Union Station: Updated Plans and West Wing Sale to GO (Update 1)

Updated January 24:  A video showing the proposed new layout of the eastern GO Concourse is available on the City of Toronto’s Union Station site.

The virtual tour starts  looking down into the moat from Front Street at the east end of the bridge linking the sidewalk to the station building.  Note that the moat is at a lower level than today and provides a direct path with no stairs between the subway mezzanine and the new lower level of Union Station.  Although the moat is shown with no cover in this video, there will be a transparent cover over this area to protect from weather and to prevent water and snow buildup in the crossing.  Also, the number of entrances through the north wall of the station will be greater than today to handle the large pedestrian volumes between the subway and the railway station.

The tour “flies in” through the north doors to the new concourse level.  This is in the same space as the existing GO concourse, but at a lower elevation giving a very high space for this entrance area.  The point of view pans west toward the centre block of the building.  Although it is not immediately obvious, there will be a stair up to the concourse under the great hall.  There is already a change in elevation at this location, but it will be greater because the east concourse will now be lower.  There will also be a connection into the Via Arrivals level.

The tour pans back and looks toward the east wall where you can see a stairway up to the east teamway.  This is roughly where the exit to the teamway south of Front is located today.

Next, the tour flies south to the escalators up to the new GO concourse level.  In the video, all six of the escalators are running “up”, but in practice this would be adjusted depending on flow conditions.  At this point you can see the diagonal undersides of some of the connections up to track level.  This design gives more open space than a simple box with a stairway inside it.

After we fly up the escalators, the view shifts to look back to the north and eventually comes back to the north end of the concourse.  The layout, with the escalators a considerable distance south of the subway connection, is designed to spread out the pedestrian flows.  In the original design, this connection was further north and the pedestrian modelling revealed that there would be congestion problems.  My shifting the escalator south, GO passengers enter the concourse in roughly the middle of the space rather than at one end, and travellers waiting for trains on this level don’t block people trying to continue further south.  Schedule and departure information screens are provided throughout the concourse to avoid congestion problems with many people clustering around few screens.

Finally, the tour looks down into the lower concourse from north to south, toward the bank of escalators.

The original post follows the break below.

December 2, 2008

City Council has approved the sale of a portion of the West Wing of Union Station to GO Transit, and given GO the right of first refusal on the lease of any additional office space that may come available in the building.  This is a reference to the East Wing now occupied by the Bank of Nova Scotia on a lease that expires in the next decade.

The Staff Report With Confidential (now public) Attachment includes diagrams of areas to be sold and leased.

The arrangement is a “strata sale” in which portions of the complex are owned by GO and part by the City.  GO Transit already owns the tracks and trainshed including airspace to the top of that shed.  The city owns the space under the tracks (the concourse area) and above the trainshed.

The office space in parts of the West Wing is unchanged from its original condition, and some aspects of it are subject to a heritage easement with Parks Canada.  (That easement deals mainly with the public areas of the building such as the Great Hall.)

There is an extensive presentation about plans for the station.  A few points worth noting:

  • Page 8:  The statistics about Union Station usage are worth reiterating.  Today, Union Station handles 65 million passengers every year, twice as many as Pearson Airport.  With projected increases in GO Transit (two times by GO’s plans, four times by Metrolinx’ plans), this will rise to over 100 million passengers a year.  No other regional hub comes close to this level of demand.
  • Page 12:  The GO Concourse area will be increased by almost a factor of four from 30K to 110K square feet.
  • Pages 15-19:  Union Station forms a vital focal point for many developments that exist or are in various stages of development.  The new Union Plaza will create a south door to the building and access to new developments that previously could only be reached by walking under the railway viaducts.
  • Pages 21-24:  GO Transit’s new Atrium Roof over the central section of the trainshed will transform the feel of the platform area and provide a visual focus for this part of the station.
  • Page 26:  This shows the existing layout of the public areas of the concourse level.  Note how much space is unused in the east and west wings.  The south end of the east wing was formally used as part of the postal terminal, and the space in the west wing is primarily used today for rental car parking.
  • Page 27:  The revised concourse level is for the most part at a lower elevation than the current concourse.  This will be accomplished by a “dig down” to a new lower level.  Although it is not immediately obvious in the drawing, the sections labelled York Street and Front Street Promenade are the existing concourse under the main station building, but the additional space will be opened up to provide much better capacity for pedestrian flow.  The Bay Street Promenade and the areas under the tracks (mainly retail) are at the new lower level, and this provides direct access across a lowered section of the Moat to the existing fare control level of Union Subway Station.
  • Page 28:  This shows the existing and planned floor levels in cross-section in the eastern section of the station.
  • Page 29:  This is the upper level of the station including the Great Hall, the two wings and the new Concourse areas under the tracks.  The Via Concourse is at its existing level.
  • Page 39:  View looking west through the Bay Street Promenade from the Teamway Access.  The doors at the bottom of the stairway open onto the lowered Moat and thence to Union Subway Station.  The escalators in the background take people back up to the existing Concourse level under the Great Hall.  To the left is the new retail area.
  • Page 40:  View looking north through the Bay Street Concourse.  The far end of this view is the set of doors out to the Moat and subway that were to the right of the previous view.
  • Page 41:  View looking south through the upper level of the Bay Street Concourse.  The escalators in the previous view are in the distance of this one.
  • Page 42:  The new Moat crossing from the subway to the railway station.

The City expects to have a proposal for leasing of the commercial space by March 2009.

12 thoughts on “Union Station: Updated Plans and West Wing Sale to GO (Update 1)

  1. Does the underground loading area interfere with Bremner LRT?

    Steve: No. The LRT has space reserved for it in the basement of the ACC. The loading area is further north, and is actually only half a level down from the street.


  2. You have mentioned several times that the WW will pass through the “basement of the ACC”. Does this involve a contingency for a direct access ACC/Maple Leaf Square station?

    Steve: No.


  3. I had time to kill on Saturday before I took a Go train out to meet friends for dinner after they finished work and I was thinking about Union station and several things stood out to me:

    Enlarging the Go concourse immediately gets points from me – any square footage increase that can be done is badly needed.

    There’s no cafe. Most of the other mainline railway stations in major cities I’ve been to have had decent cafes where you can get a coffee and something to eat and relax in a decent chair at a table while you wait for your train time. Heck, Grand Central even as an oyster bar! At least there’s some vendors in the nasty, vile dungeon of the Go concourse and donut stand just off the great hall to the west where there’s minimal seating, but that doesn’t cut it. On that note, just curious, how long has the Front Street Grill been gone? It’s been a while (several years?) now.

    Right now, there are several things that could be done to vastly improve the condition of the great hall and the area just to the west of it:

    1) Thorougly clean and de-grime the walls and ceiling.
    2) Replace the nasty orange sodium vapour lighting in and around the station with something that produces light that’s closer to being a reasonably full spectrum white.
    3) Paint the the walls and ceiling in the area just off the great hall to the west and remove the light diffusers so that the skylight’s visible. The fluroescent light strips hanging across it aren’t that big a deal and the increase in natural light would be welcome.
    4) Install some decent seating. Most of the main line railway stations in large cities that I’ve been to have a lot more seating in their equivelents to the great hall than Union has.
    5) Renovate the washrooms. Now.

    Nothing too grand or bank-breaking expensive on that list and those improvements would make the place a lot more attractive in the interim while the grand plans get sorted out (how long has it been since the process was started with the initial proposals for public/private partnerships that have since fallen through?) and implemented.

    One last question: Who was the smart person who came up with the idea of the see through, hanging clear plastic garbage bags in the name of security purposes – and then installed solid blue recycling bins that you can’t see through right next to them? Someone really needs to be shown the door promptly for that stroke of genius.

    Steve: I heartily agree on design issues such as lighting, and I am hoping we will see some details of the renovation plans soon.

    You may be intrigued to know that there is a move afoot among washroom preservationists to keep the fixtures in the men’s loo (I cannot speak for the women’s). Apparently they are original and rare. The real issue is to clean the place up without destroying the, er, ambience.


  4. There’s an interesting side-effect to the deals with GO: the city is on the hook to finish the renovated concourse by January 1, 2016. That committment extends well past the term of the current council. (Does Rob Ford qualify as force majeure?)

    The plans so far for the renovation are encouraging. It’s no St. Pancras, but the two stations are different in a bunch of ways. Hopefully the current economy won’t be a barrier to making this happen.

    Steve: I think that the planned expansion of GO usage has managed to focus many people and agencies on the need for substantially better concourse capacity for GO, and the general pedestrian needs of the Union Station area are also quite pressing. The next big debate to watch for will be the proposed reconfiguration of Front Street itself between York and Bay as one way eastbound with two through lanes.


  5. Is there going to be a skating rink placed at York and Bremner?

    On page 15 of the Union station presentation – nov 10, it shows an area of future development called “Ice”.

    Steve: I believe that this is the name of a proposed development.


  6. After looking at the picture of the proposed new train shed and atrium on pages 23 and 24 I cannot tell if the outer ends of the train shed are the existing ones with a new cover or are brand new. I do not believe that the current sheds are compatible with high voltage AC electrification which is probably the only thing that CN would allow on their track. Does anyone know:

    a) What voltage electrification GO proposes?

    b) If these outer train sheds are new and if they are compatible with the proposed electrification?

    I like the high glass centre atrium over the tracks but it is probably too expensive to do the whole of the platform length that way and it could interfere with development of the air rights.

    Steve: The train sheds are both old and new. The roofs will be rebuilt and the smoke vent profiles will be subtly changed to provide enough clearance for electrification. The existing truss system will remain.

    The location of the atrium is dictated by the structure below. It actually sits on the columns at the outer edge of the Via concourse. There is no intention to develop over the station, and the remaining roof will be rebuilt as a green surface. Part of it will have solar panels, and part will have vegetation to catch the rainwater. The scope of the solar installation is limited by the shadow pattern of existing and proposed buildings nearby.

    I don’t know what voltage is proposed at this point.


  7. “Steve: I heartily agree on design issues such as lighting, and I am hoping we will see some details of the renovation plans soon.

    “You may be intrigued to know that there is a move afoot among washroom preservationists to keep the fixtures in the men’s loo (I cannot speak for the women’s). Apparently they are original and rare. The real issue is to clean the place up without destroying the, er, ambience.”

    I once met a fellow from Boston who was trying to steal one of the urinals from Union Station because of their uniqueness. I believe that this was the weekend of the opening of the Bloor Danforth Subway in 1966. I also met someone the same weekend who was trying to purloin Toronto street lights, especially one from Toronto Island. Those ones were still there last summer.


  8. The fixtures in the West Wing men’s loo are rare for a reason. I remember these from a building systems course part of my Architectural Technology program, there were five main types of such fixtures, and of the lot, the ones in Union’s West Wing are of the least sanitary variety (we’ve learned a lot since WWI), which is why you don’t see them anymore. While they are rare, there are limits on when something should and should not be preserved, and I think sanitation standards should be one of those limitations.

    Steve: Maybe we could put potted plants in them.


  9. I always thought Union was just the “underground” level (which you come into from TTC’s Union) then the street level. Then the walkway thing to the CN Tower/Skydome.

    I remember hearing during the Miller-gun enthusiasts “battle” against hand guns that there was a shooting range on the 7th. floor … what is between the 7th. floor and the “street” level?

    Steve: There are several floors of offices above the floor level of the Great Hall, some of which you can catch a glimpse of through the walkways through the openings in the four sides of the hall. The layout is much more obvious looking at the building from the outside where you can see the windows in both wings and along the south face of the building.

    The target range was original built for practice use by railway police. It is up under the roof space of the station reached by walking up a narrow staircase after riding an elevator in the east wing up as far as it goes.


  10. The video is great! Though I’m not sure what is more disturbing – that Toronto has been taken over by clones, or that they have 6 escalators going up, but none going down!

    Seriously though, if this is the kind of spaces that are created, then this should be quite positive!


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