Stranded on the GO Train in the #TOFlood

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July 10, 2013


The stranded, flooded GO train - John was in the last car 
Credit: The Canadian Press / Winston Neutel 

John Steadman is our newly-installed Director of Development & Strategy here at Context. He is a regular commuter on the GO Richmond Hill line. This past Monday night's commute was a story he'll be able to tell for many years to come as he was on the flooded train, waiting hours for rescue (or the water to go down). In this blog, Lorna interviews him about his experience. 

John — you had a few hours of intense solidarity with the Alberta flood victims on the Go Train home from work.   When did you start to realize you were in trouble? 

The train approached a section of track that had flooded, which made the tracks potentially unsafe.  As the staff evaluated the situation with their dispatch, it was decided that it would be best to return to the station, and they communicated this well to passengers.  I was going to call home to let my wife know I’d be late, but realised that the train wasn’t moving yet, so I thought it best to call once I was back at the station.  The staff moved the train only a few feet and stopped again.  We knew then, that there would be a very long delay, and moments later, the staff came on to  say that the tracks behind us were also flooding, and that they were looking for a solution.

Lorna: 1200 people on a rain flooded train, what happens to temperment, mood?  

This was a very full train, at the height of rush hour.  Our on site estimates from staff put the passenger count closer to 1400.  I can only speak for those around me, but there was a sense of calmness and patience.  As time went on, there were some medical situations that came up, such as a pregnant woman who was in some distress, and a person suffering an Asthma attack.  In both cases, the passengers did what they could to assist.  When there was word of the asthma attack, a passenger a couple cars ahead passed their inhaler back through the train to assist the stranger. Such was the mood for most of the delay.  It was a bit frustrating for some to do the math and figure out how long it was going to take to get us all out using the small boats that could only take 5-10 at a time.  It was going to take a while, so we just settled in and let them figure things out.


John's point-of-view from where he sat in the flooded GO train

Lorna: What about food and the bathroom on a stranded train?  

The bathrooms were working, but half of them were underwater, so although there were long lines, there was generally no problem.  Emergency workers had food and water for us once we got off, but logistics did not allow them to get these to us while waiting in the train.  Passengers who had food with them freely shared it with the strangers around them.  Early on in the delay, a young woman in our car shared a tray of cupcakes that she had with her, and this really set the tone for us all.

Lorna: So how did you get rescued ?

John: Initially, the rescue plan was to ferry passengers off using small boats crewed by the Toronto Marine Police unit, and this was how they got the high priority passengers off who were experiencing health issues.  It was very dangerous as the water was about 5 feet deep and with a very quick current.  Some who got impatient early tried to swim for it, only to be left clutching at trees and waiting to be rescued.  As time went on, the water began to subside, and our patience was rewarded.  I was one of the last to exit the train, I was able to get out and walk along the track to higher ground – after 7 hours waiting in the train.  I was safe and sound at home at 2:30am, having boarded the train at 5:30pm   

Lorna: You know our work here always looks for where people encounter Christ in life events.  John, what was going on spiritually for you in this discomfort?   

All of us were engulfed in uncertainty for hours.  We felt helpless as the water rose, and though we knew it was serious, we stayed calm largely because of the incredible efforts of the train crew.  It was all hands on deck, and from security to engineer, they walked through the train and instilled calm and order.  Life was valuable, and simple gestures of love like sharing cupcakes or an inhaler with strangers were very powerful images for us.  On that train were executives, and business people who hours before were calling the shots and leading- yet we were all equal in the face of this crisis.  It was humbling to recognise that we were in need, and there were others there to save us- many of whom risking their life in the fast current.  It often takes times of crisis to jar us from our contentment and make us realise that we need saving, and this was driven home to us once we made it off the train and saw that it was the Salvation Army who had set up a command post to provide food and water for our physical needs, and give us all a glimpse of our eternal need in the midst of our crisis.

John - - thank you.  We’ve had a few shake-ups in our safe horizons of this country.   Now we’re moving our prayers over to the train tragedy at Lac-Megantic, Quebec.   



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