mainline tracks. My initial observation was how deceptive the feeling of a lack of speed could be from high above the track. At times the train did not feel to be moving all that quickly, but glances at the speedometer, which was visible to all in the cab, easily confirmed that Train 166 was often traveling at more than 60 miles per hour and a few times touched the maximum 75 miles per hour permitted over the GO Train territory of CP Rail’s Galt Subdivision.

The men who pilot these trains day after day are professionals and they take their work and responsibilities very seriously. First-hand I have witnessed their work and practices. I am very grateful for their kindness for allowing me this ride up front and brief glimpse into their on-duty activities. When I ride the GO Trains on the “Milton Line” (CP Rail’s Galt Subdivision) I have no doubt whatsoever that I shall arrive safely at my destination.

Thank you head-end crew of Train 166. This was one of those few rare gifts of a lifetime and a wonderful conclusion to my vacation. Again, thank you.

Written in 1994
The Oddblock Station Agent

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