Going to great lengths – How GO Transit is making some trains longer to give passengers more room

As ridership increases, GO Transit is working on bringing back more service to customers. The first step is adding cars onto existing trips to increase their capacity. Metrolinx News is doing its best Popular Mechanics impression – taking a deep dive into how GO adds cars. Here’s a hint, it’s not as easy as it looks.

Adding cars to a GO Train is big job.

You might think it’s as simple as hooking up a U-Haul to your family station wagon. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Upsizing a train, the industry term for adding more cars, takes a team of experts, lots of tools, and a train yard with space to work.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of it, it’s important to understand the background. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Metrolinx reduced service to conserve resources and match lower ridership. One of the ways the transit agency did that was reducing the length of most GO Trains. That’s why there are so many six-car GO Trains running right now.

With ridership ramping back up, Metrolinx is getting hundreds of extra train cars out of storage and putting them back into service.  

That’s where Bradley Smith and his team get onboard.

Upsizing GO Trains

Smith is the manager for Metrolinx’s rail fleet maintenance team. He has worked in the rail industry for more than 15 years, and this has been a unique challenge.

“Having previously worked at CP Rail, Bombardier, and TTC, I’ve seen a lot of things, but the COVID-19 rollercoaster has to be the strangest,” says Smith.  

The decision to add more cars to an existing GO Train trip is based on data. Smith is part of a working group that meets daily to go over current ridership numbers, right down to specific trips. Once a certain trip hits 80 per cent capacity, it’s time to increase the length of the train.

Getting the fleet back together

Because the GO Transit network was built to operate at full service, having to store hundreds of idle train cars has posed a challenge.

“COVID-19 has turned everything on its head,” Smith says.

“GO’s train facilities aren’t designed to store this many coaches, yard capacity is certainly a challenge, but thanks to some outside the box thinking by our teams, we’ve made it work.”

Part of that problem solving included storing spare GO coaches all over the network – in Barrie, Milton, Stouffville, and a pair of Toronto yards.

Before Smith and his team can add more cars to a trip, he needs to get those scattered train cars back to the Willowbrook or Whitby rail maintenance facilities – where all the action happens.

It takes multiple teams across the transit agency to pull everything together, including operations, service design, customer communications, and more.

One recent operation saw Smith’s team move 13 spare coaches from the Milton Yard back to the Willowbrook yard in Etobicoke. To get that string of coaches back to the shop and to maximize efficiency, they brought them back as one long train.

The team attached an existing six car train already stored in Milton on either end of the baker’s dozen of spare cars and ran a 27 car GO Train back to the Willowbrook yard. That’s more than double the length of the longest standard GO train, which is 12 cars long.

With hundreds of cars parked at yards across the region, this is just one of dozens of trips Smith’s teams will have to do this spring.

“Having to move all of this equipment around the network, with regular in-service GO trains, VIA Rail, and freight trains moving around the tracks – these moves have to be planned down to the minute,” Smith adds.  

“If it’s not planned properly, could result in a huge bottleneck, and that could delay bringing service customers, planning is key.”

What happens back at the yard?

Once the spare coaches are back at either the Willowbrook or Whitby rail yards, they go into one of the preventative maintenance bays and undergo a rigorous return to service inspection.

Every single component will be inspected by a team of eight to 10 people. Here are just some of the things they do to get a train ready for action.

  • Checking the wheels and brakes
  • Cleaning the bathrooms
  • Steam cleaning the carpets and seats
  • Servicing the HVAC units (heating and air conditioning)
  • Inspect the doors

Smith says each batch of 12 train cars will take a full team about a day to inspect, clean, and fix.

“This is all to make sure passengers get to their destinations safely, comfortably, and on time,” he explains.  

Going from six cars to 10

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how Smith’s team upsizes a six-car train to a 10-car train. It’s time for some transit math.

The first thing you need is two parallel tracks, on track one is the existing six-car train, and on track two is the four extra coaches you’re adding on.

Step 1: Remove the locomotive and first five coaches from the six-car train on track one leaving only the cab car and drive forward to end of track.


Step 2: The locomotive switches over to track two and reverses to hook up to the four spare cars.  

Step 3: Drive forward with the new nine car string and switch back over to track one. Reverse again, to reattach to the cab car.

It’s important to note that Metrolinx always adds cars to the middle of the train, so the accessibility coach always remains the fifth car from the locomotive.

All told, it takes a team of two to three rail equipment operators about 60 to 90 minutes to make that happen.  

Customers will begin to see longer trains in the coming weeks. While the trains move across the network, train lengths for specific trips may fluctuate. Customers are reminded to look down the platform when the train approaches to ensure they wait in the right spot.

And remember, some coaches may be more popular than others. Customers can always move through the train to a different coach to find a more comfortable space.

Story by Scott Money, Metrolinx News editorial team