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Delivering a Rapid Response After Record Flooding

A day of record rainfall in Toronto created flash-flooding during rush hour, causing public transportation chaos for customer GO Transit that included multiple trackbed washouts, rain-related track signals problems and a flooded train. PNR RailWorks responded quickly to restore service on the four affected subdivisions.

Just as the rain came in torrents one July day in Toronto, the PNR RailWorks response was strong and fast to rectify train delays and cancellations for longtime customer GO Transit.

After record rainfall and flash flooding that a climatologist referred to as "probably the most intense, wettest moment in Toronto’s history," 35 PNR RailWorks employees along with several contractors responded to multiple track bed washouts and weather-related signal issues on four GO Transit subdivisions.

The flooding occurred when two large storm cells stalled over Toronto. Four inches of rain fell in two hours that Monday. The worst came during afternoon rush hour, paralyzing cars, buses and trains. At one point, flood water came over the tracks and into a train on the Bala Subdivision. The 1,400 Richmond Hill line passengers had to be ferried off the train a few at a time in small inflatable boats.

On the Weston Sub, PNR RailWorks employees and contractors repaired three smaller washouts to allow GO Transit to restore service in time for the Tuesday morning commuter rush. Other workers, on the Bala Sub, removed trees and debris and repaired damage at a washout around mile 10.2, finishing their work around 7 p.m. Tuesday in time for the Wednesday morning commute. Damage was worst on Lakeshore West along Lake Ontario, with washouts on all three main line tracks. PNR RailWorks had the lines back in service by Wednesday morning.

One of the biggest challenges for the Signals & Communications (S&C) Division was the loss of power on the Oakville and Newmarket subs. Employees moved generators to crossings to maintain backup power to the automatic crossing protection devices. With too few generators to dedicate one to each crossing, the S&C Division rotated them through the night and the next day until power was restored.

It required similar resolve to get ballast to the Oakville washout site. In the west end of Toronto, 24 trucks loaded up with 500 tons of aggregate, then made their way cautiously down dark streets without functioning traffic signals. With access to washout sites cut off by water or water damage, trucks were forced to dump aggregate about 2 miles from the site, where it was loaded to rail cars for delivery to the washout areas.

PNR RailWorks Director - GO Maintenance Ron Marshall said the inter-divisional coordination and communication were exemplary, with Signal Operations Manager Justin Veillieux and Assistant Regional Manager Bob Bertram working side by side at the various locations to coordinate efforts.

"I was with Bob Bertram the first night during the storm, surveying the damage on the Oakville Sub," Ron said. "Bob was tasked with coordinating and supervising the track restoration efforts. One after another, every manager at PNR RailWorks called Bob to offer manpower, material or equipment, or any other help he might need, as soon as he needed it."

GO Transit was quick to express its thanks. In a message to RailWorks Executive Vice President John August, GO Transit President Gary McNeil wrote that through its efforts, PNR RailWorks "proved that they are part of our family!" In another note, Vice President of GO Operations C. Paul Finnerty praised PNR RailWorks. "The amount of damage was staggering, and we were prepared for significant service interruptions for several days," he wrote. "However, the PNR team performed the impossible, and by the morning rush (two days later), we were able to operate our full schedule of trains through the impacted areas.

"Please pass on our thanks to your team. We are happy to have you as a transportation service partner."

In the deluge, almost 5 inches of rain were recorded at Pearson International Airport, breaking Toronto’s single-day rainfall record set in 1954. The former record was established over a 22-hour period; the new record was set in only seven hours.