I’m a railway brat. My late Dad was a timekeeper for one of the Canadian railways so Mom and I got free passes to travel in Canada and the United States. I begin the chapter “Riding the Rails with Dad” in my memoir…
If you’re going to travel on the train with Albert Langevin, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line at Platform 9 for Guelph, Ontario. My Dad has to be first in line at Toronto’s Union Station. His “typical [railway company name]” style dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms.(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford)
That was then when train travel was more freewheeling and you could really talk about the romance of the rails. Until around 1960 there were still a few steam engines pulling trains, and up to the mid-1960s passenger trains actually ran through rural Ontario. Now, the railway company my dad worked for no longer has passenger service. In 1977, the federal government created VIA Rail for passenger service only. I’ve travelled by VIA and up to now some of the romance of riding the rails is still there.
However, it looks like it is going to change and be more like getting on a plane with security. All because of the foiled terrorist plot to derail a VIA Rail train in the Greater Toronto Area recently. Apparently VIA Rail already is doing some extra security – random searches and X-rays of baggage, sniffer dogs at stations and observing people in stations for any suspicious behaviour, plus increased training for their security staff. (See story at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/08/04/via_rail_considers_new_security_checks_for_passengers_in_response_to_alleged_terror_plot.html). At this point I don’t have problems with this setup. So far my biggest problem when travelling by train is to limit my carry-on baggage to their requirements (two bags plus one personal – for example, a purse). However, increasing it to checking everyone against a database and everyone having ID – well, good in principle. But with a common name (Sharon Crawford) that could present problems. So could the ID because I don’t have a passport (I can’t afford one and don’t travel where I need one) and as I don’t drive I don’t have a driver’s licence. I’m hoping I won’t have to get a passport to board a train that is travelling only in Canada. I just might have to get the $35 Ontario personal ID (for non-drivers) which has to be renewed every five years (and probably more money forked over at the time – unlike the provincial health insurance card ID which needs renewing every five years but is free. It also has your photo and birthdate on it – but that one is not usually accepted for security checks). If ID becomes mandatory, there better be a choice of acceptable ID.
And will the one line my Dad rushed to Union Station to get in, now turn into two or three for security purposes and permission to board the train? The big stations in the big cities like Montreal and Toronto can accommodate all this but what about smaller stations such as in Stratford and Kitchener, Ontario, which still have the original small station?
Where do they think we will line up for ID etc. checks? In the parking lot?
Of course if the service cuts VIA Rail did last fall continue, there may be little or no operating train stations except in the big cities. Also these new security measures require more funds. It will be interesting to see what the Canadian Federal Government will do here. It has decreased funds to VIA but does spend on national security.
It is really too bad that travel has turned into a security hassle and time-consuming issue. All becomes of some baddie terrorists. At least VIA Rail is not considering the invasive naked body X-Rays and other than number, the limitation on carry-on (liquids and the like) and my ex-husband’s favourite complaint – shoe removal.
At any rate my dad must be rolling over in his grave. And I don’t think his favourite phrase about the railway company – “typical (railway company name)” would even apply here.
As I’ve said in previous posts – it’s a terrible world we live in no matter where we live.
Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes