Union Station Funding Approved

Today, Queen’s Park and Ottawa announced their funding contributions to the Union Station Revitalization project.  Ottawa will spend up to $133-million while Queen’s Park will spend $172-million toward the $640-million total.

At a special Council meeting early in August, Toronto will likely announce the private sector partner who will take the head lease for all of the commercial space in the expanded station, and this lease is expected to contribute a substantial amount to the City’s share of the project.  That partner will be responsible for managing all commercial tenancies.

On other sites that I will not bother to cross-link, there has been an overflowing of bilge on several fronts including the civic workers and VIA strikes, Mayor Miller, spending on “a building that works”, among other arguments.  The level of misinformation, deliberate or otherwise, is staggering.

To refresh everyone’s memory, here is what we are getting for all that money:

  • Restoration of a physical building which has been disintegrating for several years.  Some of this work has already been done or is underway by the City notably the windows in the west wing and the bridge over the Front Street moat.
  • Creation of a completely new two-level concourse area under much of the station.  This will be achieved by digging down so that the lower level is at roughly the same elevation as the existing subway station mezzanine.  The new upper level will handle GO passengers, and will be roughly three times the size of the existing GO area.  The lower level will provide general circulation and shopping.
  • GO improvements and other changes in the station will accomodate a doubling of demand expected at this site over the next decades.  This could not occur without the reconstruction and the provision of greatly expanded pedestrian areas.
  • The lower level of the west wing, now occupied by car rentals and underutilized back-of-house space, will be converted to GO and commercial space.  This work will be completed before work moves to the existing GO space and empty former Post Office areas in the east wing. 
  • Why shopping?  Aside from all the commuters, there will be a large population right outside the soon-to-open south door of Union Station occupying both office towers and condos.  The character of commercial uses in the station should be improved so that it does not appear like an overgrown dollar store.
  • Energy efficiency of the building will be substantially improved, and air conditioning will be provided with deep water cooling from the lake.  Energy is a major operating cost for the station today.
  • The connection to the subway station will be revised to eliminate the stairway between the subway mezzanine and the moat.  The moat will be enclosed so that travellers don’t have to endure the weather, whatever it  may be, to reach the subway and the PATH network beyond.
  • A new northwest PATH connection will be created from Union Station north via York Street to Wellington.  This will divert many commuters from the eastern connection and ease congestion on that side of the station.
  • GO Transit will buy and move into the vacant west wing offices from their leased space at the foot of Bay Street.  These offices will be renovated to modern requirements, but some heritage areas will be retained.
  • Connections between various parts of the building will be improved, and new links will be added to simplify access between sections and to spread out pedestrian traffic.  For example, there will be links to the new GO concourses through the archways in the south wall of the Great Hall now occupied by the Security Office (east) and Harvey’s (west).
  • A new south entrance, built as part of the recent GO Transit platform work, will give passengers direct access to a plaza between the station, the Air Canada Centre and other new developments in the area.  A new taxi stand in this area is intended for use by arriving VIA passengers to separate them from the activity on Front Street.
  • The east entrance via the old Post Office, now Scotiabank, will be reopened and the space on the ground floor will become part of the public area of the railway station.
  • Renovation of the York Street teamways for pedestrian use in a manner similar to what is now in place on Bay Street.
  • This heritage building will be restored, where appropriate, by stripping off more recent additions such as mid-60s ticket counters.
  • GO Transit will rebuild the trainshed substantially in the form it now has but (a) cleaner and brighter, (b) with provision for future electrification and (c) with a glass atrium roof running the length of the shed in the area directly above the VIA concourse (the location is dictated by the location of supporting columns beneath).

Information on this project is available on the Union Station website.

Other projects that will take place in the same timeframe include:

  • TTC’s second platform for Union Subway Station.
  • TTC’s expansion of capacity in the Harbourfront streetcar loop to accommodate the new eastern waterfront streetcar service.
  • The reconfiguration of Front Street from Bay to York to provide additional pedestrian capacity.

It is unfortunate that this announcement comes just as VIA staff go on strike.  However, the project has been in the works for years, and spending on this major work with decades of future benefit is long overdue.  Fortunately, the announcement was not delayed in deference to then-pending strike.  Moreover, the primary beneficiaries of this work will be commuters on GO Transit for whom additional train capacity is constrained by the limits of the station itself.

Some have claimed that there is nothing wrong with Union Station that needs fixing.  They have not looked closely at either the building itself, at the severe congestion problems or at the vast amount of unused space available for expansion, much of this hidden from public view.

This is not a “make work” project, but something Toronto badly needs.  Union Station handles more passengers every year than Pearson Airport on a fraction of the capital budget.  The station doesn’t get to charge an improvement fee to every passenger to fund its ongoing construction and operations.

The reconstruction will be a long project, not without its inconveniences.  We are lucky to have an almost-empty west wing in which to start and create new space for GO so that existing operations can continue during the early phases.  Detailed design will be completed this fall with work in the west wing to begin in early 2010.  The project will complete in 2014.

Why Streetcars?

Tom Jurenka sent in the following note, and it raises questions that deserve a debate.

Hello Steve

As a non-native Torontonian (grew up in Winnipeg, but have lived in Toronto for 24 years now) I have always been puzzled — and often infuriated — by streetcars (and the absolutely terrible traffic light timing in Toronto, but that is another story).

My question is an honest one — WHY? All I can see is the negatives of streetcars:

  • they tear up streets (I’ve lived through Queen Street E, Gerrard, now St. Clair, being torn up utterly to undo the damage of streetcars pounding the rails)
  • they are slow as molasses (as a bicyclist, I routinely pass 5 or 6 streetcars on Queen Street heading from AC Harris to downtown)
  • because of their slowness and immobility they delay traffic all the time, causing snarls and the attendant idling pollution
  • they are super expensive (witness the recent funding mess)

So I’m really curious why streetcars are a better alternative to trolley buses or just plain old buses, which move fast, are mobile, and are less expensive per unit to buy. Would you be able to point me at some links/articles/studies/whatever to help me understand this issue?

Thank you for your time.

Best regards,

Tom Jurenka

This is a far more complex question than just the list above, but I will use this as a jumping off point. Continue reading

Stratford July 2009 Reviews

Last week took me up to Stratford for the first of this year’s visits. Although some may think otherwise, I do not go to Stratford just as an excuse to perform inspection tours of the Georgetown/Kitchener corridor. The trains were on time both ways.

Reviewed here:

Julius Caesar (*)
Ever Yours, Oscar (**½)
Bartholemew Fair (****)
The Three Sisters (**½)
Macbeth (***)

I will return to Stratford in August for another five plays.

Continue reading

Service Changes Effective August 2, 2009

For mid summer, there are only a few schedule changes on the TTC network, and they take effect at the start of August running through to Labour Day weekend.

Changes for September are much more extensive, and I will deal with these in a separate post.

Bingham Loop Reconstruction

Due to the reconstruction of Bingham Loop, routes 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road Tripper will be replaced by buses.  Combined streetcar service of 7’30” will be replaced by bus service of 6’00”.  The off-peak 20’00” headway is unchanged.

Diversions at Bingham Loop will change from time to time as construction progresses.  This also affects the 22A Coxwell, 12 Kingston Road, 322 Coxwell and 324 Victoria Park Night Buses.

Roncesvalles Reconstruction

Running times on the Roncesvalles shuttle bus will be increased at some times to compensate for actual start of construction and the diversion of southbound service via Dundas, Lansdowne and Queen.

501 Queen

The test of a modified step-back crewing operation will end, and normal crewing will resume on this route.

77 Swansea & 71 Runnymede

Running times on these interlined routes will be increased.  In the AM peak and midday, this will be done by reducing recovery times scheduled at terminals.  In the PM peak and evening, headways will be increased.  PM peak headways on the common section of the route will go from 10′ to 11′ with a change from 20′ to 22′ on the Runnymede branches.  A similar change will occur in the early evening, but at that time only half of the service runs south of Bloor.


Additional service will operate for the parade on Saturday, August 1 on 511 Bathurst, 509 Harbourfront and 29 Dufferin, as well as express buses from Keele, Dundas West and Lansdowne Stations.  The 329/316 night routes will divert around the CNE grounds as described in the next section.

Additional service on 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina and 6 Bay is also planned for the Sunday, August 2 events on Toronto Island.  Whether these will actually occur given that the civic strike has shut down the ferries remains to be seen.  All of the added service is operated “at the divisional level”, meaning that the work is easily cancelled or reassigned if the party ends up at a new location.

Canadian National Exhibition

Additional service will operate on all of the usual routes including 511 Bathurst, 509 Harbourfront, 193 Exhibition Rocket and 29 Dufferin.  Overnight service on interlined routes 329 Dufferin and 316 Ossington will not operate through the CNE grounds, but will connect via Fraser and Liberty.

Construction Season 2009 (Updated)

This morning, I took a ramble around the city to have a look at various projects affecting the streetcar system.  For those who don’t see all of the sights, here’s a roundup.

Updated 5:20 pm:  A link to a more recent design layout for St. Clair Phase 4 (west from Caledonia) has been added.

Updated 6:20 pm:  John F. Bromley provided a route history for the Roncesvalles Shuttle which I have added to this article.

St. Clair

The now-and-forever St. Clair project is beginning to look as if it might complete in our lifetime.  Eastward from Dufferin, new track is under construction, and the excavation is completed all the way to Oakwood.  Once this section is connected at both ends, there will be continuous track once more from Yonge to just west of Caledonia.  It’s a start.

Meanwhile, road and sidewalk construction is underway on the south side of St. Clair east of Winona, and Oakwood is less of a disaster area albeit not yet completely opened.  West of Caledonia, utility and sidewalk work progressed west from the Newmarket Subdivision bridge, and is further along on the north than the south side.

Some comments on other threads here suggest that the design will change the underpass between Old Weston Road and Keele.  Any proposal to widen the road here would certainly not be a quick project.  The plans shown in the EA involve no widening (see detailed layout part 1, page 2), nor is any shown in the February 2009 version (see pages 5 through 7).  If someone has other, definitive information, please let me know.


Work has just begun on watermain construction west of Bathurst Street.  This is supposed to end for September, but I will be astounded, given recent experiences with construction delays, if this happens.

All Carlton cars run to Dundas West Station, while the Dundas car goes to Bathurst Station, and a Dundas bus runs from Keele Station to Wolseley Loop.  Dundas streetcar service eastbound from Bathurst depends on how many cars actually reach Bathurst Station because short turns would miss the connection completely.


Overhead has been removed on Roncesvalles from Dundas to north of the carhouse except at the Howard Park crossing which now only has the east-west tangent wire for the eventual return of the Carlton car.

The streetcar track will be removed over the next two months to simplify watermain work, and will be replaced in 2010 on its new alignment as the street itself is rebuilt to the new design.  Considering that there has been streetcar service on Roncesvalles since 1908 (first a shuttle, then the Queen car, finally the King car), the absence of track and overhead will be a strange sight indeed.

Proposed changes at Queen and Roncesvalles are on hold, I believe, pending resolution of design issues including the eventual route of the Waterfront West LRT in this area.


Due to watermain and track construction, service on the Queen and Downtowner cars began diverting today as previously reported.  (For those who carp, with justification, about TTC signs, the diversion notice calls the route “Downtown” with a map showing the eastbound diversion running on Lombard, not Adelaide.)  This is expected to be in place for eight weeks.

Meanwhile, utility work west of Gladstone has reduced Queen to a single lane westbound through the underpass, and west from Noble (one west of Dufferin), construction occupies both curb lanes.

It will be interesting to see whether cars still take extended layovers at the ends of their trips, or simply short turn a lot.

Meanwhile, although the work is not visible from Queen, riders on the rail line above can see the considerable progress on the excavation of the new Dufferin Street approach from the north that will eliminate the jog at Queen for all traffic.  Just getting rid of the left turn queues in both directions should improve the streetcar and bus operations here.

History of the Roncesvalles Shuttle from John F. Bromley


Operational periods: 1908; 1909-1911; <1914-1921

Continue reading

Ask Not …

This morning, I was waiting for a steetcar on Queen Street after brunch at one of my favourite hangouts, Bonjour Brioche.  On the carstop sign, I noticed a sticker had been added saying “My Toronto Does Nothing For Me”.

This seems to be a prevailing sentiment among people who have lots to complain about, usually in relation to their perceived right to have the City and its agencies (and everyone else’s taxes) give them ideal services with nothing in return.

To those who would have the CUPE strike ended yesterday with whatever Draconian consequences (usually something slow and painful) for the public workers, I have little sympathy.  Everyone focuses on the garbage collectors, but they are a small part of the total civic workforce.  Many other services come from dedicated staff who perform a myriad of duties for us, the broader public.

I say this as someone recently retired from a public career as an IT Manager at the Toronto District School Board.  Most of my staff were CUPE members, and they were dedicated to keeping our systems running as well as possible for hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and staff.  Whenever we attempted to hire from outside, job applications were overwhelmingly of less than stellar quality even though the IT market is supposedly depressed.  This says something about the competitiveness of our wage levels.

Following the 1998 shotgun weddings of the cities and school boards in Toronto, both the City and Board staff went through immense upheaval as services were consolidated.  Board IT staffing was cut by over half even though the number of students and schools remained the same, and the demand for networked services grew immensely.

Early retirement buyouts took the cream of the organization, the people who actually knew how it worked and how to get things done, in every department, out of the shop.  We saved the taxpayers millions, but only on paper, and lost years of knowledge.  Informal relationships between departments that greased the wheels in every part of the Board vanished only to be replaced by the sort of cumbersome bureaucracy so-often complained of in large agencies.

A few rotten apples were, with some effort, removed, but they were exceptions among skilled, hard-working staff.  Such people will be found in any organization.  Meanwhile, senior management ranks filled with many whose ambitions overreached their abilities.  Try getting rid of people like that without a handsome payout, assuming the organization even recognizes it has a problem.

When I look at the current civic workers’ strike in Toronto, I am disappointed that it happened, and that it’s not yet over.  I am not going to debate the merits of each side’s position here because that would turn a transit blog into a repository for anti-union, anti-public service and, yes, anti-Miller bilge that has quite enough play elsewhere.  In brief, I think the City’s position is reasonable, and those playing politics would do well to consider how they might handle the situation otherwise.

Toronto does a lot for me personally by permitting a rich varied lifestyle and a broad menu of diversions.  In return, I work to advance public services, especially those provided by the transit system, even when my advocacy runs headlong into pig-headed politicians and professional staff.  Many other advocates, some well-known, some only members of a small neighbourhood association, make their marks on Toronto.  A small army of civic staff through many agencies deliver the services we all work so hard to attain.

The strike needs to end, and soon, so that we can all concentrate on the betterment of the city.  Part of that betterment is the spirit of involvement in civic affairs at the political and community level that is the real strength of Toronto.  Many citizens care about their city, about their Toronto.  That inclusive, plural voice is the heart of “my” city, a city where people ask what they can do to make it a better place everywhere from the posh waterfront to the poor suburbs.

Advice for the Advisory Committee

Today, the Metrolinx Board met in its first public session after being reconstituted.  “No Politicians Added!” should be their advertising slogan.  It was an extremely boring meeting where the staff presented reports we had all read beforehand, only one director asked any questions, and the public session was all over in an hour.  I hope that the Board was more lively in the long private session scheduled to follow.

One item of business was the creation of an Advisory Committee for the Electrification Study, or more correctly, a committee to advise on the terms of reference for the study.

Metrolinx is very proud of the crew they have assembled for this committee, and I can only hope that this group will actually get to have meaningful input.  Metrolinx isn’t big on meaningful input, but you’ve heard all that from me before.

Although I was nominated by the Union Station Revitalization Public Advisory Committee to sit as a representative on this body, and one issue in the draft terms of reference is Union Station, I was passed over.  I will live. 

Metrolinx does not appear to even know about the Union Station project because in an extensive report on GO activities, it wasn’t mentioned once.  It is only the single most important change in the station coming down the pipe because, without it, GO hasn’t a prayer of handling more riders.  Service buildups planned for the GO network cannot be accommodated without the greatly increased capacity and improved station layout.  However, more frequent service likely on electrified lines will strain even the improved the station’s capacity.

As a public spirited citizen, I offer a bit of advice for the advisors for their work and their eventual recommendations to the Metrolinx Board. Continue reading

Church Street Track Construction Begins (Updated)

Updated July 13 at 10:45 am:

The TTC has updated its track construction schedule to co-ordinate with City watermain work.

  • Church Street is done in two pieces as described in the original article.
  • Parliament Street is deferred to 2010.
  • Wellington and Victoria Streets are deferred to 2013.

Thanks to David S. Crawford of the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association for this information.

Original post:

Through the 2009 and 2010 construction seasons, TTC and the City will be rebuilding streetcar track and watermains on Church from Carlton to King.  The work notice has been posted on the TTC’s site.

There will be three phases to this work. Continue reading

How Big a Hole Do We Need?

At its meeting on July 9, the TTC approved purchase of four tunnel boring machines from LOVAT Inc. for construction of the Spadina Subway extension at a cost of about $58-million.  There was considerable discussion about this expense from the point of view of whether any could be recouped after construction, or what commonality there might be with Transit City requirements.

Various tidbits came out during the questions to staff from Commissioners.

The Sheppard tunnels are 5200mm inside diameter, whereas the Spadina tunnels will be 5400mm.  The larger bore is required both to meet current fire code, and to allow trains to travel through curves with sufficient clearance.  (The Sheppard line is, pardon the pun, rather boringly straight.)  The larger tunnel size adds about $35-million to the cost of the 6km of bored tunnel on the Spadina line.

Transit City tunnel size will be determined by the dynamic envelope required for its cars and for the overhead power supply.  These tunnels may not be the same diameter as those on the Spadina subway, but more to the point, the construction period for both Spadina and Eglinton overlap and using the Spadina machines for Eglinton will delay that project.  It is conceivable that the Richmond Hill subway, if funded, might inherit the machines.  Otherwise, the TTC expects to be able to sell them for about 30% of their original value.

This question will also affect the Sheppard tunnel at Don Mills, a short but necessary piece of work to get under Highway 404.

The TTC has canvassed the world market for second hand tunnelling machinery, but none which has the required bore diameter and soil condition design is available.

In a conversation after the meeting, I learned that although the single large bore tunnel (13m) proposed for Eglinton might be feasible, this large tunnel greatly increases the cost of removing spoil (earth and rock) because the tunnel structure is much larger than would be the case for two single tunnels.  In turn, this begs the question of how much of the Eglinton line will be built cut-and-cover so that it is not dependent on the availability of tunnel boring equipment.  We shall see in the fall when the next set of community meetings come around for the Eglinton corridor study.