John Walker and service dog

Seven-year-old train superfan gets behind-the-scenes GO tour

Metrolinx is sharing stories about people on the spectrum to mark World Autism Month.

Apr 6, 2023

His room is plastered with transit maps.

He’s even drawn-up his own maps to show his ideas for future GO lines.

And instead of playing with action figures, he does his own online research about public transit.

So, when a request came in for seven-year-old John Walker to learn more about GO first-hand, Metrolinx quickly arranged a tour.

His mother, Leanna Karremans, says much of this hyper-focus on transit is part of his autism.

Metrolinx has a proud history of accommodating tour requests from the autism community and with World Autism Month taking place in April, it was the perfect time for a tour.

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John Walker, a seven-year-old transit superfan, makes his own GO Trains at home. (Leanna Karremans photo)

The day started with a ride down the Barrie Line from the family’s home station in Aurora to Union Station, where they met a group of Metrolinx employees.

When asked about the ride in, true to his reputation, Walker showed his attention to detail, “54 minutes,” he exclaimed before sharing a video clip of the trip on his iPad.

After leaving Union, Walker was treated to a tour of the GO Transit Willowbrook maintenance facility.

His first stop was in a room with a training simulator, used to train GO Train drivers.

Essentially the most realistic video game Walker will ever play, the simulator’s screens showed digitalized images of the Lakeshore East Line while he worked the controls.

“Let’s see how fast you can go,” Walker naturally wondered while working the throttle.

Then, after travelling slowly down the virtual train, and guiding it into Danforth Station, he showed his train savvy by announcing “all aboard!”.

John Walker on simulator with Dave Lynn

Walker operated a simulated train, while train operations supervisor Dave Lynn looked on. (Leanna Karremans photo)

Next, in an UP Express maintenance bay he got three views of a train that most people never get – in the cab car, from a walkway above and even below the tracks.

After the “track protector” switch was hit to lock in a safety system, Walker got to walk under the train, touch the wheels and see underneath the train.

Of course, after doing this, the next stop was at a hand washing station to remove the grease.

John Walker under train

A stop at an UP Express maintenance bay provided the opportunity to see a train from underneath. (Leanna Karremans photo)

Views from behind the controls

Walker had two separate opportunities to ride in the cab car at the back of an eastbound Lakeshore East GO Train, offering a unique view of the tracks. He got to sit in two different styles of cab cars – one from the mid-2000s and one more recent.

Both models had a variety of levers, dials, buttons and communications tools, but one was particularly exciting for Walker.

Walker was clearly fascinated by the digital speedometer, shouting out the speed as the train picked-up speed. Then, as it began braking, he counted down the numbers before finally announcing, “At zero now!” as it stopped at Clarkson GO.

Before the journey resumed, he learned that the double beep customers can hear before a train departs is the ‘two to go’ signal from the Customer Service Ambassador alerting the train operator it’s safe to move.

John Walker in cab on LSE

The cab car gave Walker a unique perspective on the Lakeshore West Line (Mike Winterburn photo)

Back at Union Station, Walker took time to enjoy a Happy Meal in the food court by the York Concourse before meeting a team of friendly Metrolinx Special Constables from the Customer Protective Services team.

After that came the grand finale of the day – Walker got to meet two members of the K9 Unit – Dash, a Labrador Retriever who works in Union Station, and Gus, a Chocolate Lab who stays outside.

John Walker and service dog

At Union Station, Walker met Brenton Hoffman, a customer protection officer, and Gus from the K9 unit. (Andrea Hafeez photo)

After a successful tour and a short wait in the concourse there was still one more train ride left for Walker – back home with a fresh set of iPad videos and memories that will last a lifetime.

But first, even though kids GO free, John insisted on having the honour of tapping his mother’s PRESTO card.

John Walker PRESTO

Of course, the trip home could not begin until Walker tapped his mother’s PRESTO card. (Mike Winterburn photo)

Walker’s tour was in the lead up to World Autism Month, an annual opportunity to raise awareness, increase inclusivity and celebrate autism. The Metrolinx team that hosted him enjoyed showing Walker and his mom around the facilities. With a proud history of providing individual and unique experiences for members of the community, Metrolinx strives to create an inclusive, educational experience for those members with a keen interest in transit and transit systems.

Metrolinx looks forward to welcoming Walker and other member of the community in the future.

Keep an eye out for more World Autism Month stories like this on Metrolinx social media channels.

by Mike Winterburn Metrolinx communications senior advisor