Category Archives: Steam engines

Only Child on passenger railway security

350x247xtrain1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.NleuDB37gEI’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.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Canadian National Railway, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Railways, Steam engines, Train travel

Only Child takes the train

Steam engine like those that fascinated and frightened Only Child when she was much younger. From http://www.copyright-free-photos.org.uk/trains/5-steam-engine.htm

Train travel is in my blood. When I look at all the security hoops of air travel, the current Air Canada customer service employees’ strike, and the high gasoline prices at the pumps, trains look better and better. As many of you have probably read in previous posts, my late father worked for CN Railways (then CNR) as a timekeeper. So, Mom, Dad and I rode the rails for free for our holidays. Back in those grey ages, trains had something else to draw me in – steam engines.  I write in my memoir about encountering a steam engine during one of these trips to my grandfather’s farm:

No steam engines on this train to Guelph – it rolled along pulled by one of the new whippersnappers called a diesel locomotive. But I get my steam engine at Guelph. We’re waiting outside on the Guelph platform for our train to Palmerston. I’m showing Darlene all the tracks way out beyond the station behind us. I see activity between two trains parked on parallel tracks. One train puffs a little steam; the other seems at rest except for the dollies of huge mailbags wheeled from it to the little puffer. The now familiar PA voice broadcasts, “Train #34 for Toronto now boarding on platform 2, Train #174 for Hamilton on platform 3, and Train #… Then I hear it … a distant whoo-oo, whoo-oo that steadily grows louder and then chug-chug- whoo-oo as another train rounds the corner. I put Darlene to my left ear and my right hand over my right ear; my purse dangles by its strap from my right arm. Thick charcoal smoke whirls up and behind the chimney top of the massive black engine charging into the station. The smoke resembles a cloud of dark incense, but smells like soot mixed with tar. This engine leads like a big black God with a stern round face who commands respect and suddenly I feel back in church. When this God grinds to a halt, its mixed bag of followers – mail cars, baggage cars and passenger cars – stop. I remove my hand and doll from my ears and fight the urge to kneel down. Mom grabs my arm and leads me to another trainman standing by another of those steel square footstools.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford. Darlene is/was one of my dolls.)

Of course, something else besides steam engines is missing from train travel today – all the routes to and stops at the small towns. Heck, many of the train station buildings are gone for good and for the small towns that still are on railway routes, the train station is like a tiny box, smaller than my living room. And these stops are often “flag stops,” i.e., the train doesn’t stop here unless someone gets off or on – and that information goes into the railway’s computer system, another change from coal and fire and water tanks along the way for those steam engines.

But some things about train travel remain – the more relaxed atmosphere inside and the scenery outside the window. Take the Canadian Rockies. An airplane-view in the sky shows small bumps below and a definite disconnect. Going through the Rockies by train puts you right there. And what about going through farmers’ fields on the Prairies and in southwestern Ontario? For those used to 21st century “essentials,” you can hook up to WiFi (or not) on trains; you can read, look out the window, talk to your seatmate, or snooze. And there is more room to put your bags – you can even bring them on board even though some railways limit the number. You aren’t patted down before getting on although signs in the larger railway stations do give security notices that you may need to open your bag for checking.

Then there are the old railway stations still left and open – from the huge Union Station in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to the smaller unique ones in Stratford and Kitchener, Ontario. Unfortunately if your are going to Grimsby and Strathroy, Ontario you get those box-stations.

So, like every summer vacation, I plan to take the train and enjoy despite one physical feature of them that remains – the narrow steel steps onto the train and the precarious and small steel footstool to hoist yourself and all your baggage onto the train.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

and teaches Memoir Writing workshops

for the Toronto Public Library. Next one: June 15/11

Danforth/Coxwell Branch http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca

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Filed under Family, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Railways, Scenery, Steam engines, Train Stations, Train travel, Uncategorized, Vacations