Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Did You Feel That?

After pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper on public transit in Toronto, I was running on about 75 minutes of sleep. Of course, morning came far too soon, so I devised a brilliant plan to get at least another hour of sleep. Phase one was to sleep on the train. If I could get comfortable by Bramalea, I would have about 35 minutes of sleep on the run to Union. Phase two was to take the subway up to campus. Normally, I walk from Union to campus on Tuesdays, as it gets me to class at 7:50 - enough time to read the paper before the lecture starts at 8:10. By taking the subway, I could get to campus for 7:40 and sleep in the quiet, empty lecture hall. I ended up getting only forty five minutes of that hour, but a far more interesting story developed.

Normally I'm pretty good when it comes to sleeping on the train. Stopping for stations tends to wake me up, and I've never missed my stop to the point where I've become stranded. I woke up at around 7:35, to discover that we were holding on the lead to track six, about a hundred yards from the train shed at Union Station. I looked out the window to see the normal parade of trains passing by, but I noticed that several men in safety vests were walking around the base of the coach I was in. Then, the announcement came on.

The Toronto Terminal Railway, who operates Union Station and the tracks between Bathurst Street and Cherry Street, has been doing a fair bit of construction lately as part of a long term signal upgrading project. During the rush, the equipment straddles the outdoor platforms. However, last night, the contractor left a rather large (about 6 feet long and three feet in diameter) drill bit fouling the rails. Of course, we hit it.

For 20 minutes it was wedged under the fourth coach. Made of hardened steel, it was likely thousands of pounds. Heavy machinery was needed, but being in the middle of the rush hour, there would be no machinery entering the rail corridor. Somehow, they managed to move it enough to let us creep by at a snails pace. We finally arrived and began unloading at 7:45, twenty minutes late. There was minor damage to three coaches.

Rail travel is among the safest modes of transportation, and passenger trains in North America rarely derail. Incidents like this are very rare, but when they happen, there's nothing you can do but take them in stride. GO did an excellent job of keeping passengers informed, and cautioned that the steps may be damaged on the first few coaches. The contractor, on the other hand, I'm sure has a few choice words coming his way.

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