It was a bright summer day at the Oshawa GO station, Dan McDonnell remembers.
A woman in her 80s was getting off the train carrying a heavy suitcase without wheels.
Go Transit’s McDonnell saw a customer service ambassador (CSA) ask her where she was going. She told him that she was heading to the parking lot.
“I would love to help you bring [your suitcase] to the parking lot,” the CSA said, then picked it up, walked it out to the parking lot and put it in the trunk of the waiting car.
If that were my mother, I would hope somebody would do that for her.
—GO customer service ambassador
When the CSA got back to the platform, McDonnell stepped off the train and asked him why he did that.
“His answer to me really solidified what I feel GO Transit’s customer service should be,” McDonnell said. “He said to me, ‘If that were my mother, I would hope somebody would do that for her.’
“I was floored. … That’s one of my all time favourite stories that I love to tell people. I tell that in all our information sessions to new recruits. I say, ‘This is the benchmark right here.’”
That benchmark applies to all GO employees, not just CSAs, said Anne Marie Aikins, strategic communications manager at Metrolinx.
“All these people are highly skilled with specialized training in order to maintain all that equipment and keep it safe for people,” she said. “It’s a massive undertaking behind the scenes that we just depend on.”
Extreme weather poses many challenges for the staff responsible for maintaining the entire GO rail system.
“It’s kind of a reality now that we’re experiencing more severe weather,” Aikins said. “Any kind of extreme weather impacts infrastructure of all kinds.”
Rails overheating in the summer is a big concern, she said.
“You can start fires, trains overheat: all kinds of problems like those,” Aikins said.
In the winter, freezing is the largest issue and affects things like rail switches, lights and train doors, she said.
But, Aikins insists, GO’s infrastructure “really is built for Canadian weather.”
On the train while in operation, transit safety officers (TSO) support the CSAs.
“They attend whenever there is any kind of incident,” Aikins said. “Their job is to ensure that everyone gets home safely.”
It’s thanks to a TSO who demonstrated the same kind of customer service as the CSA that helped the woman with her suitcase that Sarah Vopini got home safe her first time riding a GO train.
“He told us our tickets were invalid because it said ‘Union to Clarkson’. When he told us we were on the wrong train my heart sank,” she said. “Instead of giving me the $100 fine, he radioed the next station to let them know the situation and he personally made sure that we got on the right train home.
“If there’s one thing GO does right, it’s helping people.”