Saturday, September 09, 2006

GO Train Crews: Past, Present & Future

On friday, many news agencies covered a rather interesting story about GO Transit's crews and on time performance. Today, a follow up article appeared in the Star.

When GO Transit first began operating commuter rail service, the only rails it owned were at it's Willowbrook Yard in Mimico. Because it ran on rails owned by CN Rail - and in the case of the Milton line, CP Rail - it was cheaper to get CN and CP crews to operate the trains, rather than train their own crews. This setup lasted for years.

Currently, GO has built some of it's own lines to bypass heavy freight areas, and has purchased rail lines which the freight companies have abandonned due to insuffecient freight traffic. However, they still use CN and CP crews because for the most part, the trains operate on CN and CP tracks.

The story on friday stated that the CN and CP crews have been calling in sick (or too tired to legally operate a train) on Fridays in an abnormally high levels. This has affected on time performance, and has even resulted in cancelled trains. This problem is further compounded by CN crew assignment procedure, which states that crews can only operate trains on subdivisions which they are trained for. If a particular crew is only trained on the Lakeshore line, they cannot sub in for a Georgetown crew. As a result, GO will open the operating crew contract to bids.

One of the interested companies is Bombardier, who builds GO's coaches and hold their maintenance contract. According to the article, they are looking to add growth to the operations side of their business. Another company is Veolia Transportation, formally known as Connex, who you might recognize as the operators of VIVA. When you consider that VIVA went from and idea to the streets in record time, its clear that Veolia's has a good reputation in the GTA.

It will take 18 months for GO to negotiate an end to the contract and get Transport Canada's permission to get a third party operator, but according to GO officials, CN and CP will be invited to bid. With massive service increases planned for 2007, this is strictly to ensure good performance for a fare price, GO chair Peter Smith says. The article quotes:
"No. 1 for us is customer service, and achieving that at an affordable rate," said Smith. "This has been in discussions for some time. It is part of our plan to ... get a cost-effective service and to get a reliable service so the public is hopefully guaranteed that we serve them well."
In the end, we will definitly end up with better on time performance, as most contracts like this have penalty clauses in place if service does not live up to expectations. However, if CN and CP do not win the contract, it may make buying more track time from them in the future difficult. We'll just have to wait and see, but I think that when the status quo isn't working, there comes a time when we need to shake things up.

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