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Going nowhere!

Snow retains its grip on transit

By Joseph Hall
Toronto Star Transportation Reporter
January 16, 1999

Huge segments of the city’s snowbound subway system will be out of service until at least the end of next week, Toronto Transit Commission officials say.

And that’s only if the weather finally gives the system a break.

“That’s the best case scenario to have the entire thing going,” says TTC deputy general manager Lynn Hilborn.

“It will take at least that long before we can get all the snow off that we need to.”

Snow-clearing was also a priority for GO Transit, which shut down its weekend train service - the first time ever, apart from shutdowns caused by labour problems - to allow crews time to clear tracks and switches. Regularly scheduled service is expected to resume Monday.

“Our goal is to prepare the tracks for Monday’s morning rush-hour. We expect to have full service then,” said GO Transit information officer Karen Majerly.

The last train east to Pickering left Union Station at 8:13 p.m. last night, four hours earlier than usual, so crews could get started.

GO bus service is expected to run regularly on the weekend. TTC workers will concentrate on a critical downtown line and drifts in subway service yards this weekend. Digging out the system’s extremities will wait till next week.

Yesterday was another day of delays for subway commuters - though nothing like the chaos of Wednesday, when the system first shut down, since tens of thousands of regular passengers stayed home.

The problems began when snow played havoc with the subway’s electrified third rail, which powers the system. By yesterday morning, accumulations were so severe snow was tripping the emergency breaking systems beneath subway cars.

That spelled extra trouble for morning commuters, some of whom waited for hours in stopped cars. Others had to trudge up to shuttle buses pressed into service between Eglinton and Bloor as affected cars blocked the line.

Troubles were compounded at the Bloor station where a switch that allows trains to move from north to southbound tracks broke down.

About 1,000 passengers were forced to wait more than 45 minutes on the southbound Bloor platform around lunchtime yesterday as workers tried to fix the equipment.

The Yonge line was down between Eglinton and Bloor through most of yesterday’s afternoon rush hour, but an express bus from Bloor to Eglinton started running about 5 p.m.

The first priority for TTC workers this weekend is to clear the mainly outdoor stretch of the Yonge line from Bloor to Eglinton stations.

The segment was to close at 10 p.m. last night - four hours early - and was to remain shut until workers and locomotives could completely clear it of snow.

The Yonge line, which carries some 500,000 people on weekdays, is the spine of the TTC’s entire network, chief general manager David Gunn said.

“It’s also becoming critical that we get into the (service) yards,” Hilborn said.

“It’s getting to the point where the trains that we’ve been running need to be serviced.”

Next priority is the snowbound Spadina line, which has been closed between the Downsview and St. Clair West stations since Wednesday. It will be cleared before workers turn to the Bloor-Danforth track between Woodbine and McCowan, and Islington and Kipling stations.

These portions, Hilborn said, will not be cleared until the end of the week.

“All this, of course, assumes we don’t get another big hit of snow or freezing rain or something,” Hilborn said.

“I mean, what did we do to deserve this?”

At Pearson International Airport, operations were expected to be back to normal or close to it today, airport officials said.

And that’s good news for vacation travellers, the bulk of whom depart on weekends.

At one point early yesterday, flights were down to about 20 per cent of normal traffic.

But the situation eased along with the weather and two runways were operating by noon yesterday, said Steve Shaw, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

The airport was averaging about 48 flights an hour compared to the normal flow of 80-90 per hour, Shaw said. Despite the reduction, traffic at Pearson’s three terminals was light.

That’s largely due to business travellers postponing flights, Shaw said. “And we’ve also told the airlines what sort of capacity we think we can provide and they’ve adjusted their schedules accordingly.”

With files from Andy Georgiades, Mike Funston and Renata D’Aliesio.