A transit seat above – Remembering when GO trains became bi-levels

As part of our HistoricGO series, we continue to dig through boxes and archives to uncover old relics of our transit past. We recently discovered some decades-old promotional brochures, crew manuals and a how-to guide for our iconic GO bi-level train cars. What colour do you think the first test coaches were?

Few GO Transit customers need directions in how to use the top level of their train.

No maps are plastered on walls, and other than announcements reminding customers of the ‘Quiet Zone’ in that top tier, many passengers take the higher road in stride.

But there were days – not so long ago – when that upper section was new enough to need special directions for travellers.

Image is a paper oulining how to walk through a bi-level, and a reminder they're heated and air-conditioned.

Tip sheet – A user’s guide to the first bi-level cars. (Metrolinx photo)

We were recently reminded of the introduction of the bi-level trains when we came across a box of aging promotional material and manuals, dating back to a time things were again looking up for GO customers.

Image shows a crowd on a platform.

Customers line up to get a look at some of the first bi-level cars in use by GO Transit. (Metrolinx photo)

A recent tweet by the Toronto Rail Museum also jogged our memory.

The year 1978 was a big year for GO Transit. You might say it started the modern era for transit in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. Smoking had just been outlawed on all GO vehicles and as the air cleared, GO customers moved into that new age of double-decker travel on the rails from Oakville to Oshawa.

Image shows the cover of the crew manuel.

the first crew manual for the bi-level cars. (Metrolinx photo)

The GO bi-level coaches were born from a need to address growing passenger volumes. System constraints made it difficult to increase train lengths or frequencies at that time. The bi-levels increased passenger capacity by 70 per cent when compared with the single level cars initially used when GO first started in 1967.

Seventy-eight trains were put into service and the inaugural trip was taken by Number 906.

A how-to manual for customers boasted that the bi-levels were big, roomy and had the most modern design in rail commuter equipment anywhere. Washrooms and water fountains debuted on GO trains with the bi-levels, which also included carpeting and coat hooks at every seat.

Again, here’s a special shout out to the Toronto Railway Museum for sharing some stats about the testing of bi-levels, as a reminder that in colour and style, they were kind of, well, ugly.

Image shows a Tweet noting a Jan. 19, 1976 bi-level trial.

Among their design flaws were single central doors on each car, which created crowding issues for passengers getting on and off.

According to the Toronto Railway Museum, GO borrowed Montreal’s bi-levels for testing before designing their own coaches.

They’re now part of everyday life on rail lines.

Shows a cut-away of a car, and where seats are located.

A breakdown of seating on the first bi-levels. There have been lots of refinements on GO’s newer trains, but this should all be familiar to modern customers. (Metrolinx photo)

GO currently has 924 bi-level coaches in its fleet, with over 50 more on the way.

Trains have been operating in Ontario for more than 150 years. In 1976, it was high time customers were able to get a transit seat above it all.

Story by Suniya Kukaswadia and Scott Money, Media Relations.