Back when Doug Briscoe began his railroading career, you could buy an average Canadian home for around $30,000, Sean Connery was the only Bond who mattered, and the Trans-Canada Highway was finally completed. Staying in one career for 50 years, Briscoe has finally decided to retire. But that doesn’t come without memories, including a snippet of a radio transmission captured on his very last trip at the controls of a GO Transit train.
As a birthright, it seemed Doug Briscoe had a ticket to ride for life.
Railroading was always in his blood.
Briscoe, a locomotive engineer who has gotten untold GO Transit passengers to their destinations and home again, comes from a long line of train operators. He’s a third-generation engineer, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps of operating freight and passenger trains in northern Ontario. His mother also worked at Canadian National’s (CN) corporate office while his two uncles both worked as brakemen and firemen.
This month, Briscoe, after 50 years moving down the line, steps back from the controls – including as an engineer for Alstom (formerly known as Bombardier), who crew GO Transit trains. He’s retiring after the better part of a lifetime.
The journey began on June 30, 1971 – 50 years ago today. And for Briscoe, it feels like he just stepped aboard.
“Coming from a railway family, it was only natural for me to get into the family business,” Briscoe told Metrolinx News.
Despite not actually working on a train until he was 17 years old, he was introduced to railways much earlier in life.
“When I was six or seven years old my dad bought me a train set for Christmas and I played with it all day – I guess that’s where I got my start,” said Briscoe.
That Christmas gift manifested into a long love for railway transit. In the early 1960s his father would pull him out of school on occasion so he could get a front seat experience on a locomotive engine.
“I would sit with him all night on a little engine switching cars, so it became natural to me,” said Briscoe.
He has always been surrounded by railway trains. Raised in Capreol, a Sudbury town known for its early roots as a railway junction for the Canadian National Railway, rail transit was ingrained in the culture.
“You had two options in Capreol: You either went to work in railway or you worked for the iron ore mine; both of which were very good jobs at the time,” said Briscoe.
His first railway job was at CN based in Capreol on June 30, 1971. A high school senior, Briscoe landed his first role as a brakeman. His summers prior were spent servicing the cars and replenishing the train’s cooling systems and oil cans.
“I can still remember it like it was yesterday,” said Briscoe.
A WEEK’S PAY IN 1971
He explained new employees didn’t establish their seniority until they completed their first paid trip, which at the time earned him approximately $60. He progressed to a locomotive engineer when the opportunity came, and he subsequently stayed with CN until 1992. The role gave him a deeper appreciation for public transportation.
He kept a record of every trip he made since the first day employed by CN.
“It was a very good paying job and you made great wages,” Briscoe said as he scanned his diary.
“My first week I worked from June 30, 1971, to July 13 and made $309.30,” he added.
His destinations consisted of areas strictly in his Ontario jurisdiction. Some of his trips at the time included Brent, Gravenhurst, and Parry Sound. Toronto north was his primary base and he only worked in the north. Most of his trips were freight trains with some passenger trains.
Looking to work closer to home, Briscoe saw an opportunity to run trains between Toronto and Capreol on VIA Rail’s flagship train called the ‘Canadian’. He would hold this position from 1992 until 2008.
An opportunity presented Briscoe to sign on with Bombardier, the company that was contracted to operate GO Transit in January 2009 after VIA closed its Toronto North crew base.
He would spend the next 12 years with Metrolinx operating trains, until now finally hanging up his engineer’s cap.
“I can say that there was never two days that was the same as a train engineer,” said Briscoe.
Locomotive transit has changed since the 1970s. He says engines have become more automated and fewer people work on a single team on the train. What hasn’t changed is the rewarding experience that comes with operating a locomotive.
Briscoe said that despite fewer people working on the trains, the quality of service has remained the same.
“With the right training, anybody can drive a train, but I try to do it with a little finesse,” he explained. “I run a train with the mindset that every passenger is holding a hot cup of coffee with no lid.
Briscoe’s final trip recently ended at the Barrie Layover facility aboard GO 6923 from Toronto Union to Allandale, where several family and friends were on the platform awaiting his arrival.
To his surprise the dispatcher gave him a final send-off via radio transmission.
“This is GO operations with a message for Doug Briscoe: Doug, thank you from the NOC (Network Operations Centre) for your years of service, we wish you all the best,” GO operations chimed over the radio.
END OF THE LINE – AND JUST FINE
Briscoe, a father of two, said the train legacy ends with him as neither his son nor daughter have followed in his footsteps – which he says he is perfectly fine with.
Steve Bradley, a locomotive engineer and a former colleague of Briscoe
said he will be missed.
“Doug has always been known as a true professional and as one who took great pride in the smooth operation of his train,” Bradley explained. “On the platform at Allandale that day, I overheard conversation that his legacy will be that many of the younger engineers have learned so much from and want to operate just as smoothly as Doug. For a retiring railroader, there could be no better tribute.”
Briscoe said the achievements he has made in the industry wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the support of his managers and colleagues over the years. He also gives credit to his wife Sylvia, who made sacrifices so he could do what he loves most.
“She put up with a lot of missed birthdays, anniversaries, and family time while I was away at work. She always made great packed lunches for me. I was sometimes away for three days at a time,” said Briscoe.
As for retirement plans, Briscoe isn’t putting the brakes on. He intends to travel to Costa Rica as well as take a European trip.
Briscoe looks back down the line with fondness.
He explained: “Would I do it all over again? Yes, without hesitation. I enjoy doing what I do, and it was fun. The people I work with at Bombardier and Metrolinx were some of the nicest people I have ever worked with
“Metrolinx kept me young.”
Story by Ross Andersen, Metrolinx senior advisor, Media Relations