A Bigger Loop at Union Station?

In all the discussion of new transit lines serving the waterfront, we are also getting into the question of capacity at Union Station Loop.

Since many people will not have seen this design before, and a good quality drawing was just handed out by the TTC at a recent waterfront meeting, I’m posting it here.


The design shows a scheme for a new loop at Union at an interim stage in its development.  Here’s how the design works:

There is space underneath the teamways and outside of the existing tunnel structure to fit two more tracks plus platform space in the north-south direction.  In this design, you will see that the existing (now centre) tracks are disconnected at the south end and all streetcars take the outer loop past the new platform.  Inbound cars unload on the east side of the loop and outbound cars load on the west side.  There is room for four CLRVs on each platform.

Note that the existing platform space at the north end is expanded, and connects directly onto the new northbound Yonge Subway platform to be built as part of the Union Station expansion now underway.

Sometime in the future, if demand warrants it, the loop could be changed so that the east platform was reserved for cars bound to the eastern waterfront while the west platform was used for western waterfront services.  The inner tracks would be reconnected and used as bypass tracks so that the two sets of services could run through the loop somewhat independently of each other.

A further option, although tricky, would be the entry of a “Bremner LRT” (the proposed inner end of the Western Waterfront line) that would punch into the tunnel just south of the loop.  Dodging the pillars would be tricky, but apparently it is possible.

10 thoughts on “A Bigger Loop at Union Station?

  1. It looks like most of this design could be built without interfering with current use, which is nice, and I like the exit direct to the GO station.

    But if new streetcars are likely to be longer than ALRVs, are the platforms long enough to fit two of them?

    Steve:  The cars shown on the drawing are CLRV-length, and the proposed new cars are not quite double the length of a CLRV.  Hence two will easily fit on each platform.

    I also worry this layout won’t have the capacity to serve fully built-out waterfront east and west services, though that might be a constraint of the location more than the specific design.  My first reaction was that with double-ended streetcars there wouldn’t need to be a loop at all — you could have four terminating tracks, and put additonal platforms adjacent to the tracks this diagram shows as disconnected.  But that might make things worse by not providing any place for arriving streetcars to go if all four platforms were full, and the switches required might not fit between all those pillars.

    Steve:  That’s an alternative design, but the complexities of switching what would become a four-track terminal could be daunting.  I think the real question that remains is whether, in fact, all of the proposed new waterfront lines will actually be built.


  2. Steve

    First of all, the layout looks much better than the present looping facility.  I think back when the present loop was designed and being built, transit advocates, many TTC employees working on the construction, probably the transportation people and anyone that had an interest in transit knew that you DON’T build a streetcar stop in a loop or on a sharp curve.  So, ever since the line opened the transit user has been squished into an area that really is not built of handle large crowds efficiently.  I think any solution where you unload and load on the straight would be an improvement.  Plus, much bigger walkways and platforms for loading, unloading and waiting are definitely required.

    Steve:  I remember meeting with TTC engineers who claimed (I am not making this up) that the current loop cound handle 7,000 passengers per hour.  This was either an outright lie, or monumental incompetence.  Take your pick.

    This brings to mind another thing that I think should be looked at in the planning.  Going off-topic I would like to mention the downtown trackage between Queen, Wellington, York and Church streets, is an excellent example of what a City with a streetcar system should have in the downtown core, for flexibility in keeping its commitment of “service to the public”.  The City and the TTC don’t seem to utilize this to its fullest advantage. 

    Over the years as different underground walkways were built, or intersections rebuilt we have seen the gradual deterioration of the downtown trackage.  It seemed when trackage and overhead came out, for whatever reason, if it was the opposite way to the current traffic flow, it never went back in.  I don’t know if this was a “plan” or if the various departments just decided that it’s no longer required.  True, there are many one-way streets in that area, but a one-way street is but a council vote away from running the other way!  It’s not cast in stone, so why is the dismantling of the downtown core trackage allowed?

    One only has to look at the centre lane on Jarvis Street every weekday where traffic direction is reversed in the am and pm rush hours, to see that a signal system can be installed on a one-way street where vehicles (such as streetcars) could run in the opposite direction to mainstream traffic, if and when required!

    Steve:  Parts of the TTC really still don’t “get it” about the streetcar system.  Several years ago, when the intersection of King and York was rebuilt, it would have been a perfect opportunity to add an east to north curve for King diversions.  But, no, the bean counters were trying to save money, and so we didn’t get a necessary curve.  Some day, I hope we will see a rational plan for which track we will keep to maximise flexibility in downtown rerouting.

    I’m not sure we need to maintain “wrong way” track on the one-way streets, but we do need to ensure that the “right way” track is in good shape and has all of the connections necessary to making it useable for diversions.

    Now, back on-topic, this is where I think the transit planners should be looking at an alternative to the underground line to Union Station.  If tracks were installed on York between Queens Quay and Wellington, with switching capabilities at York and Bremner (future) this could relieve serious delays for passenger movement into the downtown core area, should there be a problem in the Bay St tunnel, the Bremner tunnel (future) or Union Station loop.  (Eg: fire, accidents, flooding, disabled cars, wire problems, etc.)

    It just seams odd that new light rail lines are being planned, along the lakefront, with no alternative to get people into downtown should a problem occur underground.


  3. This is what should have been built in the first place, and also at Spadina Station.  One thought is if they are going to use double ended cars (big question mark),which have doors on both sides then would it be possible to put the track where the platform is and the platform where the track is.  If they did this then could they fit another track to the inside of the new platforms so that both the loading and unloading platforms would have a track on either side.  This would allow for separate tracks for loading and unloading both Eastern and Western waterfront LRTs.

    Why did they build such a tiny platform in the first place?  I know that the original line did not have much in way of projected ridership but the current system was a ridiculous idea.  The LRT platform at Spadina is not much better as it could not hold two, 2 car trains of LRV’s if they ever decide to mu them.

    Steve:  See my remarks in Harold McMann’s comment about the competence of TTC engineers who worked on this line.  As for Spadina Station, I don’t think it can even hold two new LRVs, one at the loading and one at the unloading position given that you can’t fit 4 CLRVs on that platform today.  Also, the pocket track is too short to hold one of the new cars. 

    I also found an interesting paper by the Transportation Research Board’s Transportation Cooperative Research Project at this link on derailment and wear problems on the centre truck of low floor LRV.  In particular report TRCP 114 has a detailed study of problems concerning wheel wear, derailing and vibration caused by the double articulation and independent rotating wheels of unpowered centre trucks.  Derailment gets worse as the radius of the curve decrease.  The minimum curve they show is 15 m, (page 32) about 4 m greater than Toronto’s minimum.  They also mention that low-floor LRV’s in Toronto would be problematic because of the curve radius and the use of single point turn outs. It makes interesting reading.

    This site has lots of papers that your readers might be interested in.


  4. I don’t understand why they don’t just connect the original tunnel tracks with the new platform tracks with switches at the south end.  Surely that can’t be a substantial cost compared to the cost of the whole project, and the benefits of two bypass tracks should be immediately apparent.  Why wait?


  5. Though I agree that the direction of one-way streets can change, I suspect that having streetcar trackage only going in one direction may make Council think very carefully about doing this.  It does seem rather wasteful to put two tracks on one-way streets just in case.

    On the state of the downtown trackage I have a document I got from TTC a couple of years ago with the “Tangent Track Replacement Schedule” and the “Special Track Replacement Schedule” from 2005-2009.  Apart from the one-year (?) delay on St Clair and the fact that the track on Roncesvalles from Dundas to Queen was not done as scheduled in 2006 (or the Fleet Street section – which will be done in 2007 though it was scheduled for 2005), they are keeping to it fairly well.

    According to these schedules the track on both Richmond and Wellington from Church to York is supposed to be done in 2008 and that on Adelaide from Charlotte to Church in 2009.  Parliament is scheduled for 2008 too.  Since the track on both Richmond and Adelaide has deteriorated so much it now has gaps filled with concrete neither street can support streetcars – though I recently saw a ‘lost’ streetcar bravely tackling the stretch of Adelaide from Victoria to Church.

    From these schedules I think that 2007 is the year TTC plan to do Fleet Street (apparently starting in mid-May), most of Dundas Street and Church Street.  I assume they also hope to finish St Clair.

    Perhaps you, Steve, have a more up-to-date track schedule – or will have once the 2007-2011 Capital Budget is approved.

    Steve:  The Adelaide track east of Victoria is used now and then for short turns, but it’s the only passable part of Adelaide east of Charlotte.

    When I see this year’s list of projects confirmed, I will post it here.  Fleet Street is definite for mid-May to the start of August, and will also include the curves at the west end of Exhibition Loop.  We’re not sure yet what part of St. Clair will be done this year, and rumblings point to the far west end along with Oakwood and St. Clair West Station Loops. 


  6. It looks as though this design solves the current issues, and gives the station what we need now; but does it really build for the future?  There are two issues here.

    Does it really make sense that all these major streetcar lines are dumping people at Union Station.  Surely in the long term it would make more sense to extend the line up (or under) Bay Street to Queen or Dundas.  I’m not thinking that this would/should happen in the near future, but surely any rebuild of the station should take this possibility into account.
    The whole future east-west streetcar system seems to be based on a dedicated streetcar then comes in on the Queensway, works along some new dedicated alignment to the Ex, along Fleet, down Bathurst, along Queens Quay, and then up Bay.  This presents two problems.

    It dumps all the passengers heading downtown on these streetcars at the intersection of Front/Bay, rather than King/Bay and Queen/Bay where they are heading (resulting in even more traffic in Union Station, rather than the other 4 nearby stations), and
    while the service might prove faster than using King or Queen, it is a lot longer.

    With the Front Street Extension still a major part of the future City of Toronto plans, isn’t this the time to be looking at putting a dedicated streetcar line down the centre of it, from Union Station to Dufferin, and then along some new dedicated structure from there to the Queensway?  Obviously some kind of scenario like this, would impact the station design.

    Steve:  An extension north up Bay is physically impossible because the streetcar loop is at the same elevation as the subway.  Indeed, the new Yonge northbound platform connects directly to the LRT loop.

    The Waterfront West line is currently proposed to come into downtown not via the route you describe, but via the new “Bremner Boulevard” route.  This swings northeast off of Fleet Street at Fort York Boulevard, crosses Bathurst just south of the bridge over the railway (this intersection will be redesigned probably this year), continue east on Bremner (which doesn’t exist yet that far west) and duck through the north side of the Air Canada Centre at basement level to get into the Bay Street tunnel.  The loop connection is a bit tricky due to structural supports for the railway viaduct, and is not shown on the drawing.

    The TTC also has plans to run a service from Bathurst Street to Union via the Bremner alignment as described in the Waterfront West draft EA terms of reference.


  7. Agreed with James, the ‘bypass’ tracks should be connected immediately, as the TTC would not have to stop service if they need to be connected (when the East Waterfront lines are built) to connect them.

    Also, is it necessary that both platforms need to be in service at this point in time, with only 1 1/2 streetcar routes using this loop?  (Considering the headways on 509, and that both routes overlap for a majority of the 509 distance, most passengers can take either to their destination.)  The east platform can be left closed off until they are needed.

    Steve:  There are problems today with heavy loads of passengers getting off and on at the same time.  The two separate platforms get rid of this, at least until the services are split onto their own separate sides of the loop.


  8. So let me get this straight – The TTC expects to be able to efficiently and effectively run four routes terminating through a single loop track?!? Does anyone else see a big problem with the interlining of the 509, 510, and East and West Waterfront lines? One problem at Union Station cuts back the 509 and 510 all the way back to Spadina/Queen’s Quay, and the Waterfront lines to who knows how far. Those by-pass tracks should be connected from the beginning and the routes separated between the platforms so that any particular route doesn’t have to wait for the other platform to clear of other streetcars. In other words, each route will always navagate only one platform track and one by-pass track through the loop. Services don’t have to be frequent on all routes for problems to develop easily, but special events could quickly become a disaster.

    Perhaps there should also be ramps to street level just before the station so there is an emergency routing possible via street track or even some sort of run-through surface routing on Bay north of Front Street. What about a Bay Street Streetcar line to attract more office-worker ridership and handle closures and crush-loads on the subway lines? Nobody seems to be offering any solutions to the horrific and dangerous over-crowding on the Yonge Line. And why is it that the Union Station subway platform work is going to wall-off the south side of the existing platform? Wouldn’t we be best served by opening both sides of a train on the south track like could occur in future at Sheppard/Yonge on the Sheppard Line? It would only be necessary during busy periods, but it seems like it’s worth keeping the option available. No sense spending the extra money on an unnecessary wall.

    We have to think about these things in terms of the consequences ten or twenty years down the road. If a provision for at least one express track had been put in when the Yonge Subway was constructed it probably would have put-off today’s overcrowding for quite some time. Just try adding that track now! (Although, the road bridges in the open-cut stretch were built wide enough to accomodate three or even four tracks… Express from Bloor to Eglinton anyone? Okay, I’m getting off-topic…)


  9. I recently looked at the current structure under the Bay st. underpass at Union Stn. A recent track addition to Union station required the bridge to be extended to the south. This extension was built using a different supporting structure than the rest of the bridge, and there are now 4 large posts within each teamway right where the streetcar tunnel would have to go. This would seem to greatly complicate the engineering of these tunnels.


  10. Steve,

    I am wondering, hypothetically, could streetcars enter the proposed new Union Station loop via Lake Shore East and bypass the existing Queen’s Quay stop?

    Steve: Only if a connection into the tunnel from the east is built at, say, the south end of the rail corridor. If we did that, the followup question is why go into Union Loop at all. Instead, through route with the Bremner / WWLRT that will come in from the west at the same point, and have the station at the south end of Union roughly under the ACC’s north promenade.


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