Two GO trains are seen on tracks.

Putting winter in its place – How Metrolinx prepares to keep the GO Transit fleet rolling, even on the coldest of Canadian days

Our nation may be more than 150 years old, but thriving in the coldest months is still a chore. Learn how Canada’s largest public transit agency keeps things rolling, even when Mother Nature wants to place everything – and everyone – into a deep freeze.

Even keeping salt on your front steps can be taxing.

Now imagine moving the populations of Canada’s largest cities across frigid bus and rail lines, during the cruelest months.

Last winter’s prolonged periods of extreme cold and precipitation posed many challenges for running reliable service – customers and staff alike felt the winter blues. And the recent early freeze across the Greater Golden Horseshoe is just a reminder of the battle on the new cold front ahead of us.

A bus driver is seen from behind as he drives.
A GO bus driver heads down a highway on a snowy day. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

Which is why with each season – the cold of winter and the extreme heat of summer – the transit agency does a reset to prepare new measures learned from past experience.

Those plans and preparation were being outlined to the Metrolinx board today (Nov. 22).

“We learned a lot of valuable lessons last year,” said Andre Lalonde, vice president of Transit Operations at Metrolinx. “We’ve made adjustments across the board to help minimize the impact of extreme winter weather on service.”

Teams across Metrolinx are working to take the bite out of cold days by focusing on the following key areas: bus, train and station enhancements, customer communications and route adjustments.

Here’s a deeper dive into those plans.

Passengers sit inside a GO bus.
A GO bus heads out from a station on a winter day. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

Train and bus modifications

Operations teams took a critical look at existing bus and train fleets to make a variety of upgrades, including:

  • Installing new wipers and snow tires on all buses.
  • Adding train door trim heaters on GO trains and upgraded door seals on both GO and UP trains to help prevent doors from freezing. New heating systems and insulation will reduce freezing under train carriages.
  • De-icing fleets throughout the day and bringing vehicles indoors for warming where applicable.

In addition, bus drivers will receive more defensive driving training. Technicians will ride along with crews to troubleshoot issues in real time.

Reduced frequencies and stop modifications during inclement weather will allow for trains and buses to receive maintenance as needed.

From inside a GO bus, a GO train is reflected in a mirror.
From inside a GO bus, a GO train is reflected in a mirror. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

Station enhancements

Many people have a love-hate relationship with salt during winter. It’s great for tackling snow but it wreaks havoc on clothes and vehicles. Staff will use salt strategically to maximize snow melt while minimizing damage to personal belongings.

The new winter boots will thank us.

Safety is always a top priority. Water absorbing mats will combat pooled water at the bottom of stairwells, while stations will be kept open longer so customers can take advantage of heated waiting areas.

Image shows the large Union Station sign, as a person walks by.
On an early morning, snow builds up on a sign outside Union Station. (Thane Burnett photo)

Customer communications

As part of Metrolinx’s promise to keep customers in the know, potential service and schedule adjustments will be communicated as early as possible through websites, social media, On the GO Alerts, this Metrolinx News site and other channels where appropriate. Customers will also receive regular safety reminders across all channels and in all messages.

A passenger is seen stepping off of a GO bus on a cold day.
Passengers exit a GO bus at Union Station. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

Route adjustments

Route and service adjustments are strategic ways for staff to provide reliable service by better maintaining vehicles and supporting ridership demand. School closures and bus cancellations often lead to lower ridership. Staff can provide more reliable service by making service adjustments to meet fluctuating demand.

Bus trips will be adjusted when snowfall is 10 centimeters or greater. Drivers will actively avoid hills, bridges and other potential safety hazards.

“Providing reliable, safe service is a top priority,” said Lalonde.

“Extreme weather can pose many challenges to infrastructure, which in turn impacts service. Though we’re taking many measures and have made numerous improvements already, extreme weather can lead to unexpected issues.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure customers have consistently reliable service, including tweaking our approach as needed.”

So you take care of the salt on your front steps, and we’ll get you moving after that.

Story by Suniya Kukaswadia, Metrolinx senior advisor for media relations and issues.