Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Some further commentary about last night's 17:20 disaster (5:20 pm LSE)

date:Wed, Jun 24, 2015 at 11:50 AM
subject:Tuesday's 1720 LSE

Tuesday night's 1720 started off bad, but got worse in a way that could have been avoided. Problems on the LSW line meant that the screens were showing it arriving 1730. It turned up about 1733, having vanished form the on-platform screens at 1730 (what's up with that?). 

The 1720 stops at Danforth, Scarborough, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa. The 1735 makes all stops from Danforth to Pickering. Ideally, GO would have dropped the Danforth and Scarborough stops from the late-running 1720, and those passengers could have used the on-time 1735 instead (for about 2 minutes delay), and the 1720 could have made time up (about 5-7 minutes). This didn’t happen.

The 1720 and 1735 depart from adjacent platforms, and both normally use the same track east of the Don (the right-hand one, as the engineer sees it). The sensible thing would have been to let the 1720 go first, so that it would be in front of the all-stops 1735, and the 1720 not be delayed on its express potion. (This would have delayed the 1735 by about 3 minutes). This didn't happen.

Somewhere west of Danforth, the 1740 VIA train went by on the centre track. Once that had cleared, the centre track has nothing scheduled until the 1753 LSE express. The 1720 could therefore have used that track to overtake the 1735. It could have been switched onto that track either at Danforth or at Scarborough. This didn't happen.

So, instead, the 1720 was stuck behind the 1735 all the way to Pickering, and hence was half an hour late at Pickering to Oshawa. This train forms the 1838 form Oshawa, which consequently started its trip late (about 1850). Any further hiccup, and it would have ended up 15+ minutes late, triggering service guarantees for all its passengers too.

What started out as a mild delay (10-15) minutes ended up as a major delay eligible for service guarantees, because of the way the dispatchers handled the trains. GO will have to pay out service guarantee money that it could have avoided through some better actions by dispatchers.


Nora1968 said...

Cindy, based on similar delay/cancellation situations prompted by the near-annual flurry of pedestrian fatalities that seem to accompany every summer, I have long been of the opinion that an interview for a job with GO's logistics team includes some kind of problem-solving question. If the candidate produces a solution that suggests even minimum levels of common sense, (s)he is immediately shown the door! There's just no excuse for this kind of nonsense. If a regular passenger with simple logic skills can come up with the schedule adjustments you did, why can't the people who are actually paid to do so?

C.J. Smith said...

Nora, I don't understand it either.
What we need is Tyson to help us out.

You ride the crazy train, I only drive it... said...

GO/Metrolinx doesn't actually control train dispatching even though they own the track. Sound absurd but its unfortunately true. CN still does it because GO isn't actually designated as a "railway"(transit agency - yes, federally regulated railway - no) and according to Transport Canada regulations they cannot dispatch trains until such.

For what I understand there are many stipulations that need to be passed before a company, be it a government agency or private corporation, can be granted a "certificate of fitness" to become a federally regulated railway. Here is the current list of companies that are considered "railways" in Canada -

From what I've heard, GO is currently in the process of becoming a "railway". Though it seems like this process is taking forever, as I first heard that information many years ago. No idea what the delay is since information regarding the process or what is actually necessary to complete it doesn't seem to be publicly available, which isn't right either. GO would also need to built its own dispatching center. They have an operations center but they cannot control the actual movement of trains on a line from there, which is done at CN's MacMillan Yard in Vaughan. Again information is scarce on what the statues of that project is.

In the meantime the expectation is that CN will use good judgment when dispatching GO trains. The GO operation center and CN RTC office are in constant communication so GO does have a lot of say in dispatching, but not the final say. I don't know about yesterdays case, but I have seen them(CN RTC's) do many irresponsible, pointless and downright stupid dispatching moves. I don't have any idea whether or not they are or even can be held accountable for their mistakes since that's another thing that takes place "behind closed doors". Though quite often they'll turn around and try blaming someone else such as the train crew for problems that arise even though they're often completely out of our control. IMO its a dysfunctional situation that needs to be changed ASAP.

C.J. Smith said...

Thanks so much for this input. These were not my observations but those of another passenger who wrote in.

Michael Suddard said...

Too further the above explanation, there's another wrinkle.

I seem to recall that Union Station has it's own dispatch or train control system for trains travelling through the Union Station area (I can remember the exact boundaries where it starts and ends).

So in theory the Union Station dispatch would signal the trains to leave in a certain sequence and CN receives the trains in a certain order.

Once on the CN line though, there has to be different headways between trains. (I know on the Barrie line it used to be the CS on the GO Train had to radio in that the train was clear of King City before the next train could leave Union). I'm not sure about the Lakeshore.

In other signal fun not related... I know in Ottawa the O-Train, on it's own track as well, has it's signal system operated by CN's or CP's Montreal Office. This is because the track crosses over a diamond crossing over the VIA Rail line.

On the plus side Metrolinx is upgrading the signalling system for the Union Station area. More here (Caution...there be Metrolinx spin):

TomW said...

GO Transit would not be a federally-resulated railway, because it operates entirely within a single province. They would be provinically-regulated (unless parliament declares otherwise).

The dispatching in/around Union is done by the Union Station Rail Corridor. Given that most trains in Union are GO's, it seems highly unlikely that GO cannot influence the priorities (especially when it concerns only two of their own trains).

As the email points out: the dispatchers cost GO money. That should be reason for GO to make sure things are better!

Anonymous said...

Tom, Union Station isn't the problem. That set of tracks is controlled by the TTR from Bathurst to the Don. Since the only occupants age GO, VIA and sometimes Amtrak, there are very few problems in that corridor.

The switching issues happen outside of that corridor where CN owns most of the tracks and all of the signals/switches. GO has zero influence on a federal crown corporation. They have their priorities and GO isn't one of them. CN and VIA have first use of any trackage that CN owns and the final say if GO asks for track switching.

Remember the fiasco on May 8th where the guy tried to commit suicide on the LSE? The first trains through the closed off area were VIA. GO had to wait for them to clear before continuing on.

Tyson Moore said...

Sorry I missed this; let's get started:

I echo most of the sentiments by our Crazy Train Driver, but I'm not nearly as pessimistic about the overall situation. I can only speak with some authority about LSW, but YO (the dispatcher at Mac Yard that controls the CN Oakville subdivision) and GO Operations are in frequent contact by phone when issues arise. I frequently hear both sides relaying messages for the other (for convenience or in the case of radio failure), and they seem to have a very positive working relationship.

Before we get into the TTR, Michael is mostly right about the Trillium O-Train Line: the former CP Ellwood/Prescott subdivisions and VIA's Alexandria, Beachburg & Smiths Falls subdivisions are all controlled from VIA RTC Dorval. Michael is right that there are multiple diamonds on the Trillium Line, so it only makes sense to have both intersecting railways signalled out of the same office.

Anyway, now we get into what Michael and Tom are talking about downtown: the TTR (Toronto Terminals Railway). The TTR performs the train dispatching in the USRC, which runs from the large signal gantry west of Bathurst to the Don River. There are multiple offices along the route: Cherry St (overseeing incoming trains from the Kingston and Bala subs, the Don Yard and the industrial lead), Scott St (overseeing the east ladder and the train shed), and John St (overseeing the west ladder, duckunder and Bathurst Yard). Each of these stations has a TMD (Train Movement Director) inside, who communicate with trains in the USRC.

I really feel for the TMDs because even the simplest movements can block many adjacent tracks. Ideally, trains would be lined on their destination track before arriving at the switch ladders, but that isn’t always the case. The duckunder made the situation a lot better (allowing trains at the south end of Union Station to cross over three tracks without blocking them), but the nature of the slip switches at Union prevents a lot of simultaneous movement.

The “new” signalling contract should hopefully resolve some issues by creating smaller blocks (allowing trains to run closer together) and refining some of the interlocking logic, although I’m not exactly sure what the contract covers. Anybody who has taken trains that depart westbound from Union would have noticed two new signal gantries over the tracks in the duckunder (directly under John St and just west of Bathurst); this is part of the new signalling work being done.

Unlike the TTR (which is jointly owned by CN and CP and exists almost solely to serve GO and VIA), CN doesn’t always have the same motivation. A few times a week I’ll hear Bombardier engineers call GO Operations because they’re stopped at Durham Jct. GO Operations calls YQ (somebody will have to correct me on that), and relays that the GO train is waiting for a VIA train to pass by. This may seem like CN picking favourites between GO and VIA, but in fact, CN doesn’t want VIA trains blocking Pickering Jct (as trains cannot travel between the Kingston and York subs).

To directly address one of the points in the original letter, it’s not always feasible to have one train overtake/leapfrog another, especially as an on-the-fly decision. The nature of the fixed signal system we have now means that a long buffer is needed to switch tracks and stop trains, even if there’s plenty of room to have them cross over. From the time the engineer sees the advanced clear-to-limited signal (meaning they’re about to cross tracks), it takes 3 more signal blocks to actually reach the crossover. Depending on the location, this can be many miles of track.

I sympathize with T that their train was delayed, but “the sensible thing” isn’t always the most feasible option. I have seen first-hand the lengths dispatchers will go to so a train can get back on schedule (that’s a different story); I think you’re giving them too much blame and not enough credit.

Michael Suddard said...

Tom mentions several "subs" or "subdivisions" of railway. Here is a great link of CN Rail's subdivisions, where they go (to the mile!), their history and what they are today:

amritsingh79 said...

my claim was denied... do not understand why. The 17:20 was NOT cancelled. i was on it!
9:57 PM (1 hour ago)

to me
Your GO Train Service Guarantee claim #FG15062404535488 has not been approved.

This trip is not eligible because it was cancelled prior to departure from the origin station.

Please note that delays less than 15 minutes in length, or those caused by reasons outside our control (i.e. extreme weather, emergency investigations, track obstructions, pedestrian incidents, and on-board emergencies) do not qualify for a credit.

Please visit to review our policy.

Thank you,
GO Transit

This email was auto-generated, please do not reply. For more information on the GO Train Service Guarantee, please visit

© GO Transit 2012

C.J. Smith said...

Please call into GO. Technical difficulties caused this problem. You will be refunded but you have to phone in.

Squiggles said...


I addressed this in the first letter/email about the 17:20LSE that C.J posted.

I called GO (not PRESTO) and they are to add a credit to my card.

TomW said...

Anonymous: I think the issue here is not the *problems* (it looks like everything worked on Tuesday) - it's that the descision-making was poor, and that cost GO money as a result.

Tyson: do you know what the level of contact between GO and TTR offices is?

Tyson Moore said...

Unlike the TTR and VIA Comm Ops (who primarily communicate on TTR channel 1), I think most of the communication between the TTR and GO is via phone. That being said, a lot of it should (and does) operate autonomously.

For example, when trains are coming out of the Don Yard for the afternoon rush, GO is the one that determines the order of trains departing out of the yard. The dispatcher (over UHF) will usually say something like "you're cleared out of the Don with a call to Scott St". The train crew will then call Scott St (over VHF), state their intentions, and be routed into the correct track at the station.

There's still plenty of information that the train crews have to relay between one party or the other (e.g. in case of a delay entering Union Station, an engineer will call GO Operations and pass along the message). I don't really see a way around this without overburdening either GO Operations or the TMDs with constant irrelevant radio traffic.

It would be nice for GO Operations to have an end-to-end view of the rail corridors, and I'm sure that will come with the new operations centre. Colocating as many people as possible under the same roof must make the whole operation more efficient... right?