How it feels to take control of a GO Transit train for the first time

Recently, Metrolinx held a media event to support Alstom – the experts who crew GO trains – and their shout-out for more men and women to choose rail as a career path. During that event, Matt Llewellyn, a Metrolinx senior advisor for Media Relations, was given the chance to – under a strict watch of an expert – drive an iconic GO train. Other than for those who sign up to become rail crew, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to control one mighty green machine. In this column, he writes about all that power, and responsibility, under his thumb.

Sitting in the right seat of a GO train locomotive, hand on the throttle of 4,000 horsepower – my heart seemed to become in-sync with the rhythm of the engine.

As my hand pulled the throttle back towards me – and the RPMs began to climb on the dash in front me, I could feel the BPM’s in my chest begin to accelerate.

If only for a few moments – I was a real railroader and I loved it.

Image of Matt at the controls.
Matt Llewellyn takes gentle control of a GO train. (Photo by Audra Brown, CityNews)

It’s hard to put into words, but there’s something special and unique about operating a train. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done.

I once heard an Alstom manager say, “GO trains are the Ferrari’s of the train world: they’re fast, they’re power(ful) and they’re extremely well maintained.”

Well let me tell you, I’ve been to Ferrari’s test track in Maranello, Italy. I’ve had a chance to drive an F1 simulator – and I can say confidently, driving a GO train is better.

In fact, this past summer, I had the chance to take the controls of a WWII plane, that was used for training fighter pilots; I’ve been at the helm of a $1B Royal Canadian Navy frigate on patrol on the west coat of Canada; and there was even a time some brave (or perhaps reckless) soul let me operate a full size excavator while they were doing demolition work.

Those experiences were great – but the exhilaration of getting behind the throttle of a locomotive that’s capable of safely moving thousands of people, at more than 90 mph… tops them all. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a Metrolinx spokesperson.

It’s hard to appreciate just how powerful a GO train is. Think about this: there’s roughly two horsepower for each person that can sit inside a fully loaded GO train.

Image shows levers.
What those controls look like. (Photo by Audra Brown, CityNews)

A moment years in the making

As a journalist, I loved any opportunity to look behind the curtain, so-to-speak, and see or do things that many people can only dream about. When I started my career at Metrolinx – that sense of curiosity and wonder never left.

In fact, being around all the incredible transit equipment only intensified that feeling.

I knew what I wanted to do, so I offered to write a series, which we now affectionally call ‘conductor school.’ I followed around a potential commuter train operator through his schooling and on the job training. It was eye-opening.

The training itself was intense: classes, exams, on-the-job training, simulators – the list goes on. The focus on safety was incredible.

But what I heard from nearly all those recruits – not just the person I was following – was all that hard work was immediately worth it, the second they climbed into the cab of a locomotive cab for the first time.

With my hand resting on the throttle (under the strict supervision of a qualified commuter train operator) and ready to unleash all that power – I paused as a famous superhero quote, came to mind:

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Maybe it was cheesy or cliché – but I felt that for each of those 4,000-individual horsepower, came a compounding importance on safety.

So how fast did we go? I’ll let you in on a little secret – we got up to a whooping 8 mph in the Willowbrook rail yard. It doesn’t sound like much – but honestly, it was fast enough.

Image shows Matt.
A pleased-with-himself Matt Llewellyn after moving a GO train. (Photo by Audra Brown, CityNews)

In fact, I don’t know if I would want to go any faster while in the ‘drivers’ seat. I think I would much rather leave it to the qualified professionals – which I am not.

But you can be. If you’ve ever wanted to drive a train, now is your chance. Alstom is hiring qualified candidates to operate our GO train fleet. It’s an unbelievably rewarding career, with great pay and benefits… including driving the Ferrari of the train world.

Be sure to tell them that Matt sent you.

Story by Matt Llewellyn, senior advisor for Media Relations