Union Loop: Trading One Bad Design For Another? (Update 1)


I have received a drawing of Union Station Loop that shows its end-state configuration including provision for all services.  This drawing is different from the version in the Queen’s Quay Revitalization document in (a) showing the full length of the west platform and (b) clarifying the staging of implementation for different routes.

The orange section is the first phase to expand capacity onto two platforms.  The pink section would be added to serve the Port Lands development, and the blue section for Bremner.  In its final configuration, according to the TTC:

The currently-proposed layout would ultimately have all of the service to and from the east on the platform under the east teamway allowing us to run two routes/branches from the east, one of which could be a 60m train. Service to and from the west would load under the west teamway with a Queens Quay route (509 or 510, not both) loading on the northern-most platform and the Bremner service loading on the southern-most platform. All of the platforms would operate independently from each other allowing flexibility for service management.

Original Post from March 29:

In my enthusiasm for the new Queen’s Quay designs, I neglected to look carefully at the current scheme for Union Station Loop, especially in the context of plans to build the expanded loop in stages.

Back in the days when the existing loop was designed, Philip Webb and I had a rather testy meeting with TTC Engineering about the capacity of this loop.  Outrageous claims were made for its ability to handle riders even though the TTC (a) completely missed the loss of platform space to carbody swingout and (b) assumed the full capacity of the corridor would be available for passenger flow rather than being used for stacking space as it is today.  The loop is and has been for some time grossly inadequate, and it is a monument to the TTC’s pig-headedness.

Now we are faced with a new loop proposal as shown on page 138 of the Queen’s Quay Revitalization materials (see previous post for link, and note that it is 18MB).  The new loop has four tracks of which the inner two are the existing Bay Street tunnel and the outer two plus platforms are expansions into unexcavated space.  For comparison, it’s worth looking at an earlier design which I posted here two years ago, and which appeared in public handouts in March 2007.

In that design, space for up to four CLRVs was provided on each of two platforms.  These could be used either for unloading (northbound) and loading (southbound) or dedicated to separate routes with suitable bypass tracks (not shown).

In the new design, the TTC plans to build only the northern expansion of the west platform as a first stage.  This would give two loading bays, one for each route, that could hold one new 30m streetcar each.  As and when the expanded west platform is built, it would serve only the Bremer line and we would have the odd arrangement that far more capacity was available for Bremner cars than for all of the remaining Harbourfront east and west services which would be forever limited to the one-car long inner platform.  This is nonsensical.

The east platform, inbound to Union Station, is similarly limited in capacity but can, at least, be used by cars from any route.

Another detail present in the 2007 plan but missing in 2009 are the fire exits at the south end of the lengthened platforms.

Finally, the 2009 plan shows considerably more conflict with the columns holding up Bay Street and the rail viaduct thanks to the crossovers.  The TTC has not verified whether this design is structurally feasible.

I cannot help thinking that, as they did twenty years ago, the TTC is making up the Union Station Loop as they go along and may doom us to a substandard transfer station by comparison with their own projected demands.  Moreover, the proposed staging of the construction suggests that the original scheme pushed them over budget and they are scaling things back to compensate.

The TTC owes us a clear explanation of what is planned for Union Loop, the staging of its construction, the operational plan for handling service and crowds, and finally the projected cost for each phase of the work.

[Thanks to Philip Webb for pointing out the shortcomings in the current loop design.]

24 thoughts on “Union Loop: Trading One Bad Design For Another? (Update 1)

  1. I agree with you on this one Steve. When the original line was built, the electric streetcar had been running in Toronto for nearly 100 years. One would think that they would have had a pretty good handle on streetcar operation with what can be done and what cannot be done. The efficiency of the present Union Loop does not score very high points for a transit system that should definitely have known better.

    The “earlier design”, that you show, is along the lines of what should have been built when the line originally opened—-cars unloading on the straight, looping and then loading on the straight. I believe the design of the “newest loop” proposal should start with the basic “earlier design” but now add the trackage, switches and passing capabilities that will leave ample room for streetcars unloading & loading, being able to pass when required and have flexibility to select their route once clear of the loading area. At present there are 4 lines that are planned to have Union as their terminal. What happens, in the future, if more lines are added? Now is their chance to really design a terminal for the future that will accommodate the new longer LRV’s and/or 2-car MU CLRV trains.


  2. By counting pillars and tracks in the diagram and making the assumption that they are the same and accurate in both diagrams it would appear that the old design with 4 CLRV’s is just over 200 feet long on the straight section. This is about 10 pillars long if you use the pillars to the east of the platform. This is the same length as the total platform on the new section. It would appear that you could have a new 100 foot car on the north platform and only a 50 foot car on the south platform. The unloading platforms appear to about 100 feet each but that is a big guess because of the lack of scale on the diagrams.

    It would be more useful if they could put platforms on both the inner and outer tracks instead of having this double cross over design. It would save a lot of wasted space. I am guessing that their length is about 70 feet from the drawings. Four long platforms, if possible, would make better use of the platforms space available and simplify the switching by eliminating the two double crossovers. If it is impossible to put platforms on the inner tracks then use the east track for loading and unloading one set of cars and the west tracks for the other cars. Again no crossovers required.

    The present track arrangement requires the Bremner WWLRT to use the south end of the west platform for loading in order to exit.. Since the 509 and 510 lines both serve the busiest portion of Queen’s Quay it would make sense for them to use the same platform and since 509 and the WWLRT (508?) both serve the exhibition it might make sense to put them on the same platform. This would mean that one platform would get a lot more use than the other until the east Don Lands, Port Lands and what ever gets fully built.

    From the diagrams it would appear that most of the platforms are under the loading tracks for Union Train Station. This has 14 tracks plus one or two through tracks to the south. If we assume 10 feet for the track and an average of 15 feet for the platforms this would give a length of about 300 to 350 feet to put the platforms in. Using 50 to 70 feet for the double crossovers would be a waste of valuable platform space.

    You say:

    “In the new design, the TTC plans to build only the northern expansion of the west platform as a first stage. This would give two loading bays, one for each route, that could hold one new 30m streetcar each. As and when the expanded west platform is built, it would serve only the Bremer line and we would have the odd arrangement that far more capacity was available for Bremner cars than for all of the remaining Harbourfront east and west services which would be forever limited to the one-car long inner platform. This is nonsensical”.

    If the TTC builds only the Northern part of the west platform and I assume this is the green part north of the crossover, then where are the two loading platforms? Could you possible give a fuller explanation of what is planned in stage one? Is there any scale diagram with dimensions or scale on it available? That would make it a lot easier to see what is planned than counting how many columns equals one CLRV.

    Thanks for the great work.

    Robert Wightman

    Steve: There is a platform for the inner track at the north end. Passengers would have to cross the outer track to reach it, and given both the level of service and projected demand, this may not be a good move. The TTC is likely to implement some sort of constrained cattle crossing as at Dundas West, and then expect thousands of people an hour to use it.

    I have a larger set of drawings of Union Station with a scale on them, and the distance from the northernmost pillar dividing the two outbound tracks to the pillar under the second track south of the trainshed is almost exactly 90m. The full inbound (northbound) platform could hold three 30m cars, but the outbound platforms are shorter.


  3. I am assuming that the 509 and 510 currently using the loop, will have to use a loop when they get the new longer single-ended LFLRV’s. I am also assuming the eastern Queen’s Quay will also use the single-ended LFLRV’s.

    However, if the WWLRT coming off Bremner is to use double-ended LFLRV’s, it does not need to use the loop. It just needs crossover tracks. If in the distance future, a EWLRT is to built, using double-ended LFLRV’s, a similar setup could be used using crossover tracks instead of loops. For now though, use just western crossover tracks for the WWLRT and consider using double-ended LFLRV’s for any new line along with crossover tracks.

    Of course, if the double-ended LFLRV are able to handle the curves and inclines of our current streetcar track network, we could end up going without loops.

    Steve: Don’t hold your breath for the disappearance of loops. Also the “Transit City” fleet will run on a network that will be physically distant from the WWLRT.


  4. Thanks for the information on the loop’s dimensions. I don’t suppose that the loop is far enough underground to allow for stairs/escalators to go up from each of the four .platforms to a common mezzanine. That would be too convenient. If they are going to have four platforms, or at least two separate loading tracks then what is the need for the double crossover, especially outbound. There might be an argument for one on the unloading platforms to allow them to sequence vehicles properly.

    They need to put in a switch at the south end of west loading platform so LRV’s could continue south or go out Bremner. With four platforms the WWLRT cars would need to use the western loading and unloading platforms but all the rest of the service could use either platform. What is the need for the double crossovers if you are going to have double platforms? I think that someone at TTC, probably from subway construction, is in love with the damned things. They are probably going to lay the things in concrete so that they would have to shut down the entire waterfront system to do a switch repair. They need to re-think this entire plan. No, this implies that they have given it some thought already; they need to THINK this entire plan out.


  5. Why does Bremner even require a loop? Won’t it be using double-ended vehicles?

    Steve: Bremner will be a “city” route with standard single-end vehicles, assuming of course that the merged GO/Metrolinx ever lets us buy vehicles and build the line.


  6. This comment is somewhat tangentially-related to the post, but I do hope that as part of whatever work goes on down there thought is given to allowing straightforward underground connectivity between the existing GO Bus terminal on the west side of Bay and the TTC fare-paid zone, allowing direct movement between the subway/streetcars and GO Buses and vice versa without the need to cross Bay street on the surface.

    I, for one, have done the breakneck run from the subway to the departing-any-second-now GO Bus countless times and only narrowly avoided death on too many of them. It’s also pretty common on arrival to Toronto to see a mass mob discharge from the buses and then march up the narrow sidewalk on the west side of Bay to Front and then across and into the subway, or run the gauntlet through the anti-jaywalking ‘fence.’

    Indeed, there’s already an elevator shaft in the GO building that must be only a few feet from the existing wall on the loop. It would seem like a stupidly obvious connection to build, which is exactly why I fear it won’t happen.

    And the less said about a Bremner streetcar the better. When will this cockamamie scheme just die already?

    Steve: You mean on the east side of Bay, but I think we all get the idea. An as-yet unsolved question is where the bus terminal will actually wind up. One proposal had it on land west of Bay between Lake Shore and Harbour, but I suspect that site is too small. There is a proposal for an improved link from the east end of Union Railway Station east over Bay (as opposed to walking along the platform for Track 1), but that takes you well outside of the TTC paid area. I expect that more details of this will emerge when the Union Station Revitalization Project details are announced this spring.

    I suspect an underground connection there is tantalizingly close, but only via the Harbourfront Loop, and that needs to be expanded. The loop is at the same level as the subway platform. If you’re coming south on University, it would be a quick run through the tunnel. If from Yonge, you would half to go up to the mezzanine and back down again.


  7. I do have to wonder how much this will cost, and to be fair, should not these costs be added to the WWLRT etc? ie. another $250M?

    Why can’t we explore using the surface of Front St. for transit, or a just below-grade tunnel, and avoid the costly usage of these new lines, and rely on enhanced GO transit from Etobicoke to solve that demand?

    Steve: “Just below grade” on Front Street is the mezzanine of Union Subway Station. Think of the comparatively short distance down the staircases on the south side of Front to reach this area.


  8. Is Bremner through Cityplace actually wide enough for a ROW plus platforms at stops?

    Steve: Not unless you widen it a lot. The street was not designed for an LRT line east of Spadina, but this doesn’t stop planners from drawing one there. This is an excellent example of very bad, haphazard planning. Illustrations of this street in the planning reports show buses, and no right-of-way.


  9. Perhaps this would be a good project for the new version of Metrolinx to take over since the TTC has proven itself incapable of coming up with a working plan as evidenced by the fiasco of the existing Union Station loop.

    Steve: That fiasco is courtesy of engineers twenty years ago at the TTC who, among other things, were fighting against a proposal to put the Harbourfront LRT on the surface, wait for it, in the middle of Front Street. If Metrolinx were building it, the whole line would be run with ICTS, and you would have a nice elevated down the middle of Queen’s Quay.


  10. I was under the impression, though, the Concord was going to build in a median suitable for streetcars initially, but upon visiting the site, it seems that the median isn’t quite wide enough, and with rapid infill development there, that could be a permanent issue, no?

    Steve: Yes, that median looks awfully narrow to me. Time to go for a site visit with a tape measure.


  11. Could it be possible that the developers would really prefer transit stays outside of their pricey little oasis?


  12. Re: East-side/West-side of Bay… yup, you caught a goof of mine there, Steve.

    While I know the idea has been kicked around to relocate the Coach Terminal to the site of the former OPP building, this is the first I’ve heard that GO buses won’t remain at their current site on the *east* side of Bay into the indefinite future. What would motivate such a move? If anything, capacity will open up over time as more rail routes go 2-way.

    (Incidentally, the idea of moving the Coach Terminal to Union is manifestly stupid…. with the possible exception of buses to Niagara/Buffalo, every single bus that leaves downtown immediately has to crawl uptown in traffic to get to the 401. Surely the best site for an intercity bus terminal would be at York Mills?)

    As for Hamish’s point about a second underground loop for a Front St. car, I suppose one could be built at the same grade as the Union mez, but further to the west, just on the far side of the new PATH connection on York. Stringing the various fare-paid chunks of the Union TTC space would be troublesome but doable.

    I still say WWLRT is a solution looking for a problem. If we want to get streetcars from the end of the Queensway to Union more rapidly and provide Liberty Village with better transit, there’s a street named King that even has tracks sunken into it already. No left-turn signs cost a lot less than several hundred million dollars… and to compensate their dehumanizing reduction in access you could give every car owner on King a gift certificate for $1000 worth of gas and still save money.


  13. It is interesting, if unnerving, to see that in his recent CEO Report to Waterfront Toronto, John Campbell says:

    Union Station Loop.

    WT asked the TTC to provide analytical data which demonstrated the need for the expansion to the Union Station Loop. WT reviewed this material and concluded that it is reasonable that the existing TTC streetcar loop and platform configuration at Union Station is likely to be insufficient to effectively accommodate existing and future demands for streetcar vehicle and passenger traffic within acceptable tolerances for delay. WT will continue to study with TTC and The City of Toronto alternative strategies including timing, potential phasing approaches and cost sharing for the expansion of the streetcar loop.

    See: http://www.waterfrontoronto.ca/dbdocs//49cbd3836a07c.pdf

    Steve: I will be posting a diagram of the proposed phasing later today.


  14. This design is now starting to make sense If they are going to use for separate platforms for four separate lines then it reasonable. They still are using one platform for loading and unloading and it is only one unit long so they do not have any space to store or hold cars to spread out service. Why would they not run the 509 and 510 service out of the same platform since they both serve the major destination are of Queen’s Quay West or are they going to turn all the Spadina cars at Queen’s Quay loop? I knew that the TTC person at the meeting said that they could hold two 30 m cars in a train. I am surprised that they do not have this capability for the Bremner, Lakeshore line also. This design does get need of the cattle crossing to get people to the “inner Platforms” as the inner tracks would just be for equipment moves.

    As they used to say on American Bandstand I would give this plan a 7 out of 10. It makes effective use of the space available but it lacks the flexibility to handle and clear large numbers of cars when a major backlog clears. Hopefully they won’t get any with all of PROW.


  15. Looking at the diagram it isn’t clear weather or not they will be opening up the hallway between the loop and Union station. As has been mentioned before the loop and the station are on pretty much (if not the same) elevation and, although it would only access the Norhbound Yonge platform, opening the area up would go a long way towards making the entire area more welcoming and better able to handle rush hr passenger loads.

    I’d also like to second Tom’s comment about creating access to the loop/station along Bay st, particularly the East side. Surely an access stair well with automated entrances can be squeezed onto somewhere along Front/Bay/the Bus terminal area.

    Steve: The new northbound Yonge platform is at the same level as the streetcar loop and hallway, and that hallway will open directly onto the platform. This has been in the plan for quite some time.


  16. re:New diagram.

    First of all, a big sigh of relief here that it looks like there’s a bit more capacity than it looked at the outset.

    I find the whole idea of an “optional connection to GO Trains” to be darkly amusing. Because we all know how having straightforward connections to transit operated by *gasp* another agency is such a frill.

    There’s no sign of connectivity to the east side GO bus terminal, as I feared, even though the new excavation for the east platform is literally abutting the foundations of the thing. Indeed, the TTC’s entrance-hating seems to border on pathological… if only on the basis of improving pedestrian permeability (or hell, facilitating escape in a fire) there’s surely a case to be made for additional entrances at the extreme south ends of these streetcar platforms?

    Steve: There is an earlier version of this plan dating from 2007 that showed fire exits. I have already raised this issue with the TTC.


  17. That “optional connection to GO Trains” may be needed anyways as an emergency secondary exit, I don’t know what the legal requirement for separation of the secondary exit from the main exit. There could be other exits at the south end, but are not accessible for some members of the public.


  18. I’m looking at this and wondering about the structural columns for (what were formally known as) tracks 6 and 7. How do they plan on handling that one, particularly from a phasing perspective?

    There should be access directly to the various GO platforms from the Loop’s west side platforms since it spans all the (currently used by GO) platforms, possibly similar to what they have in the York West Teamway, or at least have access to the GO concourse.

    Steve: No, actually. The LRT loop is one level BELOW the new lower level planned for the GO Concourse, and three levels down from the tracks. At best, the connection should bring people up from the loop into the new lower concourse fairly close to the bank of escalators that will take them to the upper concourse.

    The levels of the revised station, when completed will be:

    Subway platform level, same as LRT loop level.
    Subway mezzanine level, same as new lower concourse level.
    Upper concourse level.
    Track level.

    On the east, access to the GO Bus terminal building should be obvious, although I’ve heard Metrolinx staff muse about building a new terminal (what?! AGAIN!?) combining GO with the intercity services at Elizabeth St. on the south side of Union Station, east side of Bay St.

    Steve: There is a plan to link through the east wing of Union Station (at the level of the Great Hall) to a new bridge across Bay and thence to the GO terminal, assuming it’s still there. This connection would continue east to and across Yonge Street.

    I don’t see the point of relocating the GO buses, but I do see the point in moving the Elizabeth St. services. I think that the south side of Union isn’t a bad option for that, but open up the underside of the tracks between Bay and Yonge as an eastward expansion of Union, thereby linking the two, and Union Station Loop access as well. I’d imagine this could be done in a manner with the private sector putting up some of the cash like the deal with Union’s renovations and new basement. We save ourselves the embarassment of throwing away the brand new terminal we already have for GO this way, and get the private sector to pick up a chunk of the costs.

    Steve: Remember that the vacant land on the east side of Bay south of the rail corridor is to be developed and cannot be used to access new space under an excavated rail corridor. Also, the private sector has little interest in building something that they can’t generate revenue from, i.e. commercial space. Also, construction under the section from Bay to Yonge is much, much harder than the Union Station project because the space under the railway station is already largely excavated, and there is an existing structure holding up the tracks. East of Bay it’s just an embankment.


  19. Sure looks like a lot of cars to go around one already too-tight loop. They better hope nothing derails!


  20. I’m already literally giddy at the prospect of the yet-to-be-built low-floor fleet routinely derailing on this curve! How much you wanna bet they end up creeping around the turn as slowly as the RT cars did on the former Kennedy Station loop? Not to mention the horrible grinding sound unlike anything you’ve heard from the existing fleet. Whoever takes that contract is truly foolish.


  21. The connecting hall from the loop platforms to the subway needs to be widened significantly. Anyone who uses the loop knows it feels like travelling in the nozzle of a squirtgun.


  22. Here is another “how about”. How about the existing tracks come north on Bay, turn west into a station under the moat then continue south under the York St underpass.

    This would form a one-way loop with the platform on the north side of the tracks. There should be sufficient width under the moat for a double track station configuration similar to the existing Exhibition station.

    Space would be tight within the confines of the moat for an independent streetcar platform, but the tracks could be built to share the new south subway platform being built. This would also provide for cross platform access between streetcars and northbound Yonge trains.

    This eliminates the ‘crowds crossing the tracks’ issue and provides convenient access to both the subway and the GO concourse.

    The existing GO concourse should be compatible with such a scheme since it is about the same level as Bay street under the bridge. It might conflict with plans to drop the existing concourse floor and build a mezanine floor above though.

    Steve: There seems to be a huge amount of confusion about the relative alignment of various existing and planned elements at Union, and sometime in the next few days I will scan and post some diagrams to show how things fit together.

    With respect to the moat: The moat will be lowered in the portion roughly between Bay Street and the bridge at the main entrance of the station so that it is at the same level as the subway mezzanine. This will be the new lower level of the GO concourse. There is a very large sewer under the moat which will be directly below the new level and this blocks your scheme for an LRT track heading west at “Moat Minus One”.


  23. Does anyone know where I can get operating statistics on the TTC? I want to be able to plan my route according to the time of day; subway station (Finch or Downsview), Union etc. and wanted to know if there had been any recent studies to determine say the average time between Finch and Union and the Standard Deviation by time of day and season? Right now I allow for +- 10 minutes but I feel I need to add even more to ensure I get to meetings on time. It surprises me there is so much discussion without any stats.

    Steve: Trip planning tools are based on scheduled behaviour of the system, not real time or stats based on historical patterns. I have done some of this work myself using data from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system, but this is not trivial work.


  24. So is there going to be any work done for the Streetcar loop at Union station at all with this current renovation project? Will the new longer streetcars even fit into the loop, and what is TTC going to do with the increasing number of users using the 2 streetcar lines?

    Steve: No work is planned on the loop, and this is a huge oversight by the TTC that goes back beyond the Ford era. Rather than figure out a way to get the work related to Waterfront East started, the City and TTC just let things flounder and now, of course, the situation has become more critical. We fight over billions worth of subway/LRT lines, but ignore the $250m needed for the waterfront transit line including upgrades to Union Loop.


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