Travelling back in time: The remarkable evolution of your GO train

They weren’t always green and white and they didn’t always connect the region the way they do now. The GO train first hit the rails over 50 years ago and the train has never been the same since.

As GO train locomotives constantly roll in and out of Union Station, they’re not only carrying coaches filled with passengers – they’re loaded with history.

That sounds like a cliché, or a pitch. But the reality is, while there have always been lines of engines and carriages thundering down Ontario rail lines, the GO train passengers use today is considerably different than the ones their parents and grandparents jumped on. And while most customers tend to see the trains as perennial and iconic around the Greater Golden Horseshoe, they’ve been constantly evolving over time.

Start of the journey

It’s the 1960s and southern Ontario is booming. More people meant more cars. More cars meant more traffic, and congested highways in and around Toronto.

To combat this problem, the province gave birth to GO Transit, the country’s first, specially-designed commuter rail service.

In this shot from the 1960s, three men stand looking at the GO logo being painted on the outside of a train. The image is black and white. The train is up on blocks.

The GO logo would pass the test of time and still, with some updating, be used today. (Photo property of Metrolinx)

The concept and even the logo were pretty creative; two wheels forming the letters ‘G’ and ‘O’ while having the letter ‘T’ lying on its side. Those letters stand for Government of Ontario Transit. Though we wonder whether you actually ever noticed that ‘T’.

On May 23, 1967, Ontario’s first interregional train went full steam ahead making stops along the Lakeshore line between Pickering, Union, Oakville and Hamilton.

Men and women line up on the platform, while they board a sleep GO train.

In suits and dresses and even hats, customers line up and board the original GO trains. (Photo, property of Metrolinx)

Men in suits and ties sit next to one another on a packed GO train. One man tries to squeeze past them as he walks down the aisle.

Businessmen fill up a GO train carriage, as one man, lugging a large briefcase, makes his way down the aisle. (Photo, property of Metrolinx)

The rides were free on the first day and the coaches were big enough to hold 125 passengers but only had seats for 94.

On the outside, the locomotive engine actually had stealth blue paint with the iconic green logo. The coach cars were silver and had large windows, comfortable bucket seating, armrests and even card tables.

 

In its first year, GO boasted 32 coaches, eight GP 40 TC locomotives and eight cab cars carrying 2.5 million riders.

It was a success.

“This service was still quite new for the city of Toronto and surrounding areas in 1973,” recalls Rob Fuller, who became involved with GO just a year before.

He was a diesel mechanic apprentice, or a machinist as they used to call them. He worked alongside electricians and car-men who were CN employees at the time. He’s now Metrolinx’s director of rail services and remembers the early years very clearly. He says despite the experience of the crew, the type of machinery and the trains at the time were still very new.

The coaches were built by Hawker Siddeley, in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“What some may not remember is that GO Transit also had what we called ‘SP’ or self-propelled cars,” Fuller explains. “These were also built by Hawker Siddeley and looked like a regular coach except they had a Rolls Royce engine under the car-body.”

The late 1970s rolled in and things got even roomier.

On March 13, 1978, GO introduced its first bi-level trains. The seating capacity went up to 162 passengers. That’s 70 per cent more seating than the previous single-level cars at the time.

The body of a train carriage arrives at a yard on the back of a large truck. Men work to offload it.

The first bi-level trains meant more service for the growing demand. Bi-levels coaches are now used in 13 commuter rail services in North America. (Photo, property of Metrolinx)

A large crowd gathers on a GO platform on a sunny day.

Customers board and exit the two-level GO train coaches, soon after starting their service. The style is now iconic for GO. (Photo, property of Metrolinx)

And just as the coaches became more spacious, the locomotive engines became more powerful.

According to Fuller, the first few train fleets were pulled by locomotives purchased second hand just for pulling power, and CN passenger locomotives that had their engines stripped and replaced

He recalls the main engines were removed and replaced with 16-cylinder Detroit Diesel 149 engines for head end power only.

“We’ve also had continuous power EMD (Electromotive Diesel) locomotives that used a main engine to supply both tractive effort as well as head end power (HEP),” Fuller says.

A GO train, in a black and white shot, heads over a small bridge. It pulls silver passenger carriages behind.

A TC locomotive makes its way across a bridge, wearing GO colours. (Photo, property of Metrolinx)

These locomotive engines were also known as Thunder Wagons. In order to provide HEP and traction power, they had to be on at full throttle all the time, even when stopped at a station – making them as loud as their name suggests

The ‘80s came along and GO Transit was a well-oiled machine. In 1982, the transit agency celebrated 15 years and that’s when passengers started seeing their first computer controlled Locomotives (F59 PH’s).

Seven lines of GO trains wait in a rail yard. There is snow on the ground.

The F59 PH’s would operate on DC traction locomotives with 3,000hp engines reaching top speeds of 133 km/h. (Photo courtesy of TransitToronto.ca)

Train controls are shown, including a red throttle and speed guages.

Inside the cab, with the computerized controls. (Photo courtesy of TransitToronto.ca)

The ‘80s also saw GO Train expansion continue with the launch of the Milton, Bradford and Stouffville lines. They replaced the VIA Rail passenger service which was previously running on those lines.

Passengers sit inside a GO train.

Traveling on the GO train continues to grow in popularity, changing the way people commuted. (Photo, property of Metrolinx)

By 1997, CN stopped being the maintainer of the fleet and a contract was competitively tendered and awarded to Bombardier who still operates GO trains with their staff.

Between 2007 and 2008, GO Transit received the then newly designed MP40’s with a more aerodynamic nose. The new locomotive engines would come with 4,000hp and top speeds of 144 km/h. More power and faster speed meant benefits to more commuters. They were the first locos capable of handling a 12-car train-sets, supplying both traction and head end power.

A GO train moves along a snowy landscape.

More aerodynamic and more powerful than its predecessor, the MP 40s would change the game and meet the growing demand of the GO train service. (Photo by Edward Brain)

Fast-forward to today and Fuller still can’t believe how far GO Transit has evolved.

“So much has changed over the years as GO Transit has become a very sophisticated transit operator,” he explains. “We’ve gone from a few trains a day to 365.”

As of now, GO’s rolling stock includes eight F59 and 67 MP40 diesel locomotives and close to 846 rail cars that seat up to 162 passengers each – and the fleet continues to evolve.

There are nine different series of bi-level coaches in service today and four different generations of locomotives – soon to be a fifth.

The MP40PHT-T4AC, also known as the Tier 4, is the latest generation of GO locomotive now serving GO customers. When the full order takes to the rail, there will be 16 new ones.

A large Tier 4 engine waits on a service rail.

The Tier 4 locomotives have already been used in Europe and more are expected to hit the rails soon. (Photo by Matt Llewellyn)

With AC traction motors, these trains allow for better traction on the rails and faster acceleration. They also pack more punch, with 5,400 horsepower.

So while your GO train trip may seem similar to rides of decades ago, there’s been a constant evolution of our locomotion.

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, media relations and issues specialist