On a day set aside to honour transit workers – A sneak peek at behind-the-scenes workings of Metrolinx

While it may not have come up during chatter over breakfast, today is Transit Operator and Worker Appreciation Day across Canada. That’s a nod to those dedicated teams that keep services – including GO Transit, UP Express and Metrolinx’s many urban rail projects – moving ahead. And in a year that has seen many people stop, they keep going. So we thought we’d take this moment to tell you about an upcoming project we’re working on – one that takes you deeper inside our world than ever before.

A big part of my job, as a Metrolinx spokesperson, is to explain how transit works – even at a time when many elements of our lives have been put on hold.

But while I, and those around me, can quickly find the words to tell you about the many moving parts at GO Transit, UP Express, PRESTO and the rail projects underway across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, you really should see the remarkable work taking place.

Which is what we’re about to do.

Throughout this pandemic, I’ve had a first-hand opportunity to see and photograph talented teams and individuals; from the vital and often thankless work being done inside our maintenance facilities, to the delicate dance our team inside the Network Operations Centre orchestrates every passing minute.

I’ve been a photojournalist, documenting people from all walks of life, for many years, but it’s been eye-opening to see – and capture in images – how seamless this collective effort works to move customers and communities.

A worker uses a blow torch on bus part.
A GO bus mechanic works on a suspension component of an MCI D4500. Metrolinx is slowly beginning to phase these iconic buses out of service. They’re expected to be fully decommissioned and replaced by 2026. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

For weeks, I’ve been documenting many of the lesser known parts and beating hearts of the Metrolinx business; the groups of people who have been coming in to work day-in and day-out throughout COVID-19, to ensure our life-line services are available to everyone who needs them.

I think of it as chronicling our history – both as a transit agency and as a society.

You’ve never been inside all the doors we’ll soon take you through, and have never before met many of the talented professionals who are responsible for getting you where you still need to go.

As our President and CEO, Phil Verster said in video to mark today’s (Oct. 7) Transit Operator and Worker Appreciation Day: “While so much is unknown, and so much remains uncertain about this pandemic, (they) continue to ensure that transit does not stop.”

So in the coming weeks, we’re going to introduce you – in images and words – to some of those workers. We’ll do that by taking you directly into their worlds and workplaces – from the CEO down into the GO bus bays.

It’s a chance to not only recognize and show our appreciation for all they do – but also to remind us all about the incredible ingenuity and accomplishments we can achieve by working together.

Ian Smith, Metrolinx Chief Operations Officer, said recently during a staff town hall: “If you’re not directly serving customers, you’re supporting staff who are directly serving customers.”

A look down from above, at a worker repairing a bus.
A mechanic inside the Streetsville GO bus garage does some repairs on an Alexander Dennis Enviro 500 Superlo double-decker bus. Employees in this maintenance facility are able to repair and maintain just about every part of the GO bus fleet “in house”, including a full service body-shop. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

And that becomes glaringly apparent when you see just how much pride these workers and contractors have in their work.

In transit, uneventful and perhaps comfortably forgettable is actually a good thing. But I can assure you, what happens behind the scenes is neither of those things.

A man helps to attach a glass barrier next to a seat on a train.
An employee with NATSCO Transit Solutions, a Metrolinx contractor tasked with assembling and installing the clear dividers that GO customers are beginning to see across the rail network. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

So if you’re taking a bus or train today, be sure to thank the operator getting you there safely – a bit of a nod to today’s day of appreciation. But also keep in mind all the other people behind the scenes making sure you don’t have to think twice about getting on the GO.

In the coming weeks, we’ll launch the photo series here on Metrolinx News – taking you behind doors that are usually closed tight. Today was more of a sneak-peek.

A worker stands next to a train, helping to guide it in.
A Bombardier Transportation employee helps spot a GO train as it pulls into a maintenance bay inside the Willowbrook Rail and Maintenance Facility. Bombardier is contracted by Metrolinx to operate and maintain the GO train fleet. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

But for those workers we’ll soon feature, and thousands of others working under the Metrolinx banner, it’s important that you know they’re toiling every day for you and me.

And I want them to know – I have a new appreciation for what they do, and would like to thank each and every one of them.

The photographer catches his reflection in a glass window.
Focused – Matt Llewellyn in a self-portrait photo, taken during his assignment to chronicle Metrolinx staff at work. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

Story by Matt Llewellyn, Metrolinx spokesperson and senior adviser, media relations and issues.