2: Setting the Scene
<< 1: What this book is about || 3: MTARTS, the commuter study >>
The story of the new commuter service needs some understanding of just how it came about,
what the build-up had been, and what were the interests of the various corporate bodies that
became involved in it. The railways round Toronto had been constructed in the era of late 1800's
and early 1900's, so they existed long before the period when GO-Transit came along. It had
been a slow evolution, with changes in circumstances as time passed. This chapter also gives a
quick description of the layout of the rail lines and freight facilities that had to be shaken up, and
who did what before even thought of a new commuter service could be entertained.
Congestion from industrial expansion
In the middle fifties, the whole of the area surrounding the west end of Lake Ontario, was
under great pressure of expansion. This encompassed the cities and suburbs of Toronto and
Hamilton. There was a heavy flow of new immigration coming in from Europe after the war, and
many of these workers brought industrial skills, so it was logical that they should settle in the
industrial areas of Canada. It was this massive industrial expansion that gave the name "The
Golden Horseshoe" to the coastline around the lake.
The new population created new traffic, in packages, in shipments by express on passenger
trains, in carloads and less-than-carload (LCL) in freight trains, in food movements, in
manufactured products, even coal for industries, for house heating, and to raise steam in the
locomotives. CN's Express Service was in the basement of Union Station, while the LCL shed
was at Simcoe Street, and both of these facilities were overloaded with this growth, not only
handling the freight through the plant, but switching the cars in and out as well.
The facilities of the railway up to that time had been constructed in a much earlier and far less
intensive era, so the plant had never been designed to handle such rapid growth in traffic
The process of replacing steam engines with diesel locomotives was in full swing during the
middle-fifties, but a good proportion of traffic was still being hauled by steam. Diesel
locomotives were capable of hauling freight trains half as long again as could the biggest
steamers. The receiving and dispatching tracks in the yards were too short for the longer trains,
so getting a train ready to leave meant building it in two tracks then putting it together. When the
locomotive arrived from the roundhouse it had to be coupled on to the new long train to pump
compressed air into the pipes supplying the brake systems. Pumping up and performing the
brake test took time, while the train was sitting, blocking the lead, so no more switching could be
done on that lead until that train had gone. Arriving trains that were longer than the yard tracks
had to be divided right away and the two parts stored in separate tracks for the switchers to get at
the cars. Many times then I saw as many as three and four trains coming in from the west, but
held out one behind the other along the entry track beside the main line between Port Credit and
Mimico, waiting for space in the yard.
Congestion in industrial yards
The main freight yard for CN was at Mimico, but there were supplementary yards that were
being used as best possible for overflow traffic. Some of these yards were quite small, having
been put there solely to service the local industries. They were not designed in length or number
of tracks, to receive and dispatch long freight trains. The industrial yards of importance in this
story were at Bathurst Street, Don yard, and Danforth Yard. So the function of a main freight
yard was, and still is, to receive the long haul freight trains, and break them up into transfer
trains, that would take them from that yard to the industrial yards for placement at the industries.
In reverse, loads or empties pulled from the industries would come first to the industrial yards,
be switched into a transfer for haul to the main yard, then switched into main line trains for the
One man who remembered well the problems in these yards was Al Norton. I had a chance to
talk with him in October '96, and his career in CN would make a story in itself. At that meeting
Al gave me a lot of background from his experiences in yard
operations. Al came back from the navy in 1945, and went
back to his previous job as Clerk to the General Yardmaster at
Bathurst Street Yard. That was strictly inside work, not going
out to check the yard, nor turn the switches. But it meant a lot
of recording and reporting the kinds of incidents that happen
round a yard, delays, accidents, call the crews, report their
time worked, absences due to calling in sick. It was a great
learning experience, seeing the fine detail first hand just how a
freight yard worked, in the days before fax machines between
offices, radio communication with locomotives, and
centralised control of train movements.Bathurst Street yard
existed to prepare the transfer trains serving the harbour and
the local industries. That included the LCL freight cars being
switched in and out of the shed at Simcoe Street.
Bathurst Street is a city street that passes over the CN tracks just west of Union Station. The
width available for tracks under the overpass was fixed from history, and imposed a severe
constraint on the layout of the main lines under it. More than that, it was too complicated ever to
have been a candidate for full signalling, so all the movements were controlled manually by
switch-tenders, getting their orders from the tower man, turning the switches, and flagging the
trains through. There will be more to say about that, at the stage of inaugurating the commuter
Sometimes the only way cars could be brought in or out of the yard was to arrange for a
passing freight train for the proper destination to stop on the main line, and make a set-off or lift.
That was quicker than transferring them through Mimico, but it blocked the main line while
doing so. Whichever way created problems, the demand was so much greater than the capacity.
The next move for Al Norton was as Supervisor at Don Yard. That is a yard just east of Union
Station, where the tracks pass over the Don River. This yard was trying to off-load Mimico a bit,
by despatching and receiving two of the freight trains, the short haul ones, to Peterborough and
on the line north towards Gravenhurst and North Bay, as well as serving the local industries
there. So cars moving into Mimico, might then have to be transferred to Don Yard, to go on the
freights out of there.
Again, in the days before fax machines, the Yardmasters only knew what cars they had in the
yard, and where they were to be switched, by having car-checkers out in the yard all the time,
reporting where the cars were, and where they should go. Then instructions could go to the
switch engines, telling them what moves they should make next. So the Supervisor at Don Yard
had eight Car-Checkers doing the yardwork and two Billing Clerks in the offices. All outgoing
cars had to have paper travelling with the trains, telling the train crews and Yard Masters where
the cars were destined. So the job of the Billing Clerks was to prepare waybills for outgoing cars.
Another move for Al was to be Yardmaster at Danforth Yard. This is a yard in a rather
awkward position for railway service.
The CN mainline east from Toronto has to climb from the level at the lake, up over of
Scarborough Bluffs. That is a hill where the tracks have to go up by 250 feet on a 1% grade, then
descend back to lake level at Rouge Hill. So steam engines on the long haul trains could not haul
their tonnage over this hill alone, they had to have helper engines, or pushers, to get them up and
over. Just on the Toronto side of Rouge Hill Station, there was a small yard, called Port Union.
Don Yard and Port Union are the places where the helpers were held in the sidings, ready to
couple on to the next train passing by.
Danforth Yard was half way up the hill, on the Toronto side. There is a short levelling out of
the grade as it passes through Danforth station, alongside the yard. So the yard tracks could be
more or less on the level, but trains moving in or out had to contend with the grade. Transfers
from Mimico had a hard pull up to Danforth, and the return trip was a cautious descent on the
brakes. Then the switch engines working in the Danforth yard could reclassify the cars and place
them at the industries as required.
There was another complication at this yard. It was the site of CN's work-equipment shop. In
this shop, CN stored and maintained the machinery used for track maintenance, changing rails,
ties, ballast, switches, clearing ditches, culverts, and bridges. This required movements of single
vehicles in and out of the shop, then dispatches in work trains going in and out to work sites
along the line.
With all the pressures of growth around Toronto, any supervisor's job, trying to keep good
service on the railway, was by no means easy, and I for one, hold them all in great respect.
Fortunately for Al Norton, before GO-Transit came along, he had been plucked out of this kind
of line job, and moved into Accounting Department, where we will meet with him again further
on in the story.
The Canadian Parliamentary Committee.
The next part of the build-up comes from a function of the Government of Canada, called the
Parliamentary Committee. This was a sub-committee in Ottawa, set up, as part of its
responsibilities, to review the Annual Report and the budget for the following year, of CN as a
railway, owned 100% by the Government. The President of CN had to make an appearance
before this committee each year, to give an aural presentation of his report, and submit to a
barrage of questions, often with implied criticisms. It would have been unreasonable to assume
that the President could be personally knowledgeable in all aspects of the management of the
railway, so he was supported by the presence of several of his most senior staff.
It was a complicated exercise in itself, getting ready for Parliamentary Committee.
Office staffs at the intermediate level were charged with pulling together documentary
records and discussions on all subjects foreseen to be likely to be raised in Ottawa, then the
Senior staffs had to be apprised of the content of the documents, so that they would be ready to
respond immediately, if possible. Thick books of information went to Ottawa with the President.
The Committee often raised questions outside the prepared material, then the President had to
say he would return with the answers later. There were immediate phone calls back to the offices
in Montreal, where everybody scurried around to prepare the answer, and relay it back to
Pressures for more commuter service
One subject that came up frequently was the question of rail commuter services operated by
CN. There were community pressures to have improved service that CN opposed, because the
expenses of operating that kind of train greatly exceeded the revenues. Montréal had had a
relatively intensive electric service through the Mount Royal tunnel, because the Canadian
Northern Railway had built it in order to develop the land it owned north of the mountain, and
had developed there the town that goes by the name of "Town of Mount Royal". There were
limits even there, to what CN could do, within the limits of finance. I recall hearing the then
Vice-President for the St. Lawrence Region saying that the tunnel service had lost millions of
dollars over the years, and since every railway service was supposed to pay for itself, somebody
owed CN a lot of money, but
nobody had come forward to pay
it.Toronto looked at Montréal, and
complained that they did not have
anything like the same quality of
service, so the committee in Ottawa
kept up the pressure to have CN do
something about it.
The commuter service that CN
was operating in Toronto at that
time was quite minimal. It had been
a slow development from the
earliest passenger trains that had
been the lifeline of the small
villages that had been founded
along the waterfront. These villages
grew into bedroom communities for
people working in Toronto. The residents depended upon the scheduled passenger service that
became for all purposes a commuter train. From the west, there were two trains each weekday
morning that travelled from Hamilton to Toronto. These trains stopped at all the local station
stops, with heavy coaches, making relatively slow journey times, because hauled earlier by
steam locomotives, then by diesels at almost at the last stage of dieselisation of the railway. Two
trips returned each weekday evening. From the east, there was a long-haul passenger train that
made a station stop at Danforth, scheduled into Toronto about a good commuter time. A few
commuters used this train between Danforth and Toronto,
but a long-haul train cannot render good commuter
service, and the railway management could not afford to
haul extra coaches all the way, just to carry commuters
over the last few miles of the
trip.I had a long discussion with Ernie Gilliat, who had
been in the thick of this, during the time in the middle
fifties, when he was an Assistant Transportation Engineer
at CN headquarters in Montréal. He recalled drafting
some briefing notes for the President to take to the
Parliamentary Committee, where he would say that the
lines around Toronto were loaded to capacity with the
freight and passenger trains then running, but if, in future,
they could solve their capacity problems, they could look
towards accommodating the City.
Urban sprawl versus a viable city core
I asked Ernie what was the one thought that came into his mind, when I asked him to think
back to those years. The thing he remembered most was the decision by Toronto and the
Government of Ontario, to move away from dependence on the automobile, towards rail
transportation, and to build a real city centre in Toronto. Metropolitan Toronto had been created
in the early fifties, so by then it would be Metropolitan Toronto that would make decisions like
that. In the early sixties, Ernie had the chance of a heart-to-heart talk with one of the Ontario
Ministers, who told him then that trying to add just
one more lane of roadway in the metropolitan area
would cost some $144 per foot.
Somewhere in 1952 or 1953, Toronto had
realised that there really was no downtown core. In
those years, Toronto was a great urban sprawl, and
it was growing and spreading out, rapidly. They
realised then, that, to have a city, they needed a city
core, a core that would support a city type of
development. The Gardiner Expressway had
already been built, and the day it was opened, it
was completely plugged with traffic. They realised
then, that they would have to take another tack.
That was when the pressure came on the railway to add more commuter service, and to get more
transit service. The City of Toronto had opened the first subway, under Yonge Street, in March
1954, and it had already demonstrated the benefits of rail transportation, but only in the confines
of the city itself.
Since Ernie was a student of transportation, he knew the trouble that Boston had run into,
when they basically destroyed their downtown core, to build their expressways. They lost their
tax base and effectively bankrupt the City of Boston. Some rail commuter services were lost, as
well, such as the Old Colony Line and the Highland line. Whereas Boston had walked into these
problems, New York already had good subway and rail commuter services. Stresses were
starting to develop on the west coast, in San Francisco and in Los Angeles.
Toronto had enough foresight to start early. The Toronto Transit Commission had made the
decision to retain the streetcar system, and moved also to electric buses - trolley buses. So they
had started early, to build systems that would support a city centre.
Proposal for a new hump yard
Ernie was removed from this work for a short time, while he was assigned to CN's offices in
Moncton, but then he was brought back into the thick of it again. This was when the Regional
offices in Toronto sent in a recommendation that the best and only way to meet the challenge of
traffic growth would be to construct a new classification yard, outside the inner city. Then only
the industrial freight services and passenger trains would occupy the downtown rail lines. This
was what became the MacMillan Yard, out at Maple, beyond the northern suburbs of Toronto as
they were then.
A proposal like that, coming up to System Headquarters, and projecting what, at that time,
was an excessive capital investment, would require a lot of analysis and financial justification.
The annual budget of CN would have to be presented and defended to the Parliamentary
Committee in Ottawa, so all the middle and senior staffs had to examine it, understand it, and be
prepared to stand behind the President, when he made his annual appearance. When accepted,
CN's expenditures still had to be signed off by Government, before the project could really
advance to completion.
As a Transportation Engineer in Headquarters, it fell on Ernie's desk, to evaluate the access
lines that would have to be built, so that trains could get to the new yard, from the previous main
lines. A plan to build new rail lines across the open country, but well within the potential area of
expansion of Greater Toronto, naturally required a lot of contact with the Government of Ontario
at Queen's Park, as well as with all the affected municipalities. So by the time the plans were
ready to be put before Queen's Park for approval, there seemed to be a recognition, that, once the
new yard would be open and running, thoughts could turn towards a re-examination of
Staffing for yard construction
The next staff man to come into our story is Jack Cann. He was and is the strong man, who
carried the responsibility for getting the hump yard built. The way he got the job, or rather, the
way he was assigned to it, is a story in two parts. This is where the personalities of the players
The Toronto Terminal of CN was a division of the railway, and came under the
administration of the Central Region, with regional offices at Toronto Union Station. The Vice-President of the Region was a certain Willard Kyle. He was a character in his own right, one of
those "Dynamic Executives", and an excellent manager. He kept his own hours, travelled the
Region in his business car, knew what guff to throw out, knew what items should be pursued. He
would develop them with his staff, define the jobs to be done, then leave it to his staff to get on
with the work. The Central Region extended far to the east of Montréal, so that big railway
operation also fell within his responsibility.
Although Jack Cann had known Willard Kyle in the past, at the time the story begins, Jack
was District Engineer in Vancouver. But Willard showed up in Vancouver in his business car, so
Jack walked over to visit with him. When railway people get together, they always talk railway,
so they were into it right away! Suddenly Willard shifted gears, and broke the conversation with
the question: "Why can't you come down east?" Jack has an analytical turn of mind, and started
wondering what was going on behind the scenes. But he accepted, and advanced to Engineer,
Maintenance of Way, on the Central Region.
This would be about 1957, given a year or two. As Vice-President, Central Region, Kyle had
been working for years on the need for a new yard, so the early schemes were already becoming
formulated. The question of access lines through new territory and a new yard clearly would
need support from outside the railway, so even at the earliest stages, discussions had to be
started. The Government of Ontario was under Premier Frost, who had been pressing for more
commuter service, so the idea of using the released line capacity for increased commuter service
was clear to all. It was not a commitment that could be made. The yard had to be approved,
funded, designed, and built, before any planning for commuter service could be thought of. But
if the new yard did not get built, the rail lines could not be freed up anyway, so the Government
support was needed.
There came a day, when Kyle called Jack down to the office, with no advance warning. He
was told to sit in a chair and wait, while Kyle just went on writing, and took no other notice.
Then into the office walked Bill Bowra, the Regional General Manager, and he carefully closed
the door behind him. Kyle stopped working immediately, so Jack knew that there was something
special about this meeting. That was when Kyle told him that CN had decided to build the new
yard, and that he was being asked to head it up. The rider was that he would have to have the
approval of System Vice President, Mr.N.J.McMillan, but it was the Region's choice to send
Jack to Montreal for the interview. He said, if Jack didn't want it, there was a second choice, and
Jack would then step into those shoes. Either one of these moves would have been a promotion,
so Jack replied that he would be like to think it over. So, typically, Willard Kyle said: "Fine.
Take the next thirty seconds, and think it over!" There was nothing more that Jack could say,
except: "Well. It seems I could get into trouble anyway, so why not?"
About three weeks later, Kyle called Jack in again, to tell him that they would travel together
in the business car the next day to Montreal to meet N.J. Breakfast was served in the business
car, then Kyle said: "You had better get on up to see N.J.!" Jack said he thought "We" were
going. "Oh, no, no. There is no point in my going. Get on up!" Jack went expecting a short
conversation, but they talked all morning, had lunch together, then talked on into the afternoon.
He can't remember all that they talked about, but it must have been an awful lot. At about four
o'clock, the doors opened, and various Vice -Presidents filtered in, and some others along with
them. Then MacMillan said: "You know we are about to embark on building a hump yard in
Toronto, and we will be calling it something separate." He didn't have a name chosen just then.
But he went on: "And the chap who is going to run it is sitting right over there!" That was the
first time that N.J. had said anything to Jack about it! That was the way Jack fell, or was pushed,
into the position of Project Director, responsible for the whole yard project. For him, it was a
The yard gets built
Jack Cann came from the west, so it was characteristic of him, once the construction had
started in the yard and access lines, that he should go around on his visits to the worksites, on a
horse! That was a good idea, in another way - his horse took him into construction sites, where
vehicular traffic did not already have access roads for cars and trucks.
I asked Jack, when it was that he first heard about the commuter service project. He began to
get wind of it, almost as soon as he got into the job on the hump yard. There was a lot of work to
be done, by only a small cadre of people. Vic Cox was an engineer already involved in some of
the planning, with Doug McCorquodale, assigned from De Leuw Cather, consulting engineers,
and Peggy, as the Secretary.
There was a tremendous amount of work to be done in terms of an explosion of resentment
from the public, over the project. This was where the whole business of commuter service started
to come out, so this is why Jack felt there must have been some discussions along those lines,
even a couple or three years before CN was able to make a public announcement about building
the new yard. So in his eyes, it was already understood, as a kind of a "Quid-pro-quo!" The
Government would get the commuter service they had been pressing for, and CN would get the
traffic off the congested city lines. While close co-operation would go on all the time, it would
fall to the Government to steer it through the political processes, while CN could see to the
technical side of things.
In the early planning stages, when the new yard was to be at Maple, the access lines were to
leave the Lakeshore lines at Pickering in the east, and re-enter at Port Credit in the west. When
they looked at the land, houses were being built there already, so they moved the lines on the
map a little further west, to come in at Oakville. Then, Boom!, that land was already held by a
company of land developers, who were well into preparing what became the Sherway Research
and Industrial Park. President Donald Gordon took Jack to a meeting with the top man of the
development, and it became clear that cutting a new rail line through that property would have
astronomical implications, so that was out. Finally, CN chose to return to the Lakeshore lines, by
an existing line, the old Beeton subdivision, down from Georgetown to come in at Burlington.
So construction of the yard and access line was started. Many of the senior personnel, both in
CN and in the Government, were too deeply involved in the forward planning for all of the
operating changes that would result, to be able to advance the idea of a commuter service. It took
some lapse of time before the next moves could be made.
Moving Express and Less-than-carload (LCL) Freight
The next important development was the decision by CN to move Express and LCL out of the
downtown area. This was one of the big contributors to the inauguration of GO-Transit, and that
is a story in itself. This move took all of those freight car moves out of the downtown area, thus
reducing the total traffic on the inner rail lines, so it had an effect the same as had building the
new hump yard. It also released employees who became available to move into positions with
the new commuter service.
During the Winter of 1996-7, I met with Stew Cooke, who played a big part in making this
move. He is another retiree of CN, who spends the winter months in Florida, so I drove over to
his home in Indian Rocks Beach, another part of the Tampa Bay area, to find what were his
memories of those years.
His memories cover the same chain of events that led to building a new hump yard: that is,
the explosion in population and industrial activity in and around Toronto, from the mid-fifties
on. Traditionally, the railway had offered three different types of freight handling when it was
not in complete carloads that were loaded by the shipping companies. These covered by haulage
of the freight through the streets by the Cartage Department, transhipping of less-than-carload
(L.C.L.) packages across the floor of the L.C.L. shed into and out of freight cars, or collection
and handling of express packages that moved in the express cars on passenger trains.
There was "Cartage". This Department operated city deliveries and pick-ups that reached out
into the country a little bit. It had all started with horse-drawn wagons, then with the arrival of
the motor vehicle, it had changed over to panel trucks and flats. Tradition dies hard, and names
stick, so trucks were still put away in the "Barns", the same as it was for streetcars. They just
didn't need hay for the horses any more!
The activities of Cartage were distinctly different from operating trains, so they were
specialists in their own field. There was no line haul involved, so it was strictly local delivery
LCL (Less than Carload)
There was LCL. This was the service that would transport smaller packages, or sometimes not
so small, but not in big enough quantity to fill a freight car. Cartage would truck them to an LCL
shed, where they would be man-handled into railway freight cars. These were standard freight
boxcars, in the usual rust-red colours.
In Toronto, the LCL shed was on Simcoe Street at Front Street. It was an enormous covered
shed, with multiple tracks between platforms that were raised to the level of the freight car
floors. Each morning, switching locomotives would place whole strings of inward cars at the
platforms for unloading. Handlers would unload the cars, sort the arriving packages according to
city destinations, and move them to the loading docks, where the truckers would load them on to
their trucks, in sequence for delivery along their routes. Packages were moved along the
platforms on small dollies, often pushed by hand, 'though there were tractors that could haul
strings of dollies, where trains of dollies could be built up. In reverse, Cartage would send trucks
to shippers to make their pick-ups, bring them to the LCL shed, where they would be sorted
according to which freight car they should leave on, then move them through the shed for
At the end of the working day, switchers would pull the outward cars down to Bathurst yard,
and do a preliminary sort, for cars that were to go east to Montreal and beyond, north to
Northern Ontario and the west, and to Western Ontario and cross border traffic to the USA. The
industrial transfers would haul these batches back to Mimico for inclusion in the departing
mainline freight trains.
In earlier days, part of the shed was designated for inward cars, that would be unloaded and
left empty. Then the switchers would pull them for placement at the outward part of the shed for
reloading. It was a messy business, in two ways. First, some of the commodities were polluting,
leaky oil drums, dirty bags of charcoal, white powders, torn papers, and steel strapping nailed to
the walls. So there was a cleaning job to be done, and the debris removed. Then, when the
switchers had placed them in the outward shed, a Forman had to go down the line, marking the
cars in a proper sequence according to destination, so that the freight handlers would know
which cars to load for where. For destinations where the level of traffic usually filled more than
one car, he would designate one of the cars for clean loading, the other for what would be called
Finally, the freight cars would be
subject to much re-classification in
the various yards they would pass
through. This exposed them to a risk
of rough handling along the way.
Many of the cars would not have full
loads, and the partial loads had to be
secured so that they would not shift or
crash together. So the shed staffs
would install portable walls or gates,
that had to be nailed in place, to
restrain the loads in one end or other
of the cars. Upon arrival at the
destination shed, these gates had to be
taken down, and manhandled to a
storage area, before the handlers could begin to unload and sort the packages.
Some of the smaller stations along the main lines had only a small LCL shed, and would load
only two cars, one for east and one for west. Then their cars would be picked up by the freight
train that gave local service down the line, the wayfreight, and taken to the nearest big freight
shed. Here they would be unloaded, and their contents moved over into cars for the destinations
of the individual packages.
There was a lot of paperwork that went along with this. Each package had its own waybill,
recording shipper, addressee, the nature of the commodity, price paid for transportation, value
and ownership. So the office work in the back room was significant, and could not always be
synchronised. There was always the risk that shipments might arrive without waybills, or bills
might arrive without the material that should be with it, so security had to be tight, and
supervision was quite demanding. Finally, all this had to end up in the accounting office, where
revenues and expenses should be reconciled, bank balances maintained, and the railway could
pay wages and bills as they came due.
There was "Express". Although there was a vague similarity to LCL, there was also a distinct
difference. Express shipments moved on passenger trains. In earlier days, passenger trains
hauled "Head-end" cars. These might look like freight cars, but they were painted in passenger
train colours, and they rode on rail trucks designed for the higher speeds of passenger trains.
There were "Baggage" cars, that looked like passenger coaches, but without all the windows and
seats. They all had vast open space inside, with tie-downs for holding shipments in place. These
cars had vestibule connections, so that express department staff could move through from car to
The Express Department had trucks for over-the-road pick-up and delivery, and these worked
to and from the passenger stations. At the smaller stations, the Station Agent himself might
handle the express shipments on a platform truck up to the head end cars of each train, whether
for east or west movement, and the Express Agent in the car would take it in from there.
Between there and the next station stop, the Agent on the train would sort the shipments ready
for the next stop, or the terminal station. The process of handling express and passengers'
checked baggage required the train to wait long enough time at each station stop. In later days,
many passenger trains could not afford to wait so long, so they stopped carrying express and
checked baggage. The quality of express service was surrendered to the benefit of shorter
journey times of passenger trains.
At the main stations, the quantity of express
shipments needed a full shed sort and
handling. Trucks were coming in and out
from the street, packages were being sorted
on and off the platform trucks, then tractors
would haul them up to the train platforms,
to meet their trains. In Toronto Union
Station, there were two places where
shipments were handled. The smaller trains,
carrying limited quantities, delivered their
shipments into the lower concourse, where
they received a first sortation. But for the
longer and heavier destinations, trains of
express cars were parked under a separate express building, just to the west of the main
passenger station. These cars usually moved on the overnight trains, so there was a switching job
to build these trains on the station tracks. Switchers brought the passenger cars, sleepers,
coaches, and diners, from the coach yard, then brought the express cars out of the express
building, and the enginemen brought their locomotives from the roundhouse.
Planning to move the freight shed
These were the railway operations using facilities that were becoming grossly overloaded, as
result of the rapid increase of activities in the metropolitan area, and the old routines just didn't
fit the new demands. Stew Cooke found himself thrown into the middle of this, while he was still
junior in art of railway management.
Stew was working as District Trainmaster at Capreol when the railway, under the President,
Donald Gordon, was recognising that advancements in operating technology were calling for
changes in management organisation. Traffic levels were rising, dieselisation was leading to
longer and heavier trains, bigger freight cars, faster passenger trains. Facsimile (FAX)
communications were introduced between offices and classification yards, Up to that time,
traditional railway management was at four levels. Below Headquarters, there were the Regions,
below them, the Districts, then the Divisions. At Division level, the individual lines of rail went
by the names of sub-divisions, so that any particular location in track could be identified by its
special mileage point along a sub-division. Workers out on line would report their location by
their sub-division mileage. Also the lines of responsibility tended to be vertical. Each speciality
answered up the line to headquarters, and inter-relationships between departments were not
always direct, and reactions were not prompt enough.
The developing techniques needed quicker responses, and the responsibilities of making
management decisions needed to be closer to the operations on the ground. Capreol was chosen
as the first location to develop a new concept of organisation, the Area. Ultimately, this was to
lead to only three levels of management instead of four, but even the basic idea of giving overall
management to an Area had to be rehearsed in a controlled location. So somewhere about 1960,
the Area Manager, J.A.MacDonald (Jim), called Stew into the office, saying that great changes
were to come in the way the railway management was to be organised. On a moment's notice,
Stew was sent off to Ste. Agathe, in Québec, on what was identified as "The Express Freight
Work Study Course". So in one course, both Express and Freight were brought together in one
study. It was a bit of a dream for all those attending, and not everyone completed the course.
When Stew had completed the course, he was returned to Toronto, under the General
Manager of the Great Lakes Region, Wilf Bowra. They had a lot of planning to do, trying to
define what changes were needed and how to get them done. So it was dropped on to Stew's
shoulders to apply his new knowledge about Express and Freight, by going to the smaller station
at Barrie, Ontario, and consolidating the LCL and the Express into a single operation. That was
not easy. The various staffs were represented by different Brotherhoods, each looking to the
interests of its own members, and all fearful of the unknown future.
But it was done, and it worked. This was new to the still separate departments at
Headquarters. So Stew was called to Montreal, to give an accounting of his actions. He got back
to Toronto in one piece. An acquaintance, by the name of Charlie Armstrong, had become the
new Area Manager in London, Ontario, and he was already familiar with the consolidation at
Barrie. So he wanted the same on the London Area, and together with Stew Cooke, they
achieved 60 consolidations in less than a year.
By this time, the widespread operations around Toronto had been placed under the new
Toronto Area Manager, Jack Spicer. This was the first time all the operations of the railway in
the Area came under the administration of a single office, and it was a lot to digest all at once.
For overall regional functions, technical specialities and that kind of policy, the Area looked to
the Region, then for overall railway policy, that passed between Region and Headquarters. The
President of CN still had to answer to the Parliamentary Committee. Over time, it all came
Now the whole railway was beginning to sit up and take notice about the Express-Freight
consolidations. System Headquarters negotiated an agreement with the Brotherhoods involved,
that protected the rights of the employees yet gave the flexibility needed to allow consolidation
to proceed. Obviously something similar had to be done in Toronto.
A consulting group was brought in, Drake-Startsman, to analyse traffic flows both in and
outside Metropolitan Toronto.
The Drake-Startsman study and report
There were a number of surprises in the consultant's findings. To that time, both Express and
LCL had been handled in downtown Toronto. The Express moved on passenger trains at Union
Station. The LCL moved in and out of the Simcoe Street shed in freight cars that came in
transfers from the Mimico classification yard, still within a short distance of downtown.
The study showed that business was growing more on the outskirts and cartage was running
into problems. Some industrial shippers were moving their plants out of the downtown, much of
it going north of highway number 7 on the northern boundary of the metropole. It was the first
time an overall study of this type had been done, so much of the information was new to
The recommendations were to establish a new, and modern, Express-Freight shed on the
northern outskirts of the metropolitan area, and move the whole operation out of downtown.
Most of the railway management had expected that a consolidated facility would naturally be
built somewhere in a downtown location. The idea that this business was no longer oriented on
the inner city facilities was hard to swallow, and there was some opposition to the
By the time the Drake-Startsman report was presented to the railway managers at Area and
Regional levels, it was already 1962. The decision had been adopted to build the new hump yard
out at Maple, and construction was going full speed ahead there. It was logical to consider
placing the new shed in the same location. The figures showed that the consolidated operations
would require an unusually big facility, and the designs for such would introduce new techniques
for handling and sorting package freight. So the designs were done in two stages. The size and
shape of the building had to be oriented to the available land area at the yard, then the internal
roadways, machines and moving equipment had to be fitted into it. The first part of this fell to
Stew Cooke, and he arrived at an outline design for the shed, without all the details yet. It
showed a shed with 165 truck doors! Then he was transferred to Moncton. So a different person
had to be designated to get the internal designs completed, and these were done at the direction
of Joe Vilagos. Joe had been working with Stew, so it was not difficult pass the reigns on to him.
It was clear that such revolutionary practices should be put to the test in some smaller
operation first, so a smaller shed was built at Hamilton, where the new ideas and machinery
could be proven. It had a doughnut sorting plan, and a dragline. This was the first time draglines
had been installed in sheds here in Canada.
Then the final designs for the new shed at Maple were completed, and all was ready for staff
training and moving-in on a progressive basis. The new operation had 2 ½ miles of dragline, but
it needed far fewer operators for the inside work.
The final transfers of work from the downtown facilities to the new shed out of town couldn't
take place for some time, and in fact the last moves were being made even as the implementation
of the new rail commuter service was getting close. The surplus personnel who would lose their
work from the old freight sheds were then available to bid-in on the new positions of Station
Attendants in the new GO-Transit commuter service.
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