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New cold-weather upgrades keeping GO trains on schedule, Metrolinx says

Nana alli

Feb. 03, 2020

In the past, a storm that dropped 15 centimetres of snow on the GTA would have wreaked havoc on the GO system.
Metrolinx’s director of railroad services Rob Fuller would have expected anywhere close to 60 incidents on the GO transit fleet — anything from door malfunctions to freezing air in the systems.
But that’s not what happened just over a week ago when one such snowstorm hit Toronto and the GTA. While the roads and other public transit services were hampered by the weather, the GO system was unscathed, he said.
“We had zero events all weekend,” said Fuller, who has spent nearly 50 years in the railroad services within the provincial public transit entity. While acknowledging there haven’t been strong wintry blizzards in the region this season, Fuller said the recent upgrades to the trains have significantly contributed to the reduction of malfunctions and delay of services.
After last year’s brutal winter that culminated in a polar vortex system, Metrolinx realized there were a number of things that would need improvement going forward, from engine performance to air system failures in the trains. These malfunctions contributed to an increase in delays across the board, Fuller said.
GO Transit generally aims to have 94 per cent of its trains arrive on expected platforms within five minutes of the scheduled time, but last winter some lines fell under 90 per cent . By the end of 2019, GO trains’ on-time performance running number was rounded at just under 93 per cent, he said.
That’s likely to improve this year, thanks to the upgrades Fuller and his team started working on right after the end of last winter.
With the help of researchers from the University of Western Ontario, they created a 3D train model that they used in a laboratory to explore the best way to remedy any potential malfunctions caused by the cold temperatures.
Through various testing exercises, the team found that snow and ice would build up in the door areas, causing failures and often delaying trains from departing on time. A practical solution has been to install little heaters in the bearings of the doors to fight off accumulation.
“So we’re now melting the snow off the sides of the car right by the door frames,” Fuller said, noting passengers may not have noticed the change but it has made a significant difference. “We’ve proven so far this winter, the little bit of winter that we’ve had, we’ve proven that we’ve been pretty dead on with our thinking.”
The team also added a rubber seal between the edge of the door and the side of the car to keep snow from migrating into the door pocket and freezing and preventing the door from closing smoothly, he said.
In all, there were about 11 modifications to the train fleets — some of them too small to attract attention. Like the small blankets that have been put around the main reservoirs underneath the locomotive. Fuller explained the blankets serve to keep the heat from escaping from what he called the “heart of the train.”
“So this is basically like putting your coat on to keep the heat in,” he said. The train’s tank has an automatic blowdown with a small heating circuit, but it can fail during freezing temperatures. The small blanket is there to help keep the air circulating through the tank, which in turn is used for the braking systems on the train.
“If you have no air you can’t move the train,” he said on the importance of the blanket.
Another upgrade is the introduction of a door release pad that allows passengers on the outside to open the door of an idling train. In the past, train doors remained open until an operator closed them, but now doors close after 15 seconds of idling, allowing those inside to stay warm, and those outside to enter whenever they want.
Fuller said it’s too early in the year to judge the overall improvement the upgrades have brought to the GO transit system, but so far this month the on-time performance is just slightly under 95 per cent.
“I am cautiously optimistic” that things will get better, he said.
He did not disclose the cost of these upgrades, only saying it was within their budget.
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