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3: MTARTS, the commuter study

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The fact that CN had decided to move freight out of downtown was not announced publicly until it had been approved internally at CN and in the Government of Ontario. At that stage the government involvement was solely in relation to the location of the new yard, and the impact on the community.

Announcement by President Donald Gordon of CN

In March 1959, that the subject of possible improved commuter service was openly put on the table. This was the occasion when the President of CN, Donald Gordon, announced the decision to go ahead with building the new yard out at Maple. Even then, he talked gently round the subject, rather than coming straight out with it! His actual words were:

"I want to touch upon a point which is of some delicacy, and on which there is a good deal of misunderstanding. That is the question of commuter traffic. I've been dealing with what we need to do to handle our existing freight situation and our future requirements. If we are successful in getting on with this plan, as we expect to be, then as a by-product of this plan, we will relieve the congestion now existing in the terminal area, particularly on the line through to Hamilton. I say, with this plan in force, we will have relieved that congestion to the point, that we can make it physically possible to improve passenger services, provided we can find an accommodation between ourselves and other planning authorities to make it financially possible".

This was by no means a quick decision, but the outcome of long years of analysis and close liaison with the municipalities concerned. Doug McCorquodale recalled that the announcement was made at The Albany Club in Toronto. Doug was not aware that anyone was there from the Provincial Government. It was predominantly a luncheon to meet with Metropolitan Toronto. Fred Gardiner was there representing this organisation that comprised the City of Toronto and a number of the smaller municipalities around the inner city. In effect, it was a message going out to Government and the public that, if there was a real interest in finally achieving the rail commuter service that seemed to be wanted, it was time to start planning for it.

Within a short time, the Canadian Pacific Railway also came to the conclusion, that they should move out of their old, flat yard, and so put in hand the construction of a new hump yard out at Agincourt, in the east end of Metropolitan Toronto

There was a lapse of six years before the next development was announced publicly, but a lot of work was done in the meantime.

The hard work in the early part of those years was getting all the approvals to allow the design and construction of the CN's hump yard to go ahead. The site chosen was really out in the country, as far as the residents were concerned. They did not recognise the development that would to take place that Greater Toronto would spread outward. The residents of Maple objected strenuously to having the yard just to the south of them. They did, in fact, succeed in having the designs changed, in a compromise settlement, to some disadvantage in the way the new yard would have to be operated. The owners of the lands across which the access lines would pass, also wanted neither the land separations arising from it, the presence of the freight trains that would be passing over them, nor the grade crossings or grade separations, where the lines would cut across the existing country roads.

Creation of MTARTS

The next significant step towards commuter services did not solidify until December 1962. That was the formal announcement of the creation of "MTARTS". The full title of this body was "The Metropolitan Toronto and Region Transportation Study". No wonder it was always abbreviated! It was the far-sighted attitude of senior elected officials, not only at Provincial levels, but also in Metropolitan Toronto and the municipalities, who took the broader position, that metropolitan development could not be built solely around highways and the private automobile. A change of culture of this magnitude could not be induced overnight within the civil service. Besides, not all of them had recognised the development that was happening around the metropole, and how this would touch an ever-widening area in the future.

There was the Premier Frost himself, assisted by his Minister of Highways, C. S. McNaughton, and the Minister of Transport, J. A. C.Auld, and later I. Haskett. There was a similar recognition by the Chairmen of Metropolitan Toronto, first by Gardiner, then by Allen. In all their departments, at senior levels of the civil service, it took time for the new understanding to take hold.

Inside Government, there was a Department of Highways, whose past experience had been strictly oriented towards solving all problems by building more highways. So, quite naturally, the other departments assumed a similar stance. Surely, that was the responsibility of Government was in highways, wasn't it? The Department of Transport exercised regulatory authority over highway safety, automobile registrations, driving licenses, and did not expect to get involved in rail commuter services in any way at all. The Finance Department knew that commuter services usually had to be subsidized, and didn't enjoy the prospect of Government getting into it in any way. This whole complex needed that the approach should be cautious in the extreme.

 I spoke to the man, on whose head this responsibility fell unawares. That was Cam McNab, who was Deputy Minister then. Cam was present at most of the meetings I attended, during the designing of the new commuter service. I was happy to go to his home to meet with him in 1995. When I asked him what he remembered most about those early years, he replied without hesitation, it was the moment when he was called into the office, to find they had Donald Gordon with them in the meeting. The Premier, John Robarts, turned to Cam, with only a brief explanation, finishing with: "So this is what we are going to do. Here is your time limit. Now it's in your bailiwick!"

Cam didn't consider the lapse of time between Gordon's announcement in 1959 and the setting up of MTARTS in December 1962 as being at all unexpected. To a certain extent this had been waiting for the metropolitan government to come forward with its comprehensive land use plan. Then it seemed incumbent upon the Province to supply the transportation facilities needed to support it. He was occupied in reorganizing his department, setting up responsibilities for money, rewriting the budgets, creating the relationships that would allow a study group to get started. He created an Executive Committee of the three Ministers and the Chairman of Metro, and a Steering Committee, known fully as the "Technical, Advisory, and Coordinating Committee".

The world tour

Cam organised a tour of other transit operations, to bring those members into the picture. He had CN's Vice President in Toronto, Doug Gonder, with two other senior members from CN, Eric Wynne, and Jack Spicer, McNaughton and two others from the Department of Highways, and Cam himself. He was not sure whether anyone went from the Department of Transport, there were too many other things going on then.

The tour took them to Japan first, then to Germany, and Britain. About this tour, Cam said: "This was a bona fide study, not just a trip. They worked the hell out of us, but it worked out very well". They used the Ontario Government contacts in Britain and Germany, while the visit in Japan was organised by CN's agent out there. He had good words for the way this agent looked after them in Japan, describing him as being: "So well established, he was almost Japanese himself!"

On the way from Japan to Germany, they made a stopover in Beyrouth. Since they had to have visas there, the Government knew they were due to pass through, so they had set up an activity for them. That was where the senior member of the group, Charlie McNaughton, became unwell, and when they got to the transportation exposition in Munich, he was confined to his room. By the time they reached London, he couldn't continue, so they put him on a plane home, and Cam became senior man and ended up with the whole thing.

The time in London was for visits with London Transport and British Railways. It was more like a reunion, since some of their officers had visited Canada recently, so the welcome mat was out. Even for Cam, it was a return, since he had spent time there in the Canadian Armed Forces during the war, so he already knew what he wanted the others to see and do. As a result of that, when the responsibility was put on him, he was quite receptive to the idea of doing something similar for Toronto.

Memoirs of the Project Director

The next significant person I was able to contact was Phil Wade. Phil was appointed to the position of Project Director for MTARTS, so I asked him for some more of the history, going back even earlier, before it took its final form. His earliest memories of this were during the period while Gordon was making those first proposals about using the released line capacity for commuter usage. There had been a meeting, where Phil's boss, the then Deputy Minister, Bill Fulton, took him along, and there were quite a few other invitees, to listen to the discussion on the new yard, and its effect on the downtown lines. As Phil said: "They were all quite bemused by that idea!"

At that time, Phil was Program Engineer in the Department of Highways, and all his work had been highway-oriented. He headed up a research group, called "The Statistics and Economics Section", that did many different research projects. One was writing a report on "Financing Policy", looking over all the roadway needs for Ontario, what they would cost, and the mechanisms for financing them. The work brought in considerations of physical needs, so it lead naturally to some considerations of the impact of public transit, then on to a recognition of its importance in the total transportation scene. Apparently, the Ministry should be concerned about transit as an area of government policy. This was somewhat new, as up to that time, transit had not been seriously in the Provincial Government's orbit. Phil was quite receptive to the idea of using the released line capacity for commuter services. Doing both programming and research, it was sort of a production line operation, and now he had introduced questions of public transit that made commuter rail projects relevant to him.

When I asked Phil what he knew about what happened next, after the Gordon meeting, he thought "nothing much". They just went back to their offices, chatted about it over lunch, and let things go by at their own pace. A few memos passed across the desks, and he was asked to prepare some working papers. But not much was visible at the lower echelons of management, until in April, '62, Metropolitan Toronto for the first time published its official development plan, that had been completed by its own Planning Department.

 Metropolitan Toronto was only a few years old, and had been set up in the form of an enlarged municipality, encompassing all the various municipalities that fell within its boundaries. The political set-up of the Province required that official plans were first the responsibility of the municipalities. Upon completion, plans then were to be submitted to the Provincial Government for approval. So this plan arrived in the hands of the senior members of Government. Then word came down inside the Government circles that there was to be a study to deal with metropolitan transportation, and that this was in relation to the question of rail commuter services to downtown. Initially the feeling was that the broad study was not to deal with rail commuter in isolation, looking instead for an overall plan for it to fit into.

The study had been underway for almost a full year, before this attitude was inverted.

Phil's future was touched only when word got around that Management was looking for someone to head up the project. He applied, was interviewed, and in 1963 was appointed as Project Director. There was also Roy Cowley, who chaired the Steering Committee. Roy was from the Department of Transportation, so, naturally, the project was administered under that Department. Phil answered to an Operating Committee, chaired by Phil himself, and composed of active members from those ministries. It was a rather tenuous relationship, because Phil had to respond to his committee, and could take guidance from Roy, but could not act directly upon instructions from him.

MTARTS at work

Now getting down to work, the budget was limited, because the funds had to come out of the Ministry of Transport, that was a distinctly smaller Ministry than that of Highways. To get the work done meant letting several consultant contracts, so Phil's early work was in defining what studies were to be done, and how. There were studies attempting to use a model for predicting traffic flow under a growing region, extending as far as Barrie, Kitchener, Hamilton, Oshawa, and the rest. There were severe limitations to extending it beyond its original intent, so the MTARTS staff was not fully confident in the results. It did serve to outline the importance of providing commuter services out beyond the existing developed areas, including a real time survey of origins and destinations that served the other studies quite well. This was a telephone survey, handled by Dick Soberman, from the University of Toronto, with a team of telephone operators borrowed from the local Bible College. These traffic and land use studies were the major of the two subjects that MTARTS handled.

This study examined the manner in which communities developed, seeing that the final result was governed by the infrastructure supporting it. So land use planning, provision of water, sewer and electric services were what developers were pressing for. But now, MTARTS was adding considerations that installing transit services would influence the nature of developments that would arise. That was when the report was written: "Choices for a Growing Region".

There were parallel studies to evaluate the prospects of using various existing rail lines radiating from central Toronto. These were the studies that lead eventually to the implementation of GO-Transit. Both contracts went to De Leuw Cather, Consultants, so I went to Ottawa to speak with Doug McCorquodale, who did both of them.

The De Leuw Cather studies

Doug had an interesting career, before he went to De Leuw Cather. He had joined CN as a junior engineer, and had worked under Roy Logie, CN's engineer when the St. Lawrence Seaway was being built, and CN had to move its main line out of the area that was to be flooded in and around Cornwall. There were 40 miles of new line to be built, including a new station for the city of Cornwall, and several other station relocations, where whole villages were being moved north on to higher ground. A stint in Northern Qubec came next, for line relocation around LaTuque, but this time on his own responsibility. He was transferred to Toronto, under the then Regional Engineer, to be CN's Liaison Engineer to the consultants, De Leuw Cather. That was when he learned his way around the rail lines in Toronto. These were consultants contracted by CN in December 1957, to do the study of traffic flows around Toronto.

Basically, Toronto Terminals had inherited yards from three other railways that had been amalgamated to form Canadian National Railways, back in the later twenties and early thirties. Although Union Station had been created to serve jointly the passenger trains of both CN and Canadian Pacific Railways, passenger operations were integrated only at the station itself, while the railway operations outside the station, for both passenger and freight, remained separate and dispersed. There were two coachyards to clean and service the coaches, and two round houses, for fueling and preparing the steam locomotives then in use. CPR's main freight yards were not in the downtown area, but CN had freight yards in several locations along the Lakeshore lines. So in his capacity as Liaison Engineer, Doug became thoroughly familiar with Toronto Terminals and was partially involved in the planning of the new yard and access lines. The report prepared by De Leuw Cather was addressed to the then Vice President of the Great Lakes Region, Willard H. Kyle on April 3rd, 1959. This was the report that contained the recommendation to build the new hump yard, and also had preliminary plans for the new access lines.

So the Management of the Region decided that Doug should be assigned to the working group under Jack Cann, that had been created to get the new yard built and into service. That was the work he was doing when MTARTS began to shop around for a study of commuter possibilities for the metropolitan area. When De Leuw Cather needed someone to perform the upcoming studies, he had exactly the skills they needed, so Doug got the job, and in early '61 he made the jump from CN to become an employee of De Leuw.

MTARTS study of North American transit

Phil Wade had created a team of working staff, who did not have a full familiarity with the concept of rail commuter services, so here, also, an educational trip had to be arranged. Using the knowledge available with Doug McCorquodale inside De Leuw Cather, a tour was set up of cities across North America, to see the different combinations of transportation that were being implemented elsewhere. Seattle, WA was into some "Super-duper" regional planning. San Francisco, CA., was in the early stages of designing what became the "BART" system. Los Angeles, CA., was still trying to solve its problems with a network of freeways, express buses, and was not yet into transit services. On the east coast, they visited New York City, NY, Washington, DC, Boston, MA, and ended up in Chicago, IL.

There were some sad histories they learned about. In Boston, the mainline railways had been driven off the Highland line that lay abandoned for a time. It didn't take long before local recognition of the importance of restoring service there, so an extension of the streetcar service was put on to it. In Chicago, the Chicago-Milwaukee Railroad had abandoned their excellent electric service from the north of the city. It lay abandoned for a time, then the Chicago Elevated installed an extension of their subway lines out as far as Skokie, so Phil's group took a ride out there on the "Skokie Swift". Another line out of Boston that was abandoned was the Old Colony Line. It is only recently that tracks have been relayed for commuter services there.

It wasn't all work and no play!

One member of the group was the Commissioner of Roads for Metro, George Grant. He had come out from the Government of Ontario, so he was good to have on this project. While they were out on the west coast, some of them went to a stage presentation, with singing and dancing. In the various scenes, the actors were coming on stage by sliding down a fire pole. When the Master of Ceremonies announced the next entertainer, down the pole came George Grant! What a surprise! The group had not noticed his absence, so it was totally unexpected, even to the M. C. But George had interrupted the young ladies, so that he could go down next.

Another member of the group was a tall Scotsman, W. E.P. Duncan, from the TTC, and a strong character in his own way. On exiting at the airport in Toronto, Phil was greeting his wife, when out through the gate came W. E. P., wearing a Mickey Mouse hat!

It was in March 1963, that MTARTS negotiated for De Leuw to execute a first study. This was to examine all the rail lines radiating from the centre of Toronto, to assess the potential to carry rail commuter services, and to foresee in what way this might influence regional development. Doug already had a thorough knowledge of the CN lines, and at least a working knowledge of those of CP. That made it a case of working with the railway operators themselves to review the current situation and the characteristics of the future operations, the changes the new yards would bring when they would be fully operational. The study was not confined to the main line railways. It also considered the present and future of the Toronto Transit Commission, and the possible introduction of subway extensions or streetcar type services along the same railway rights of way. Within a few months, in October 1963, the report was completed, entitled: "Study of Existing Rail Lines", and given to MTARTS to review.

This report did not make a direct recommendation, but it did underline that the lines most propitious for introducing commuter services were on the double track sections between Oakville and Dunbarton, on the CN Lakeshore lines, and it proposed a further study specifically to evaluate this possibility. It went on to say that almost all of the lines had potential for such use, but they often had limitations due to serving industries from only single track, so that much higher costs for improvements would be involved on those lines.

That is what happened. A second contract was let to De Leuw Cather, this time specifically to study and make recommendations on what form of service should be considered to operated between Oakville and Dunbarton on the CN line. In June, 1964, Doug was joined as his assistant by Wilf Walker, who also came from CN, bringing a recent knowledge of rail operations on those lines, so they could put together a lot of the knowledge needed for that study.

It was somewhere about this time that the reversal of attitude occurred.

Change of policy

It happened at a luncheon, attended by several of the working group of MTARTS and the then President of De Leuw. He was the one who suggested that there was a critical time-bind on this work. However much they liked doing studies, they should be looking at this as implementation of a commuter rail system. The way Phil Wade put it: "That was surely a wake-up call. The project had been conceived along study lines. A lot of people in and from municipal and other levels were used to doing studies, where you lay out all the possibilities, study marketing, etceteras. But not too far into the study, a sort of light flashed in our brains, that we could not wait for the study process. I was headlong into this big study, when suddenly this idea popped up, and there came the moment when we thought 'That's it'. Although we would be doing a lot of studies, that would not meet the need. The important strategy was to treat this as a service that was to be implemented".

Phil remembered preparing a proposal that they should think in terms of an urban commuter rail system, to serve downtown Toronto. "The needs were obvious, and it might be approached as a test, but recognised to be a permanent service. These people had been dependent upon lots of planning, and not committing themselves until they had a lot of evidence. That was a pretty bold step for a bunch of civil servants! This was one critical decision, because of the time factor in the project. It was important that we should not get lost in a labyrinth of prolonged analyses".

The second report by De Leuw Cather was completed in January 1965. It defined what kind of rail commuter service should be implemented along the Lakeshore lines. The Government and the CN together announced in February, their intention to implement it.

The announcement to implement GO-Transit

These are the words of Donald Gordon, in his February announcement.

"About six years ago (in March, 1959), it was my privilege to announce plans for the construction of a very large, modern freight marshaling yard to serve the economic and industrial needs of this expanding area, a vital link in the network of Canadian National classification yards across Canada. I said at that time that such a facility would reduce congestion on our trackage in downtown Toronto, and it would become physically possible to improve railway commuter services, with this proviso, "Provided we could find accommodation between ourselves and other planning authorities to make it financially possible".

"Two days ago, Mr. Robarts and I attended the official opening of that new marshaling yard; today, Mr. Robarts has announced the inauguration of an experimental commuter service on Canadian National lines".

"Now, while I know Canadian National has a reputation for decisive action, I am not for the moment suggesting that Mr. Robarts and I wrapped up this complex commuter service in the past two days! I do want to make the point, however, that this proposed solution to the commuter problem could not have been undertaken, unless we had first solved the downtown traffic congestion by building the new marshaling yard. . . . . . . . . Projects of this magnitude emphasize the desirability and the need for long-range planning".

The announcement by Mr. Robarts concluded with a promise that the new service would be inaugurated "By the end of next year!". That would have required us to complete it before the end of 1966. We didn't quite make it, but it was inaugurated on May 23rd, 1967, and that is the story of the next chapter.

Naturally the first question I addressed to Doug McCorquodale when I went to Ottawa to meet him was to ask what were his dominant memories of the start of GO-Transit. "It was a project I was involved in as the consultant's Project Manager, that came to fruition. It was done properly, the service that was introduced was first class, there was no cutting corners. If they had cut corners, and it had not worked, anybody could have said we or they did not do it correctly. Also the public information and the publicity and so forth surrounding it were just excellent. It gave me great satisfaction seeing the end result."


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