Taking Train 48 down memory lane
The cast from the Canadian TV show of the early 2000s reunite on the GO after almost 15 years
Jan 4, 2019
Raoul Bhaneja walks from the platform at Union Station and boards the Lakeshore West GO train towards Burlington. He smiles as he steps into familiar surroundings.
Behind him are Joanne Boland and Lisa Merchant, looking at each other in disbelief, followed by Paul Braunstein, who at this point is speechless.
They are moving back in time.
All take a seat in the same quad, excited like kids taking the train for the very first time. But this isn’t their first time on a GO train. In fact, they’ve sat down on seats like these 318 times. And there’s a chance you might have joined them for those rides.
That’s because they were part of the cast of the Global TV show Train 48, a half-hour, live, largely improvised Canadian drama which focused on the lives and daily interactions among commuters on a train.
Train 48 aired from 2003-2005 and was the first of its kind.
“The show was shot the same day that it aired, so it made it quite different,” explains Boland, the actor who played the character of Dana Davin, an aspiring songwriter and music store employee.
“I had never seen anything like that before and we had a pretty big cast.”
There were a dozen characters and the drama also featured guest stars from time to time, including former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps, Comedian Scott Thompson and former Toronto Argonauts legend, Mike “Pinball” Clemons.
The cast are reunited today after almost 15 years since the first episode aired, and the memories roll back.
“The show was very progressive and as an ethnic actor on a Canadian television series, it was nice to see a plotline that puts people first,” says Bhaneja who played Pete Subramani, an ambitious Bay Street stockbroker.
“It wasn’t about being this type of character or this other person; it was about being a real life, every day commuter.”
The show was budget friendly and not actually shot on a moving locomotive coach. A set was built out of salvaged materials from decommissioned GO trains.
“They would slowly rock the camera’s to make it look like it was on a moving train,” recalls Merchant, a veteran of the Second City improve scene.
She played Brenda Murphy, a conservative, clerical, working widow. As an improv specialist, she admires the creativity that was used to recreate the Toronto to Burlington bound trip on the show – a commute tens of thousands make every day on GO.
“The show allowed for real life events to be incorporated and deal with something topical in the news that day,” says Merchant.
“So by the time people got home, they would say “we just read that or we were just talking about that at the office”. We had a lot of creativity and input.”
Not only did Train 48 allow for creative freedom, it created on-screen friendships that lasted long after the ride stopped on production in 2005.
“We became like a real family,” says Boland. “Everyone came to my wedding. We’ve got friendships for life now with the people we’ve worked with on the show.”
The cast still get recognized from their time on Train 48 and they would relish the chance to be a part of a reboot or spin-off but admit it will never be the same.
“It was pre-Facebook, it was pre-smart phone – people had their newspaper out,” explains Braunstein, who played Johnny McLaughlin, a construction foreman.
“I feel like as a society, we were a lot more open to interactions when we were in public places than we are now because we are all generally glued to our phones and screens.”
Riding the GO train may be different now with the Quiet Zone and technology getting in the way of striking up conversation with new people, but Train 48 showed us that when confined in a small space, faced with the same people, it is possible to create meaningful and memorable times.
Or at least an opportunity to nudge a fellow passenger next to you and say: “I wonder what ever happened to those actors? You remember? On that show about strangers on a train….”
by Nitish Bissonauth Metrolinx bilingual editorial content advisor