Tag Archives: VIA Rail

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 on railway customer service

Only Child loves train travel although engines aren't steam anymor

Only Child loves train travel when it runs smoothly.

Last week I returned from a one and a half week holiday visiting cousins in southwestern Ontario. Holiday was great; the train trip home was not.

For this railway brat, a two-hour wait in the middle of nowhere in the dark (outside, not inside the train) did not go over very well. Remember what I said in last week’s post about the stupidity of others and how I act. I put that into action last Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

Yes folks, a nearly two-hour train ride that should have deposited me at Toronto’s Union Station by 11.20 a.m. dragged into early Thursday morning.

It all began about 10 minutes or so after leaving the Guelph station when suddenly the train slowed to a stop. The steward quickly announced that we were waiting for a green signal to continue and it would just be a few minutes. About 10 minutes later she announced that we would be here for longer than expected. Half an hour after we stopped, the steward announced that we had to wait for the two engineers to be replaced by a new crew and it would be another hour’s wait. She walked down the aisle to answer questions, but to my question “Is one of the engineers sick?” she replied “None of my business.” (Unclear if she meant whose business – hers or mine)

I felt every anxious and worried. As much as I like train travel I don’t like the uncertainty and also not being told all. If one of the engineers was taken ill or injured, and we knew, we might have a little more sympathy. If he was drunk – no. A young guy was also concerned and started complaining to Carol (the steward) and I joined in. I said that it wasn’t their (the two stewards) fault; I didn’t know whose fault it was but VIA rail as the corporate owner owed us. I pulled my senior’s card and said I could not afford to take a cab home from Union Station and I was going after VIA Rail for my fare to be reimbursed. The young fellow and I were concerned that we would not arrive at Union Station in time to take the public transit home.

The young lady sitting across from me asked about us being bussed to our destinations but Carol said that normally they would do that but we were in the middle of nowhere with no way for a bus to get to us and no place for us to go if we got off the train.

I could not concentrate on the book I was reading and alternated between sitting with arms crossed on one side of the table and moving to the other side. VIA Rail now gives us reserved seats and because we had a business class coach, I was at the end with a table in between the facing seats (two on each side). No one else was sitting there. A lot of good reserved seats do you if you are stuck.

The replacement crew finally arrived – two hours after we stopped. And when we pulled into the next stop – Georgetown – in six minutes I was furious. That close so why didn’t the second engineer “drive” the train into Georgetown where the other engineer could get “medical” attention promptly and we could be bussed home much sooner. Somebody higher up who was on the phone to Carol and probably the engineers was giving bad decisions. And probably going by the VIA Rail rules and regulations – probably requiring two fit engineers. Sometime rules need to be bended a little for the best results for all concerned. Sometimes a little common sense is the best route.

After several calls with her supervisor, she announced that we would get 50 per cent off our next VIA rail trip if we gave our ticket number when ordering them – by phone or in person – if we travel within the next six months. I’ll do that when I go to Cobourg, Ontario in a couple of months. We were also told to see the station master in Union Station to get chits for a free taxi ride.

The train arrived at Union Station two hours and 10 minutes late. I had to ask the station master where to get the cab because off all the construction on Front Street. She said across the street – it’s always been there. Could have fooled me with all the construction you can’t see over it and the walkway is very narrow, made narrower by construction crew working on it at 1.30 a.m. I was furious and started complaining out loud. But I made it over and got a cab home.

Will I still take the train? Yes. But VIA Rail gets only a 70 per cent (and that’s generous) for damage control. What happened with the engineer is out of their control, but making us wait for two hours until a replacement crew arrived when we were just six minutes outside Georgetown is plain stupid and gets a D in my books.

My late father, who worked as a timekeeper for CNR (they had the passenger service then) is probably rolling over in his grave.

 

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Anxiety, Consumer action, Holiday Travel, Only child, Problems, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child on summer stress and worry

Myfmother - the worrier incarnate and little worrier - me.

My mother – the worrier incarnate and little worrier – me.

My late mother was worrywart incarnate and I come a very close second to her in the worry and anxiety department. Still, my reaction to a study showing that summer may be the time for the highest stress was “what?”

 

It gets sillier.

When the news story on last night’s 11 p.m. Global Toronto news showed interviews with people on why they are so stressed in the summer, I could only think “oh, come on.”

 

Some parents were stressed out because the kids are home and not in school. This one I get. But there are ways to alleviate it.

 

The other stressors mentioned in the study are so run-of-the-mill and common year round – trying to balance too much to do came at the top of the list. None of the stressors were abnormal, just people having difficulty getting through their day. And while I should be one of the last people to complain about people complaining about their problems, at least some of my problems are a bit weird. In a nutshell, lately it’s been computer problems, which is common – but Skype hanging and causing other programs to hang? And having to shut down and restart the computer twice to get everything up and running. And yes, I did a full virus scan and it showed all clear.

 

Another one some travellers may emphasize with – at least those who travel by public transit and not car. VIA Rail, Canada’s passenger rail system in its wisdom cut back some service in late 2012. I’m just catching up with that for my holidays this summer. The early evening train no longer runs from Toronto to Grimsby. The morning train is too early for me to deal with because of health problems that are worse in the morning. Then there is the morning rush hour(s) to wade through to get to Union Station (with construction in and outside as well) to catch the train. I might be able to do it if I stayed at the very expensive hotel across the street from Union Station – even manoeuvring the walkway and stairways through the construction. (My late father who worked for the railway as a timekeeper is probably turning over in his grave.)

 

GO Transit doesn’t run buses or trains that go all the way from Toronto to Grimsby. So, I’m left with something called Megabus which runs throughout North America. Must be something relatively new in the last 10 years. Ten years ago I took a bus (not a Megabus) from Toronto to Walkerton and it was a lovely ride and experience. True, we stopped at many places on the way to let people on and off, but the driver was so friendly that the atmosphere in the bus was relaxed and friendly. I remember the driver letting me off across the street from my motel (and that wasn’t the official bus stop) and telling me to be careful crossing the busy street.

 

Megabuses have so many boarding rules that they are almost as bad as airlines. At least we don’t have to remove our shoes – I don’t think.

 

I haven’t booked my tickets – just done some research, including talking to a friend who has travelled on them. I have to phone the company for more details.

 

But it is the only way (short of hitchhiking) I will get to my cousins without a lot of transfers. Will the travel experience be worth it? I’ll believe I get on the bus and get to Grimsby when it happens. The ride by the way is about an hour and a half.

 

At least the problem is a little different problem.

 

Silliness and weird problems aside, the people who really have big worries are those who have cancer or other life-threatening illnesses, those who are homeless, those who lose their homes or part of their homes due to flooding, fires, and wind. And those who worry about these disasters happening because of where they live (read anywhere in the world today). These are bigger concerns than worrying about trying to do everything or even the kids driving you nuts at home. Put them in summer camp for part of the summer. That’s what I did with my son when he was a child and in his early teens. He loved it and learned some new skills such as photography, sailing, painting (the art kind, not house painting).

 

Let’s get realistic. Go to the peace and quiet. I do – my garden. I sit out there, eat meals out there, read out there. And garden.

 

I just try to ignore staring at what was destroyed by the ice storm and the extremely cold winter.

 

My garden provides a little solace time. So does writing, walking, reading and even a bit of TV. And the garden is also providing lots of fresh fruit and veggies to eat. (Lots of weeds, too, but you know what I do with them. As I pull them I imagine they are my problems or the people/organization causing the problems). Helps me and it isn’t illegal.

 

 

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Anxiety, Family, Gardening, Health, Holidays, Life demands, Megabus, Problems, Railways, Travel, Union Station Toronto, Worrying

Only Child lessens the travel load

Only Child loves train travel although engines aren't steam anymor

Only Child loves train travel although engines aren’t steam anymore

As I prepare for my annual holiday to visit my cousins in southwestern Ontario, I’m trying to lessen my luggage even more than other years. VIA Rail’s new rules of two carry-on bags plus personal (a purse) have partially inspired me. When growing up and riding the rails with Dad and Mom, we each had one suitcase (I had the small one in the two-piece set and Dad had his duffel bag). I’m not going to get it down to one suitcase, if you count laptop, Kobo, camera and even house-slippers in the laptop case as one bag and my clothes in bag number two.

Things like an umbrella and my small insulated lunch bag will be the challenge. Because of travelling time and being on the train at meal time – but meals not served – I bring a lunch. The umbrella? Well, based on the unsettled weather we are getting in this world, even with cousins’ cars, an umbrella is a necessity.

Lessening my travel load has got me thinking about its health effects. Besides the obvious physical – less to carry, less risk of sprains and backaches, there is also the psychological. How many of you have found when you clear out your office or even a cupboard, you get such a feeling of relief as if a big weight has disappeared completely? Well for a short time, until you open another cupboard or enter another room.

So my packing list will be much smaller this year. I do not want to have to push down the packed clothes to be able to close the zipper. I do not want my expandable canvass bag (my version of Dad’s duffel bag) to expand so far out it almost dwarfs my short frame and pulls on my shoulder. In that stage it is also difficult to cart around, especially when stepping up and down those precarious narrow steps to enter and exit the train. With two packed to their “gills” bags and a purse (plus dangling umbrella and lunch bag) it is difficult to fit the width of those steps. I feel like an overweight drunk and all I’ve been drinking is water and my build is slight.

I’m even bearing tiny weight-free gifts for my cousins – seven copies of the CD for the band my son plays guitar and lap steel guitar in (Beams, for those who are interested www.banjobeams.com – shameful plug).

So hopefully when I get on the train, I will be able to lift the canvass suitcase up into the overhead storage and get it down without asking for help. The laptop bag? Kept under the seat ahead just in front of my feet. I usually don’t plug into the wireless on the train but I do want to read from my Kobo or the mystery magazine I bring along.

Now, I just have to keep any purchases to small and low weight. I tend to start my Christmas shopping when my cousins and I do the touristy thing in Grimsby, Stratford, etc.

How do you travel light? I already do the roll-your-clothes-up-to-pack option.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Holidays, Mom and Dad, Only child, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Train travel

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 rides the rails

Only Child with her parents at her grandfather’s farm – one of the destinations of now obsolete train routes.

I felt like I was riding history when I travelled during my holidays the past week. Especially last night when returning and I wondered if I was going to make it home or become part of this history.

Like my father before me I ride the rails when on holidays. Not the same railway that my dad worked for and he, Mom and I travelled on for our holidays. Dad worked for the CN when it ran passenger trains. Some years after he died CN quit the passenger service to focus on freight. VIA Rail was created and it started a passenger service.

Now VIA plans to cut service on a few lines within its busiest corridor between Windsor, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec, as well as cut back on the number of times per week the Maritime line runs. One of my cousins commented that we’ll all have to travel by car. Is this VIA decision a good one when we are living in pollution and too many vehicles clog up highways (space and time, too. Think road rage).

So while on vacation visiting my many cousins in southern and southerwestern Ontario, I rode the last of some of the service being ditched. Going to Grimsby from Toronto it was the evening Toronto to Niagara Falls, Ontario run. Come October it will be gone and there will only be the early morning run from Toronto to Niagara Falls and vice versa in the evening.

Coming home last night on the last of the Sarnia to Toronto run at that time, I thought the service was being cut early. I got on the train at Kitchener and the first hour and a half was a great ride which I was enjoying. Then we just pulled out of Brampton and suddenly the main lights went out; the train stopped and the emergency ceiling lights went on.

Panic – at least for me, inside. I hate to be stranded. The VIA attendant did make an announcement that the power had gone off and that she’d let us know what was happening when she knew.

We passengers were left wondering what was going on, when 15 minutes later the regular lights went on. A few people yayed. Not me. We still weren’t moving and from what I could see out the window (not much as it was dark) showed cars on a street much lower than where the train stopped. Were we on a bridge?

After some time we received another announcement along the lines of they were trying to get the train started and if not, they would have cabs available soon to drive us to Union Station. Right. How would we get to the cabs? Walk along the embankment or the bridge more likely with little space and then where and how would we get down to street level? I kept thinking “I want to go home” – when I wasn’t darting to the seat across the aisle to try and see out that window. Even darker over that way.

Finally after 45 minutes of doing the stall, the train started. No one yayed this time. I couldn’t even go back to reading my Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazine because I figured if I did, we would stop again.

Was this occurrence some foreshadowing of what is to come in October? Will I ride the rails again? Sure…on the lines still running.

But I know two things. My Dad is probably rolling over in his grave. He was always critical of CN service. If he were still alive he would be saying a variation of his “Typical (add railway here).

I think I would agree with him. Especially as 24 to 30 of us got off at the little flag station of Grimsby, Ontario on a Monday evening last week. Seems like VIA is cutting off its nose to spite its face. They are of course crying “government cuts.” The buck always stops at the consumer.

What says you about services such as train and bus being cut? (And yes, the bus service between Kitchener and Stratford has already been dumped).

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child

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Filed under Canadian National Railway, Family, Holidays, Mom and Dad, Only child, Public Transportation, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Train travel, VIA Rail