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Strike derails morning GO commute

Thousands late as trains are cancelled or delayed > GTA May. 31, 2002. 01:00 AM

Joseph Hall

GO Transit will attempt to spirit train crews past striking mechanical workers today in a bid to avoid the massive delays riders faced during yesterday’s morning rush hour.

Trains were running more smoothly by the afternoon rush, but GO managing director Gary McNeil is cautioning prospective passengers to check radio and television commuter reports before heading out.

“The difficulties we faced (yesterday) morning were due mainly to the delays some of our crews had in crossing the picket lines to get to their trains,” McNeil says.

“We’ll be taking them through at other locations, and we are expecting to have the system running as close to normal as possible.”

About 130 maintenance workers, contracted to GO by Bombardier Inc., walked off the job at midnight Wednesday after their employer failed to meet wage demands.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1587, repair and maintain GO’s 45 locomotives and 330 coaches. In voting to strike, the workers narrowly rejected a company offer that would have raised wages between 9 and 13 per cent over three years.

GO’s big problems yesterday were on its busy Lakeshore routes, where many trains were delayed up to an hour or even cancelled, and some expresses were converted to local service. Thousands of commuters were caught up in the scramble, like Carlos Diaz and Josie Morin at the Port Credit station.

Diaz, who teaches at the University of Toronto, rose early to catch an express so he could be at work at 8:45 a.m. He didn’t arrive until 9:30 a.m.

“Much to the amazement of all those commuters on the platform, the express train just zoomed by,” Diaz said. The next train let them on, but made all stops and then was delayed before getting into Union Station.

Morin and several others who usually take the 6:13 a.m. downtown chose not to wait for their delayed train and car-pooled instead.

“The station was jammed, and my friend told me the trains were packed. Some of the commuters were told to get to the Cooksville station because they’d never get on at Port Credit,” she said.

Police reported that traffic on Lakeshore Blvd., Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway was heavier than usual. Downtown parking filled up quickly.

System-wide, seven of the 50 morning train trips were cancelled.

Cheryl Arnold of Courtice found her 7:46 a.m. train from Oshawa cancelled. The 8:30 a.m. run filled up by the third stop in Ajax.

“In eight years of commuting on GO, I’ve never seen it that crowded,” Arnold said.

At Union Station, extra constables and service people were put on, most spending their time answering one query: “Is my train running on time?”

From 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., they were. In fact, the 5:10 p.m. train from Union rolled into Richmond Hill ahead of time.

“I left early because I thought there might be problems, but there weren’t,” said commuter Vicci Macmull, who said she plans to continue using the train despite the strike.

“In a pinch I drive, but don’t want to do it daily. The DVP is a parking lot.”

Maureen Ashby, who usually takes GO from Scarborough, said the strike prompted her to ask a co-worker for a ride. “I refuse to take the TTC,” she said. “It’s dirty, it’s disgusting and there’s perverts on there.”

To limit disruptions today, McNeil said, the system will ask Canadian National, which owns most tracks GO uses, to ferry crews to their trains from secret staging areas to avoid pickets set up at entrances to train storage locations.

GO chair Gordon Chong said it’s time to look seriously at declaring transit an essential service. He said he was frustrated that 130 maintenance workers could hobble a service 165,000 passengers rely on daily.

“Everyone has a point of view to present and I understand that, but I think the rights of 130 people should not trump the rights of 165,000 people, not to mention their families, their employers and their subordinates,” he said.

Union local president Simon Clarke denied that pickets were responsible for yesterday’s disruptions. He blamed delays on trains not being ready for GO crews who crossed the lines.

“There were crews waiting for trains that weren’t there,” said Clarke. “Obviously, the people who are doing our work are not able to keep up.”

Bombardier officials denied claims by some strikers yesterday that unqualified management personnel, including secretaries, were being pressed into service to inspect trains.

Vice president Mike Hardt said that was “categorically not true,” and that all replacements had been company trained and provincially certified to inspect train systems.

A prolonged strike will take its toll, as locomotives are forced out of service.

“If (a train) is scheduled for regular (major) service and there’s no one to do the work, we won’t use it,” McNeil said.

“We won’t compromise passenger safety in any way.”

GO can run a full 173 daily trips for about two weeks before trains begin to disappear from the system, he said.

With files from Paul Moloney, Michael Traiko, Mary Nersessian, Mary Gordon, Frank Calleja, Stan Josey.