So, how was your commute home last evening?
Mine began by boarding the 5:30 p.m. GO train that leaves nightly from Toronto’s Union Station and travels due north to my home in the suburb of Thornhill, a ride that normally takes 35 minutes.
Last night, my journey home took seven-and-a-half hours and ended with our train’s anxious, weary and decidedly damp passengers stumbling over railway tracks in pitch-black darkness toward the nearest road and emergency personnel. Home was still a bus ride away but most of us were absurdly grateful just to get off that waterlogged train.
The torrential rain had been pounding the city for roughly 40 minutes when our train came to a dead stop 10 minutes after leaving the station.
A GO official immediately announced over the public-address system that the train was stopped due to flooding on the tracks. Then he came back on again to deliver the even more disappointing news that our train would be turning back to Union, which naturally elicited a collective groan among the 1,000 or so passengers on-board.
Twenty minutes later, the same GO official came back on the speaker to inform us that we wouldn’t be going back to Union after all, since the tracks were also flooded in that direction. And right around then, the tiny Asian lady sitting directly opposite me pointed out the window and in a tiny voice she said, “Look, look, look, water getting higher.”
For those commuters who haven’t had the pleasure, the standard GO train has three passenger levels, not unlike a low-rise apartment building.
The 5:30 GO commute is naturally full capacity in passengers most weekdays and I was situated on the middle level on the last car of the train. The rain was still sheeting down outside and we all watched as the water inched higher and higher.
And higher still. In less than 20 minutes, the tracks were no longer visible.
And since the rain wasn’t letting up, the water just kept rising. Passengers on the lower level vacated the premises once it reached the doors and began streaming in.
It took less than an hour for the entire lower portion of the train to fill with muddy brown water from the adjacent Don River. Technically speaking, we were in the river.
Nobody panicked (yet), and passengers still kept a modicum of good humour, even when the water kept rising, up and over the stairs. Nobody was amused, however, when our middle level began to slowly fill with water.
Most passengers took off their socks and shoes and rolled up their pant legs. The passengers who had previously been seated in the lower level had relocated to higher ground. The Asian lady, obviously realizing we were in for a long night, took out a fresh bag of bagels and offered them to those sitting around her. Then she bolted to the upper level.
And with the lower level waist-deep in water, things were now getting crowded on the train. My shoes were already soaked from the walk to the train station, but I took them off anyway.
And how swiftly rising water seems to rise when you’re right in the middle of it. In the blink of an eye, the brackish water in our compartment was well above the ankles, but at least it had stopped rising. So began the waiting game.
By 9:30 p.m., we had heard five or six announcements from the same GO CSA (Customer Service Assistant) assuring us that emergency personnel were on the way.
To a person, every passenger was glued to a cell phone, either phoning loved ones or looking for details on various media outlets. A woman with an iPad streaming live video of our GO nightmare was suddenly very popular.
From our compartment window, we could see a phalanx of police cars, fire trucks and EMS vehicles lined up along a roadway to our west. Although they were less than a hundred yards way, it was fairly apparent they couldn’t do anything until the water level outside dropped.
By this point, we had been on the train for four hours. People were getting hungry and there was much muttered concern among the passengers about using the bathrooms. The washrooms located on the lower level were completely flooded.
Some minor drama ensued. With the air conditioning shut off it was beyond stuffy on the train and a woman on the upper, much dryer level had an asthma attack. A frantic call went out for an inhaler, which was proffered by a fellow passenger almost immediately.
Another woman on our level had an anxiety episode and kept telling people she had to get off the train, over and over. Her fellow passengers gave her a drink of water and she quickly calmed down.