Connecting the Waterfront West LRT to Union Station

With the EA about to get underway for the WWLRT section from Dufferin to Sunnyside, it’s time to think again about how this line will reach Union Station.

Current plans known to those who follow the issue but not widely publicized assume that the WWLRT will get from Duffferin to Union as follows:

  • A connection along the north edge of Exhibition Place will link up with the existing streetcar loop under the Gardiner Expressway.
  • For the short term, WWLRT cars would run east via the existing 509 Harbourfront route to Union Station Loop.
  • Longer term, a new partly surface and partly underground route would run along Bremner Boulevard and connect into the Bay Street tunnel just south of the railway viaduct at the north edge of the Air Canaad Centre.  Bremner is now under construction west from Spadina to Bathurst where it will meet Fort York Boulevard just south of the Front Street bridge.
  • It is unclear whether a connection would be made via Fort York from Fleet to Bathurst to avoid operation through the Bathurst/Fleet intersection and to eliminate turns at Bathurst/Bremner.

This line suffers from piecemeal planning and it needs to be rethought in the context of changing circumstances and its larger role as part of Transit City.  Several issues remain to be addressed:

  • The planned terminus at Park Lawn is totally inappropriate now that the LRT line is intended to run all the way to Highway 27.  Park Lawn Loop is itself a replacement for the original, abandoned Legion Road scheme that was itself seen as a way of eliminating Humber Loop.  Existing and possible future development on Lake Shore make Park Lawn a nonsensical place to end service.
  • Liberty Village did not exist when the WWLRT was first proposed.  Indeed, the line was intended more to serve development of the Exhibition and included a major terminal at Ontario Place.  This was abandoned due to that agency’s desire to retain its gigantic parking lot rather than have good transit service.  The original Exhibition Loop disappeared under the National Trade Centre.  There was never any plan to serve the area north of the CNR tracks because it was all industrial and the King car was considered to be adequate.  This is no longer the  case.
  • The Front Street Extension refuses to die, and is still proposed as an off-ramp to the Gardiner.  This too is nonsensical as all that is really needed to serve Liberty Village is a local road north of the railway west to Dufferin.  Such a road could include an LRT right-of-way, and this could provide a good service through Liberty Village and other developments east to Bathurst thereby relieving the King car.
  • The Bremner approach to Union Station needs to be presented for public comment and integration in discussions about transit services in the Union Station/Waterfront precincts.  Despite the scheme for a new loop at Union, I have serious doubts that even the expanded loop will handle the combined demands of the Queen’s Quay services (east and west) and the WWLRT. 
  • If the WWLRT doesn’t use the existing Union Station Loop, is there an alternative scheme through the railway corridor?  What happens if Blue 22 is finally abandoned and we consider an LRT approach down the Weston rail corridor into Union?  Could this be shared with the WWLRT?

We are faced with a patchwork of plans from decades of incremental schemes for new transit services in the waterfront, and we risk building a half-baked WWLRT rather than something that will really provide a strong east-west link from Etobicoke through Swansea, Parkdale, and Liberty Village to downtown.

A serious, detailed review of our options is essential. 

19 thoughts on “Connecting the Waterfront West LRT to Union Station

  1. The LRT will never be able to run on the rail corridors. The companies that own the track probably wont allow catenary to be installed, as it limits the height of the trains they can run. (Remeber that many North American freight cars are overheight) Also, it means that the LRVs would need to be standard gauge, and thus cannot use existing street trackage.

    Steve: The intent is not to run on the railways’ tracks, but in the empty space in the rights of way. Yes, there will be issues with overhead heights wherever sidings cross the LRT, and indeed the operating arrangements at such locations are also an issue. However, we need to at least look at the possibilities.


  2. This is an exceptionally exciting post! It kinda makes my day/month/year as I’ve been vexed about the road folly of the FSE and where are the transit options with the distinct preference for a Front St. transitway ripping off the road route and switching it all to transit (no local road either – it’s way too costly for its benefits – maybe $70 to $120 mill but nobody’s costed it out separately)

    The costs of all of the projects are also astounding – the FSE at $255M+, the WWLRT at $350M or so, the adjustments to the Union Loop at c. $150M (if they work) and the road project harms two transit systems too, beyond eating up capital.

    In a March 30 letter from the MofEnv’s James O’Mara signed by David Scott referring to my March 25, 2003 Part II order request on the FSE they write:

    “The ministry’s review of the Part II order requests for this Project continues to be on hold while the City continues its discussions with some of the Part II order requesters and conducts additional studies.” …the “Class Environmental Assessment is a proponent-driven process, the City hsa the option to place a project on-hold in order to resolve issues or conduct additional studies.”

    So the City is the place for change, as we cannot rely on the province nor the EA process to weed out transit-harming clunkers or stand up for transit to make a difference with climate issues.

    Thanks Steve, this is a huge help, and the broader public interest will be well served with a good review of all options, including say, diverting some of the King cars down to Front St. on or beside the Weston rail corridor and then quickly in to the core to enhance the King car service without the rancour of a ROW on King – the transit may go fast, but streetcars will stay with us.

    Steve: Just to be clear, the way I see King being relieved is not to divert King cars via the Weston corridor, but to bleed demand off of the King line to a WWLRT line running across the south end of Liberty Village and into Union Station. In effect, this gives us a new east-west line in, roughly, the line of Front Street.


  3. Steve;

    One thing you don’t mention in the downside of the proposed right of way is that the intersection of Bremner/Fort York Boulevard and Bathurst needs to be rebuilt, along with the Bathurst St. Bridge.

    The bridge will leave barely 15′ clearance above the new park below connecting Fort York to the new housing development to the east. The new bridge will be over 100′ wide.

    The implications of using this route into Union Station are pretty nasty for conditions in this really important new park, which is at the site of the former mouth of Garrison Creek, and the founding place of Toronto.

    This is no place for the usual muddling our way to mediocrity that passes for planning in Toronto.


    Steve: Thanks for adding this point which I had forgotten to mention among the many other problems with this route.


  4. I do tend to agree with you Steve on the better fix being a full LRT line roughly aligned with Front St. and the Extension route and borrowing the Dufferin to Roncesvalles portion of the WWLRT but in terms of the timing of everything, putting in track on or beside the rail corridor is likely a faster fix to bolster the service while the more complex parts get figgered out and built over a few years. I’d be happy to go up to Queen St. too, to divert Queen cars to Front and the connections – why not both?


  5. The one problem that exists and would be helped by a Front St. extension is the traffic jam on WB Front and SB Spadina in pm to get on the Gardiner. This traffic affects the service on SB Spadina almost up to King. I don’t know what the Front Street extension looks like but can they build a simpler version or do something else to solve this problem. The existing light at Front and Spadina has a cycle time that is longer than other signals and it seriously affects other roads around it and the Spadina ROW. I favour transit spending over roads usually but I believe something has to be done to improve the traffic flow here.

    Steve: This is an example of the need for planning of traffic management at the “micro” level. Too often, the TTC’s response is to demand exclusivity over a wide area as the only possible solution, and nothing else is examined. Equally, the Work’s Department’s traffic engineers need to rethink some signal timings that are not transit (or even traffic) supportive.


  6. “piecemeal”, “patchwork”, “incremental”, “half-baked”, “micro”-level planning. Amen!

    Nobody’s stepping far enough back to take in the whole view. Yes, attention has to be paid to detail but it can’t be allowed to tangle and trip us up. Yes, we’re a city of neighbourhoods but the whole point of mass transit is to knit them all together so they can hum like one big motherf**king machine.

    LRVs in France are running WITHOUT overhead catenaries.
    LRVs in Germany are running ON mainline railway tracks.

    Vision, people, Vision!


  7. With regards to Robert Wightman’s concerns about the car traffic troubles at Front and Spadina, and the traffic light timing, if we added another couple of GO trains, would that make it better? From biking in that area occasionally, it seems that most of the cars are single occupant vehicles so it’s a classic case of a single train maybe wiping out a big number of cars – but we’ve not thought of adding just more GO trains either.


  8. Hamish:

    A lot of the people in the cars won’t change mode and don’t care if they are creating a traffic jam for everyone else. Also as more office space is built in the downtown more people will drive. You will never get a 100% modal split for transit.

    Steve: Actually, the number of people driving into downtown to work has stayed more or less constant for decades and recent increases come via GO and walk-ins from nearby residential areas. The bigger problem today is out-commuting by auto from downtown to the burbs.

    One of the problems is that the on ramp WB at Spadina to the Gardiner cannot handle any more vehicles or even what it has efficiently. If something is not done to get some of them off Spadina then they will interfere with the LRT service that comes from the Waterfront West line on Ray Bremner Blvd. Despite the fact that most of us don’t like more roads something is going to have to be done to eliminate the bottlenecks that exist at Yonge, Bay, York and Spadina south from Front to the expressway. You either build another road under the Toronto Terminal Railways yard (Union Station leads) and another WB on ramp or you do something with Front St.

    There might be other options but none jump out at me. The alternative is to close the Spadina on ramp but that will just increase the traffic on Yonge, Bay and York. Sometimes you have to build a road to improve transit if only to get the cars out of the way. I don’t know what the plans are for the front St. Extension but if it was built one way WB it might minimize the impact and solve to problem. I hope that there is another way but I have not figured it out yet.


  9. Liberty Village could easily be served by LRT on the Weston corridor. An ideal station location would be just north or south or maybe even right atop the rail overpass at King West. And yes, it should run right up to Pearson.

    No roads would have to be torn up. It’s already grade-seperated from street traffic. And there’s plenty of room – four sets of track at King and 10 or 12 on the Union approach.


  10. Interesting how $85M of municipal money for a waterfront Front Street Extension/Gardiner Expressway project is somehow independent of the West Waterfront LRT in the same corridor, serving the same transportation goals with the same municipal transportation money.

    I find the entire WWLRT a piecemeal process. The current Terms of Reference deals only with Dufferin to Roncies. But the line goes from Union to Park Lawn (and should be beyond). What about the East waterfront line, how is this connected to the WWLRT study? Capacity at Union Station? Other Transit City LRT lines or future additions, such as a Kingston Road LRT eventually linking up to the east waterfront line?

    Instead we’re dealing with a confusing process cut up into small pieces, with very little reference to what’s going on right next to it.

    Steve: I completely agree. The problem we have had is that this project has been on the books for a long time and has never been taken seriously. Now, in the Transit City context, we have to stop planning it a bit at a time.


  11. There’s actually a really nice way to bring up eastbound LRT from the Weston corridor to Front St. street level by using the remnant of the Lands and Garden trust on the south of Front St. as it’s now a very nicely graded spur line rising from railyard to Spadina – and it adds extra width to already wider Front St.
    As Front is the same distance south of King as Queen is from King, and it does have or will have a lot of destinations, why don’t we have transit on Front or why can’t we restore it?
    And if the big destinations for people travelling in from the west remains the core, and not so much the south of the tracks area, why spend who knows how many hundreds of millions for transit upgrades which take many out of their way while not serving such real demand?


  12. “There’s actually a really nice way to bring up eastbound LRT from the Weston corridor to Front St. street level by using the remnant of the Lands and Garden trust on the south of Front St.”

    Why not just continue it right into Union Station? It’s already there. This would facilitate transfers. Yes, the station is insanely crowded at rush hours but it is being redesigned. LRT should be worked into the reno.

    And run it out the east end of the station thru the Portlands, Riverdale and Scarborough beyond also on existing rail ROW.


  13. Hi Steve,

    For the Waterfront West LRT and Don Mills LRT extension downtown entrances, is it realistic to consider a new tunnel under King St. or Queen St.? In future, it could also be used by the Weston corridor and Beaches branches, and a short-turn route to Bloor & Pape (for the downtown – BD East subway transfers).

    The advantages of an east-west tunnel over the Union terminus are multiple major boarding points (say King/Yonge, King/Bay, and St. Andrew), and operating the busiest common section without loops or crossovers, which hopefully allows for shorter headways.

    Do not know how hard it is to combine that new tunnel with the existing PATH infrastructure.

    Steve: We are far more likely to see any new route come through the railway corridor to Union Station. Aside from being simpler to build (any line on King or Queen would be extremely expensive due to the constrained space and the need to go deep (under both subway lines), a line in the railway corridor would make good connections with the regional rail system so that people could transfer directly from, say, a GO Lakeshore train to the “Don Mills” LRT. I am not sure that either King or Queen Stations could handle the additional passenger load that being a major transfer point with an east-west LRT would bring.

    Once the “Blue 22” scheme for an airport service comes to its well-deserved end, we can talk seriously about using the Weston corridor for LRT service at least as a connector to the Eglinton and Jane Transit City lines. This could logically connect through the rail corridor and Union Station to the Don Mills line to the east.


  14. Thanks Steve.

    Then, interesting twist: what if “Blue-22” project is replaced with a branch-able LRT line to the airport (all the way along the Weston corridor, or using a portion of Eglinton W)? As long as it runs cars compatible with the WW, Eglinton, and Jane LRTs, there will be options for common branches, including the use of Union hub by several branches.

    Btw, what are the legalities of using the rail corridor space? The tracks are owned by CN or CP, but does the city own the land between?

    Steve: Blue 22 started out life sounding as if it would have a dedicated right-of-way, but as the proponents realized that this would be far too expensive for their plans, it was scaled back to a low-capacity railway shuttle. There is a fair amount of space between the combined CP and CN rights-of-way, and obviously negotiations about using that space are required. Once the lines diverge north of St. Clair, we would need someplace to put the LRT, but we only need to get as far as Eglinton.


  15. In response to Michael Forest Steve said:

    Blue 22 started out life sounding as if it would have a dedicated right-of-way, but as the proponents realized that this would be far too expensive for their plans, it was scaled back to a low-capacity railway shuttle. There is a fair amount of space between the combined CP and CN rights-of-way, and obviously negotiations about using that space are required. Once the lines diverge north of St. Clair, we would need someplace to put the LRT, but we only need to get as far as Eglinton.

    There is enough room between the CN and CP Rights of Way with their underutilised sidings to take an LRT line as far as Church St. in Weston. Don’t forget that Eglinton from Weston road to the 427 was originally going to be the Richview Expressway so there is plenty of room to put an LRT line on the North side. The people who live along it will probably object to losing their “Park Land”.


  16. A significant portion of the WWLRT right-of-way belongs to Toronto Terminal Railways, which as of July 200 was acquired by the GTTA. So CN and CP may object all they like, but the ROW belongs to the province and is a federally regulated common carrier.
    Beyond the TTR ROW there has been substantial contraction of the rail lines as CN freight moved north of the city. The number of industries requiring sidings has dwindled to near zero until you get well out of the core. Or at least that’s true on the Newmarket subdivision. I haven’t personally inspected the line out to Brampton.
    We haven’t even considered running the line down the middle of Lakeshore west of the Exhibition. The line could possibly connect at Humber Loop to the resurected Lakeshore streetcar.
    Just tossing out ideas.


  17. In addition to multiple LRT routes ex Pearson, which I believe Jane LRT is a crucial backbone for, we still need a heavy rail option at Pearson – much more GO and VIA frequencies – not really for Pearson-Union travellers but for Georgetown/Guelph/Kitchener travellers. Finding a way to make an easier transfer to GO/VIA at Pearson for them will also allow downtown *or east GTA* travellers to access Union’s GO/VIA network. Access to Pearson and reducing car traffic to it means dealing with 519/905 as well as 416.

    Simply building LRT at Pearson should not be regarded as having “dealt with” the transit issue there – either a heavy corridor should be built as at Dorval or LRT trackage continued northeastward to a station on the Georgetown line and on to Finch LRT.

    My concern is if we put LRT in the rail corridor is if it closed out future expansion of heavy rail as part of a regional and national transit strategy because the infrastructure to get LRT on and off street and into the Weston corridor may be deemed too expensive to sacrifice. Instead rather than depending on CN/CP we should add new track in the available land or extend Toronto Terminal Railways up Weston. Toronto should increase its payments to GO to fund some extra frequencies of this non-duplicated service to downtown with part offset by taxation of any airport parking within its jurisdiction.

    Toronto Pearson handles 30 million passengers now and this is slated to increase to over 50 million. We can only hope that light and heavy rail can keep a lid on car movements in that zone and can only dream that politicians would commit the resources that would reduce it.


  18. In regards to Pearson, I think it isn’t integral that a terminal be placed on airport lands. It could and should be 3-400 metres away, connected to the airport by the LINK shuttle train. I see Pearson as a hub because it has an optimal location as a transfer point between highways 427 (Brampton, Woodbridge, Caledon), Highway 401 via 409(countless destinations in and outside TO), and highway 403 via a short stretch of 401/427 (Mississauga, Hamilton, 410 to Brampton and Caledon).


  19. Steve – in light of the GTTA’s look at a combo GO/private bus terminal at 90 Harbour, is it worth re-looking at the rationale for the Union Loop, perhaps with a new post from your good self? If the site includes Bay frontage then new implications for the loop might present themselves.

    * continue as planned, but add a platform to the existing loop on the north side of Harbour Street, possibly with an exit to the south side of the ACC as well as the bus terminal. Along with a possible Bremner/York St WWLRT platform/exit it would reduce the crowd impact of ACC events on the Union loop and the station itself.
    * rip out the loop in favour of a closed people mover with streetcars redirected to Queens Quay East or up Simcoe Street post-reconnection or some other suitable route which accommodates WWLRT.
    * rip out the loop and convert it to PATH. Use any savings from this or the previous idea to offer GO ticketholders a free ride from the terminal on the Bay bus (but no transfer)

    I wonder how many km of LRT line you can build for the cost of remediating the Union Loop and ramming the Bremner LRT into it…

    Steve: Don’t hold your breath for a bus terminal on Harbour Street. Also, that’s still quite a bit south of Union and you would need a substantial people mover to handle the volume of traffic. It would really screw up access to any waterfront LRT service because of the double transfer. This was examined and rejected by the East Waterfront EA study because of passenger volumes.

    Also, I would not worry too much about the Bremner LRT because I don’t think it will ever be built. It is gradually dawning on people just how impractical it is.

    As for the new loop at Union, it uses existing vacant space in the station structure, and so it’s not the massive project it might seem to be.


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