It was 50 years ago today, on May 23, 1967, that GO Transit first began operations. Originally conceived as a three-year pilot project by the Government of Ontario (hence the acronym 'GO'), it has grown from carrying an average of 15,000 passengers per weekday during its first year, to an average of 304,000 per weekday in 2016. In that time, the system has grown from 16 train stations to 65.

Passengers participate in a GO Transit train test run in 1967Passengers participate in a GO Transit train test run in 1967, image courtesy of the MTO

The Beginning

When Metropolitan Toronto (commonly referred to as 'Metro') was created in 1954, its borders encompassed nearly all of the urban area of today's Greater Toronto Area. However, with the suburban explosion of the 1950s and 1960s, many communities outside of Metro experienced rapid population growth. With many of these booming suburban municipalities refusing to be annexed into Metro, and therefore being largely outside the service area of the TTC, there was a growing need for a transit service connecting these municipalities to Toronto. Enter GO.

Using 32 cars, 8 GP 40 TC locomotives and 8 cab cars, service launched along the Lakeshore corridor between Oakville and Pickering, with peak hour service to Hamilton. The Hawker Siddeley cars were largely based on the design of the H1 Subway car, recently introduced onto the TTC Subway network. One of these restored cars is being added to the Tornto Railway Museum train collection today, at Roundhouse Park across from the CN Tower.

A restored Hawker Siddeley RTC-85SP/D at Roundhouse ParkA restored Hawker Siddeley RTC-85SP/D at Roundhouse Park, image courtesy the Toronto Railway Museum

Though they were part of a unified Lakeshore Line, the Lakeshore West Line can technically be considered the 'first' GO Train line, as its first eastbound train departed Oakville at 4:50 AM, ten minutes before the first westbound train departed Pickering on what would become the Lakeshore East line.

Service Expansion

With strong ridership on the Lakeshore line, service was expanded in the 1970s. The first new line to be added to the system was the Georgetown Line (now referred to as the Kitchener Line) in 1974. The Richmond Hill Line was added in 1978, followed by the Milton Line in 1981, and the Bradford (now Barrie) and Stouffville lines in 1982.

In terms of expansion of existing lines, here are some major milestones:

  • The Georgetown Line was extended to Guelph in 1990, but was then cancelled in 1993. Service was restored and extended to Kitchener in 2011.
  • The Bradford Line was extended to Barrie in 1990, though like the service to Guelph, was reduced back to its original terminus in 1993, though it would be extended back to Barrie in 2007.
  • All day Lakeshore West Line service was expanded to Aldershot in 1992, but was also cancelled in 1993. All day service returned in 1997.
  • The Lakeshore East Line was extended to Oshawa in 1995, on the right-of-way that was reserved for the cancelled GO ALRT project.
  • In 2013, all day service on the Lakeshore East and West lines was increased from every hour to every 30 minutes.

The Bi-Level

Arguably GO's largest contribution to commuter rail in North America, the bi-level coach was introduced by GO Transit in 1976. After testing a series of coaches from other commuter rail agencies from across North America, GO opted to design a custom solution that would best fit their needs. Working with Hawker Siddeley, they designed a coach with seating for between 136 and 162 passengers, that could be emptied in 90 seconds using 4 sets of doors on the bottom level.

GO's bi-level, shown here in GO's new liveryGO's bi-level, shown here in GO's new livery, image courtesy of UT member mdrejhon

As a testament to their ingenuity, the design of these coaches has remained essentially unchanged in the over 40 years they have been in service. In addition to being manufactured by Hawker Siddeley, they have subsequently been manufactured by the Urban Transit Development Corporation (UTDC), and by Bombardier. GO currently has 678 bi-levels in service as of Fall 2016, with Bombardier committed to providing another 125 by 2020.

The bi-level is currently in use by 13 other commuter rail services across North America, with the 3 largest, apart from GO Transit, being Metrolink in the Greater Los Angeles Area (147 cars), Sounder in Seattle (58 cars), and the West Coast Express in Vancouver (44 cars).

Regional Express Rail

GO is on the verge of a transformational service change. In 2014, the Provincial government announced that it would be funding the upgrade of GO's train service to Regional Express Rail (RER). While many of the operational details have yet to be confirmed, the underlying mission is to upgrade and electrify all GO lines that GO currently owns (which largely just excludes the Milton Line, which is owned by CP Rail) to be capable of running 15 minute all-day, two-way service.

Metrolinx, the parent agency of GO, is undertaking billions of dollars worth of track and station improvements in order to meet this goal, including projects like the Lakeshore East and Barrie line expansion projects.

Metrolinx's GO RER PlanMetrolinx's GO RER Plan, image courtesy of Metrolinx

GO's 50th anniversary celebrations will kick off today with a presentations by Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation, Greg Percy, Chief Operating Officer of Metrolinx, John Jensen, President and CEO of Metrolinx, and Phil Spencer, President and CEO of the Toronto Railway Historical Association and Toronto Railway Museum at Roundhouse Park, 255 Bremner Boulevard at 10 AM.

You can stay up-to-date and share your thoughts on all of GO Transit's expansions by visiting our Service, Construction, and Electrification forum threads, or by leaving a comment below.