Photo of a switch box along the GO train tracks

Older than the first footsteps on the Moon – Guildwood station’s notorious Switch No. 3 lands new home along rail line

Earlier this year, we told you the story of No. 3 switch. An aged piece of track infrastructure located near Guildwood GO station – one that was installed before humans went to the moon. Now that switch has been pulled out, replaced, and put somewhere high and dry. That means more reliable train service for GO customers. But was the old No. 3 tossed out? Not so fast.

It’s about time.

But replacing a nearly 60-year-old switch along one of Canada’s busiest rail corridors is no easy task.

An estimated 150 trains have zoomed over No. 3 switch every weekday – a piece of equipment with hard-to-find parts and a habit of being hit hard by the elements. The box has been so notorious, and disruptive for passengers, that many travellers know it by name.

A photo of the Lakeshore East GO line at track level looking into the distance.
The Lakeshore East GO line is the second busiest corridor on the GO Network with more than 23,000 customers per day.

But for those of you not well versed in rail jargon, a track switch – or box – is an electro-mechanical appliance that allows trains to move safely and precisely from one set of rails to another.

What made this particular switch so hard to replace? It was one part location and two parts technology. Since much of the box dates back to 1963, retrofitting it wasn’t an option. Metrolinx’s senior manager of signals and communications systems, Xavier Hall, and his team of experts, had to design a new one from scratch with all new components.

The old switch was on the ground, nestled in between the tracks. Not an ideal place for electronics to be, especially as we head into another cold Ontario winter. The new switch is in a high and dry location which means it won’t be as susceptible to snow, sleet or vibrations from hundreds of trains rumbling overhead.

How difficult were those living conditions for No. 3? Imagine ice blocks, as solid as rocks, raining down as GO trains would pass over during freezing spells.

A worker fixes electronics inside a piece of rail infrastructure
It takes a lot of work to keep rail switches working smoothly, especially in the winter.

Sure enough, after months of design and overnight field tests, Hall’s team got the job done – a few days early to boot.

“The piece of infrastructure was very difficult to design and replace,” says Hall. “But now that it’s done, it will be a lot more reliable, especially in winter weather.”

Now that the job is done, the new switch No. 3 should last for at least another 30-years – perhaps next time it’s switched out humans will be landing on Mars.

A photo of rail switch infrastructure next to the tracks.
Rail infrastructure like switches and signals take a beating especially when they are exposed to the elements in winter.

And what became of the old box that customers learned to hate? Hall says the outer shell has been discarded. But some of the components inside have been saved. Because rail experts have learned that salvaged pieces can sometimes find their own second-life.

If you are interested in learning more, the backstory on this particular switch is a colourful and fascinating journey to a time long before 15-minute service on the Lakeshore East line.

Story by Scott Money, Metrolinx media relations advisor.