Tag Archives: Railways

Helping lost people turns into something personal

GO train on the go

GO train on the go

This summer I am making it my business to help people who are having difficulty finding their way around Toronto. I don’t actively seek doing this but when I see someone who appears lost – or if they are asking for help getting around – I do my best to help them. Some days when I’m out nothing happens; some days there are a couple of instances. But last Saturday it got personal as my friend K. from Oakville had to return home by GO train and the situation for boarding was very vague.

K, N and I had spent a day at Harbourfront and N and I walked K back to where she figured she would go to get her GO bus. It was where she had exited.

The long waiting room with windows on one side and entrances to stairwells to some of the platforms on the other side was not very helpful. Neither was the Departure schedule on one of those changing digital boards. All the upcoming GO trains and Go buses were listed, but the boarding platform was not listed until five or 10 minutes before boarding time. Instead, you saw the word “Wait” beside the trains and buses. There were no officials around to ask; no indication where the nearest washroom was, and no seats to sit on.

K has back problems and other medical issues. N has a hip problem and I have a couple of digestive disorders. We would have appreciated at least a place to sit and someone official to ask if we were even in the right place. With this Union Station in construction flux, this latter part isn’t unreasonable. Last time K came to Toronto in the fall, she boarded her GO train at the other end of the large Union Station. So it wasn’t inconceivable that there was another place with platform entrances, particularly as the ones we saw here didn’t go up very far in numbers. The wall maps were useless.

So we waited, fretted and oh, did I forget to mention – no air conditioning so it was hot and humid inside. By continually checking the departure board I figured out that all GO bus platforms were numbered in the 40s. I also figured to get to them, you would go to the end of this long room, through the doors and there would be an indoor walkway to take you across the street to the GO bus terminal. Not for trains, though.

Five minutes before K’s GO train was scheduled to leave (they were running every hour only on the weekend because of construction) a platform number appeared. By that time, there were a number of people huddling around and they all proceeded through that numbered door. K hugged N and me and followed the others through the door to board her GO train.

I was so outraged by this major consumer service flaw, that I filed a complaint with GO online using their complaint form. Besides what I mention here, I also suggested they take a page from VIA rail (also goes through Union station but in the main area), i.e., that they list the platforms for all GO trains and buses departing – all the ones on the screen as they appear. The one word “wait” which they have, should deter people from entering the platform ahead of time in case there is another GO train or bus departing or arriving there before then. VIA does this and it is not unusual if you arrive early for your train when you go to the place to line-up, there is another line-up for an earlier departing train. VIA rail also has updated announcements via loudspeaker. That wasn’t happening a this GO waiting area. So that makes you wonder what blind people do? Maybe GO is in some violation of accessibility laws.

There was a notice in the waiting area and GO online that the platforms would be changing August 10 for construction so I also suggested they implement my suggestions when they do their construction.

If they can’t get their heads around giving good customer service to regular GO riders, they need to remember this is the big tourist season in Toronto and if regular riders (K does take the GO but in her area only, not into Toronto usually) get confused, what about tourists?

What do you want to bet that the powers that be at GO Transit all drive cars?

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consumer action, Friends, Getting lost, Helping Others, Only child, Public Transit, Union Station Toronto, VIA Rail

Only Child has a ton of problems

Only child ponders too many problems

Only child ponders too many problems

Just got back last night from holidays visiting my cousins in various places in southern Ontario. Visit was relaxing and enjoyable but trouble began when trying to get home.

I like travelling by train. It is in my blood as my late father worked for the railway as a time-keeper. Since he died, railway travel has changed in many ways including the company created to run rail passenger service in Canada. VIA rail has not been exactly good to me.

When I reserved my “tickets” by phone they emailed me the boarding passes and a link to subscribe to their alert system for updates to my email. I don’t have a cell phone, so text wouldn’t work for me.

No problems on the train going to Waterloo, but the return trip from Grimsby turned into another nightmare (I have had issues coming home by train before in other years). I got my alert about half an hour before train time. The alert said train was arriving in Grimsby on time. So I shut down my laptop.

At the station my cousin who drove me there and I waited and waited for ages. There was no wi-fi in the area – she checked with her smart phone. So no point turning on my laptop and checking my email. She phoned her husband and had him check it out. He texted her back with a message that he had signed her up for the VIA text alert for this train (coming all the way from New York City early yesterday morning). She got two alerts of late times for it to arrive in Grimsby and before there in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

It finally arrived one hour and 15 minutes late. I was so upset that I fell at the top of the narrow metal stairs where you board the train. True, I had bags and my laptop in its padded case (well, I was travelling) but the VIA employee didn’t help me with the suitcases. They stand at the bottom so it is kind of backwards to take your bag up the stairs. I didn’t hurt myself and it appears all my belongings were okay.

But I was very angry and I screamed, but said “I don’t need medical aid – this train has been delayed enough.”

Then someone helped me carrying my bags to an empty seat.

Once settled and the steward came to check my boarding pass, I asked what caused the delay. He said something vague about at the US/Canadian border. I clarified that it was the Canadian border police, but he wouldn’t say what – just a vague answer that it can depend on the official at the border. He did say (in answer to my question) that it didn’t happen often.

The young woman across the aisle had heard all this and she came over. She said she got on at St. Catharines, Ontario (stop before me), the station there was closed and there was just a robotic announcement that there was a delay but no time given. The Grimsby station is just one of those tiny enclosed shelters that seats a dozen or so people, often not even open. It looks like a pop-up retail place.

The young lady went back to talk to the steward. She returned and told me there was a problem at the border – one family when talking to the border police (who come on the train) said they couldn’t find the husband on the train. There was a bit of a language problem (obviously not French as VIA rail employees are bilingual English/French – Canada’s two official language). Apparently the “missing fellow” had gone to another coach and had been processed by the border police okay. Finally the border police found him – we figured by taking a family member through all the cars until they found them.

The young lady and I agreed that the whole family causing the problem, in particular the man, should have been tossed out of the train and not allowed to stay in Canada for causing all those problems.

As the train arrived in Toronto (one hour and 15 minutes late), the arrival announcement was made and again (they did this last year too) they gave the farthest away place to get a taxi. VIA still doesn’t know that taxis line up right outside the west front door of Union Station.

VIA didn’t cause the problem; but they don’t handle all their notifications so passengers can find out.

Heads are going to roll here – when I have time to do something about it – at the very least send a complaint about VIA rail procedure – notifications and closed stations in particular.

But I have another problem – when I turned on my laptop and desktop computers this morning the Internet wasn’t connecting and then it came and went. Could get into my email program on both computers, though – so far. Called Bell Canada (my ISP) and they did some checking at their end. They think it is a cable at my end and are sending a technician who is supposed to be here today between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. He better show up and fix it. I have work to do and some of it requires being online and some requires phone calls which I had planned to do this morning. I also have to run errands to get some groceries.

I think that God might have it in for me – he didn’t cause any of these problems – but he didn’t listen to me when I asked that everything be working right with the train service home and my Internet service. At least I got home okay – finally. Now God has to make sure this Internet Cable problem get fixed pronto today without complications and it must stay fixed.

All these unwanted problems raise my stress level which affects my precarious physical health.

My garden is still lovely, though.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

 

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Filed under Alphabet list, Anger, Anxiety, God, Holiday Travel, Life demands, Only child, Problems, Railways, Stress, Train Stations, VIA Rail

Only Child honours Dad on his anniversary

Only child's Dad when he worked for the railway

Only child’s Dad when he worked for the railway

Losing a parent can be devastating, but particularly if you are a child. My dad, Albert Langevin,  died from brain cancer at 66 on November 15, 1965. That is a double whammy as I was only 16 at the time. But if truth be told, Mom and I had lost Dad years before that to cancer, starting with the first cancer hit in his lungs a few months before my 10th birthday. Surgery of half a lung removed got rid of it there, but cancer being cancer, it spread to his brain two and a half years later. Mom and I thought he would die. And we had the talk.

One day Mom corrals me in the kitchen.

“Sharon, I have something to tell you,” she begins, as we stand, facing each other. This isn’t sit-down business. “Your father has cancer of the brain.”

“Is he going to live?”

“I don’t know.”

Our hug does not reassure. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford)

So Mom called in the “troops” in the form of one of her older sisters to help out at the house so she could spend more time with Dad and often I joined her.

Aunt Gretchen now joins the litany of worriers hovering around Dad as he continues to vomit and endure the headaches. She brings her dumpy flowered housedresses, straight black hair, black oxfords, and bricks of blue cheese that stink up our fridge and would probably kill Dad if he were home and could keep anything down. I don’t remember Gretchen ever setting foot in the hospital, but she rules the home front. She commandeers the cooking and washing up after dinner, supposedly a blessing for mother and me…

 

Gretchen’s answer is to pray. I still hold onto religion then, so our impromptu female trinity prays rosaries, as if strumming the circle of beads and muttering praises and pleas will make my father whole and keep him alive.

     

St. Michael’s Hospital radiatesa friendlier air than Western, maybe because the chief guardian angel resides there. And St. Mike must have listened to our prayers, because one day when mother and I walk into his room, Dad smiles at us.

 

“I ate a cheese sandwich, and it stayed down,” he says. [Author Note: not blue cheese]

     

Soon after Dad returns to our house and Aunt Gretchen returns to hers. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford)

That wasn’t the end of the cancer but four years later would be Dad’s end.

I like to remember Dad for more than just his cancer. He taught me to ride my bicycle, leading me along our street and the dead end crescent adjoining it. I was nine and a half, maybe a bit old to be just learning to ride a bike as my best friend The Bully told me. Looking back I realize that Dad holding the bike bars and leading me around along our street helped neutralize this Bully’s remarks. True, Dad was overprotective, as elderly parents often are, but he tried to protect me from The Bully.

Dad gave me the gift of being a railway/train-riding enthusiast. Dad worked as a timekeeper for the old CNR (when CN was CNR and had passenger service) so Mom and I got free passes. Our annual holidays to Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms near Walkerton, Ontario, trips to visit the Detroit, Michigan relatives, and tourist trips to Buffalo, Rochester and New York City were all courtesy of Dad.

Dad’s railway job (an office one at the CNR office when it was in Toronto) may have induced his obsession with all things (including the kitchen wall clock and his watch) being on time. We had to arrive at Toronto’s Union Station very early so he could be first in line to get on the train. Once we were allowed on, Dad cased the joint by walking up and down the coach aisles until he found the perfect seat. Then he would grab the top of the seat back and slide the seat backwards, creating two double seats facing each. I know, this dates me, but it was a great answer to keep families travelling together.

One of our trips to Detroit, when I was five was memorable because when the train arrived at Windsor, Ontario, a boat took us, train and all across the Detroit River.

 

Enter the Landsdowne Ferry in 1891, at 312 feet, the longest ferry on the Great Lakes. That summer of 1954, Mom, Dad and I were fortunate to take one of its last runs because in September 1955 or 1956, depending on your source, the CNR pulled the plug on passenger railway/ferry service. Once again passengers had to disembark from a train at Windsor and board an American train at Detroit. This time a bus carried them through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

 

But to a five-year old, the river run is a big sea adventure filled with rollicking train coaches and the screech of metal wheels on steel rails as the train jerks and jolts onto the long open freighter. Instead of the train whistle, we get the foghorn call of the boat and the floor seems to zig and zag. I hang onto the seat, but I also look out the window. The train appears to be moving on water, as if its wheels are kicking through the river…

 

We head to the back of the train and I gasp. The doorway is wide open and an expansion gate blocks our exit out onto the boat. On the other side of the gate the top of the boat sits level with the tracks, and beyond is the city of Windsor, fast disappearing as the boat-train sloshes and kicks its way through the dark green Detroit River. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford.

Sometimes in November I can feel Dad’s spirit here in my house. In 2005, on the 40th anniversary of his death, I heard his spirit rush through the house, through the back hallway.

I don’t know if he will re-appear so dramatically this year, but I know he is here.

Love you and miss you Dad.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

Dad's last picture

Dad’s last picture

Only Child at 13 and Dad on veranda of house where she grew up

Only Child at 13 and Dad on veranda of house where she grew up

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, Death and Dying, Elderly parents, Family, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Vacations

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