Nicolette Lopes wanted to get to work, Toronto ice storm had other ideas

Jan. 17, 2013

Nicolette Lopes relies on public transit to get to class and her job in Toronto.
On the morning of Dec. 23, she got ready to do her usually routine of riding the streetcar to the subway station. That’s when things started to go wrong.
“I had to get to work but the GO train was a half hour late, then the subway lines were frozen and weren’t running at all,” she said. “The city was an absolute mess.”
She thought she would try a streetcar, but it wasn’t running either. After failing to hail a cab, she began to make the long walk.
“Needless to say I was late for work,” she said.
The Ryerson University student wasn’t alone that day.
About 250,000 people spent days without power. All streetcar services within the city and the Scarborough RT were shut down.
Roads were littered with branches and many made impassable, limiting the number of cabs running in the city. The only available option for many was to walk.
Many awoke after a chilly night to their cars crushed under the weight of whole trees and branches littered across their properties. Damage is estimated to being in the hundreds of millions for the city.
Lopes’ family threw their annual Christmas party the night of the storm and was left with rotting food and bags of garbage for days.
“The house was a complete mess, it was like the night after the party for five days,” she said.
On Christmas Eve, many Torontians sat in the dark, in multiple layers of clothes wishing for a Christmas miracle, power. Instead, they spent days without it.
The TTC scrambled to repair streetcar tracks. Overhead wires were covered with ice and workers had to break ice off by hand with hammers.
Alan Gallagher is a vehicle repair technician for the TTC and he was there to witness the mess.
“There’s usually 200 or more street cars out on the roads, but 45 in the yard had frozen air systems.”
Air systems operate the brakes on streetcars.
The subway system faired better than the streetcars due to a system called mainline storage, Gallagher said.
“They park the subway cars in the tunnels over night to keep them out of the elements and ensure they can run the next day,” he said. “A worker sits in the train over night, it’s a boring job.”
Unfortunately, the severity of the storm prevented this from being effective in many cases.
By Dec. 27, almost 90 per cent of power was restored to residents, but not after a loss of food and Christmas spirit.
The city has offered residents affected by the blackout $100 grocery gift cards to replaced soiled food.
Mayor Rob Ford has also called on Premier Kathleen Wynne to help fund the pricey cleanup.