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GO Transit cancels trains
Published: December 19th 2008
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Treacherous road conditions expected to continue as blinding snow, wind hammer GTA

GO Transit has cancelled several afternoon-rush hour trains on the Lakeshore East and West lines, adding to commuter headaches as the city continues to be pounded by blinding flurries and 40-km/h winds.

The 4:13 p.m., 4:43 p.m., 5:13 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. trains from Union Station to Oakville have all been cancelled, as has the 5:33 p.m. train from Union to Pickering because of the treacherous weather conditions.

Westbound passengers can catch the Union to Burlington train - leaving Union at 4:13 p.m., 4:47 p.m., 5:19 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. - which will be making all stops along the way.

Commuters heading to Pickering can get on the 5:53 p.m. train to Oshawa, which will also make each stop.

Roads and highways in and around the GTA have been blanketed with thick, wet snow, leading to dozens of spinouts and crashes including a multi-vehicle collision on Hwy. 400 southbound near King Rd.

The highway has been closed at Aurora Rd. while emergency crews help "the walking wounded" and tow trucks clear the debris, said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Dave Woodford.

The chain-reaction crash happened just after 11:30 a.m. when a tractor-trailer jackknifed near the King Rd. overpass. Cars following the truck lost control on the slippery road and crashed into one another, Woodford said.

At least 20 vehicles were involved in the collision, and five people were taken to hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

"It's awful out here, but it could have been worse," said Woodford, adding that the vehicles were travelling at a slower speed.

Environment Canada is predicting the flurries to dwindle around 7 p.m. after pummelling the city with about 20 centimetres of snow.

But the driving conditions won't necessarily improve once the snow's stopped falling, said Toronto-based meteorologist Geoff Coulson.

"The problem is the wind will stay gusty, so we might suffer from whiteouts with all the freshly-fallen snow being blown around."

School buses were cancelled in Peel and Halton regions in anticipation of the blizzard, and the Toronto Catholic District School Board cancelled afternoon bus service for kindergarten students. The Catholic board also dismissed all students in wheelchairs at 1 p.m. to avoid transportation problems with the hazardous conditions.

Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington could see as much as 25 centimetres, Environment Canada predicted.

Morning travel from Pearson International Airport was mostly unaffected, but a number of flights scheduled to depart from mid-morning onward were cancelled due to worsening weather conditions.

Greater Toronto Airport Authority spokesperson Trish Krale said the airport expects about 150 cancellations for inbound and outbound flights throughout the day, due to conditions here and at other airports. The airport had about 1,200 flights scheduled for today. Delays are proving unpredictable, she said, noting the "minute-by-minute" changes. She said snow crews have been working since before the storm began and are trying to prevent any accumulation that could compromise travel.

John Mangel and Leesa Sikes were stranded in Toronto on a stopover from Beijing and Hong Kong, respectively. Both were heading to Chicago on their way home to Kansas City for the holidays.

They hoped their 6:18 a.m. flight, scheduled to take off before the snow hit, would escape the round of cancellations on U.S. destinations. It didn't.

"By the time we get home, it'll be time to go back to China," Sikes joked as they waited for another flight tentatively scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

"If I were a betting man, I'd say the odds (of getting out today) are not good," Mangel added.

At close to noon, Bill Roberts and Sharon Laffity were finally checking for their Sunwing flight to Cuba, which had been postponed from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"Hopefully, we're getting out this afternoon, but that remains to be seen," said Roberts, who planned to tour historical revolution sites in Santa Clara.

The bleary-eyed pair said the airline made the wait as painless as possible, offering them free breakfast and a hotel room to rest until departure. But they chose to stay at the airport to catch the earliest flight out.

Others managed to outfly the storm, though not without some anxiety.

"We heard we should rebook, so we thought, 'what are we going to do?' " said Rick Clark, waiting in line with his family for a flight to Hawaii via Phoenix.

They decided to take their chances and, after waiting in three different lines, were told they'd make it out as planned.

Once they get to Hawaii, "it doesn't matter anymore," Karen Clark said of the travel complications.

As the early birds waited hopefully in line, they got an unexpected jolt of Christmas cheer from Santa Claus himself - or at least, the airport version.

Children pressed against the security barriers and reached out to him as he ho-ho-ho'ed his way through the crowd, handing out candy canes to nervous and weary travellers.

A spokesperson for Air Canada said international flights are unlikely to suffer from delays or cancellations.

In anticipation of today's storm, Air Canada and WestJet offered passengers the chance to reschedule flights at no charge, but airline officials admitted few would be able to find alternate seats, given the glut of holiday travellers.

"One thing I want to stress is, this time of year, the planes are full," said Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for Air Canada. "There's not much flexibility."

Toronto Police are urging motorists to drive slowly and allow for at least twice as much time on the road tomorrow. A tip sheet on winter driving issued yesterday reminded drivers to leave space between vehicles, and to begin slowing down early for traffic and intersections.

Those considering the train as a backup should act fast: VIA Rail has already reached "holiday travel volumes," and expects remaining seats to fill up as a result of the storm.

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