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Buses can't pick up slack, GO warns

CN, unions continue negotiations today

CURTIS RUSH
STAFF REPORTER THESTAR.COM
WITH FILES FROM CANADIAN PRESS

Aside from re-routing some buses, GO Transit will not be able to do much for the approximately 130,000 GTA rail commuters who will be stranded tomorrow if locomotive engineers across the country go on strike.

“Everything is going to be overcrowded,” GO chairman Peter Smith told a news conference this afternoon. “It’s going to be gridlock.”

Barring an eleventh-hour deal between CN and its 1,700 locomotive engineers before midnight tonight, GO is preparing for the worst on Wednesday.

Tonight in Montreal, intensive negotiations are underway to avoid the strike.

Two mediators named by the federal government are helping the Teamsters Canada and the rail company to reach an agreement in principle on a new collective agreement.

Canadian National said it has contingency plans to maintain core freight operations in the event of a strike. But spokeswoman Louise Fillion conceded there would inevitably be delays for some customers.

If the strike happens, only one GO rail line will be operating, the one that originates in Milton and cuts through north Mississauga, because that line is operated by Canadian Pacific Railway.

The other six lines, affecting 130,000 daily passengers, will grind to a halt.

GO buses will operate, but GO is not adding to its fleet of 288 buses. Instead, buses will be re-routed from lower-volume areas to the higher-volume locations, Smith said.

GO Transit has been informed that any trains that begin travel before midnight will be allowed to end their run if the destination time falls after midnight.

Smith also said any travellers who bought monthly passes for May will be reimbursed once any strike ends.

Neither Smith nor GO operations manager Gary McNeil knew when word from the labour discussions in Montreal would trickle down to GO Transit tonight.

They said GO represents only about 1 per cent of CN’s overall business, so there are others who would be notified ahead of GO Transit, including General Motors and port authorities in Vancouver and Halifax.

The last major GO interruption occurred in 1995, but that strike, which occurred over seven business days, didn’t have the impact this strike would have because only about 110,000 daily riders used GO train travel then.

Today that number is 150,000.

The GO chairman advised commuters to make use of car pools, or take GO buses, which will link up with regional transit lines and the TTC.

The TTC has informed GO Transit that it has the capacity to absorb the extra riders that it could expect from a rail strike.

Bus service unrelated to the rail system will continue to operate as “close to regular schedule as possible,” spokesperson Stephanie Sorensen said, adding that increased traffic may lead to delays.

GO parking lots will still be open to people who want to meet there to arrange car pooling, Sorensen said.

GO Transit tried to contact private bus companies but “nobody has a fleet big enough to replace our rail service,” she said.

GO Transit’s website will provide updates and there is a call centre at 416-869-3200 to answer questions.

GO train riders haven’t had much time to prepare for options since the union announced the strike plans Friday, but Sorensen said that more time wouldn’t have made much difference.

“No matter how much planning goes into this, it’s always a challenge to try to accommodate the passengers,” she said. “We will do our best throughout any strike.”

Mark Hallman, a spokesperson for CN, said both sides are working with a mediator and are back at the table today.

Asked if it’s possible the union will extend the deadline should talks show promise, he said that would be the union’s prerogative.

“I can’t speak on their behalf. They’re the ones who issued the strike notice. But we remain optimistic that we can get a settlement,” Hallman said today, adding the company is prepared to bargain around the clock to get a deal.

Union negotiator Gilles Halle didn’t return calls.

The labour issues involved for the CN engineers include profit sharing and scheduling.




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