Text by Daniel Garcia and James Bow.
The Midtown GO Train line is a possible name for a decades-old proposal for GO Transit to route commuter trains off of the tracks into Union Station and along the Canadian Pacific tracks running through the middle of Toronto, north of Dupont Street. Such a route could connect with the Toronto subway at Kipling, Dupont and Summerhill stations before heading to the northeastern reaches of Scarborough. West of Kipling, a Midtown train would follow the route of the GO Milton line, serving the middle and northwestern stretches of Mississauga. East of Scarborough, the Midtown train could bring commuter rail service to the planned community of Seaton in northern Pickering, and even to the city of Peterborough.
A History of North Toronto Station
The centrepiece of the Midtown GO Train line would be the historic North Toronto station building on Yonge Street, two blocks south of Summerhill station. This beautiful building was designed in 1915 by Darling and Pearson architects. The cornerstone was laid on September 9, 1915 by the mayor of Toronto at the time, Tommy Church. Construction work was handled by P. Lyall & Sons Construction company and, less than a year later, the station was officially opened for passenger service on June 14, 1916 (though passenger trains had been stopping at the station as early as June 4).
North Toronto station was the Canadian Pacific's flagship station for Toronto. It featured a clock tower that ascended 140 feet into the air and could be seen for miles. The building itself offered stair-less access to the passenger trains. The whole building was finely ornamented, made from beige Tyndall limestone from Manitoba, and beige, brown and green marble throughout the interior. Ornate white plaster ceilings graced the waiting rooms.
North Toronto station was barely eleven years old when its use began to decline. Canadian Pacific joined with Canadian National to build Toronto's Union Station and, once the station opened in 1927, more and more CP trains were routed there. The Great Depression cut into Canadian Pacific's ridership and revenues, and CP and CN soon pooled most of its Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal trains, making North Toronto station redundant. The last paying passenger filed through the station on September 27, 1930. Space in the northern portion of the terminal building was given over to Brewers' Retail in 1931.
North Toronto station did see further use. At 10:30 a.m., on May 22, 1939, King George VII and his consort, Queen Elizabeth (mother of Queen Elizabeth II) arrived on a royal visit to Toronto. After meeting dignitaries and waving to crowds, the king and queen left Toronto via Union Station. During World War II, troop trains brought returning soldiers through North Toronto station, and these would prove to be the station's last passengers.
North Toronto Restoration
For years after the Second World War, North Toronto station was allowed to languish and deteriorate. Brewers' Retail and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario made retail outlets out of the building, and boarded up much of the station's elegant interior. The clock tower stopped working (the clocks were removed between 1940 and 1950, and the clockfaces were stored) and became a pigeon roost. Engineers examining the tower in the late late 1980s had to wear bio-hazard suits and breathing aparatus, and described layers of pigeon poop several inches thick.
But the beauty and historical nature of the landmark could not be denied. In 2004, the City of Toronto and Marathon Realty (the real-estate arm of Canadian Pacific) entered into an agreement to redevelop the site and restore the building. In 2004, the Woodcliffe Corporation and Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd, Architects as well as Eastern Construction was contracted to do the work. Nearly 4,000 kilograms of old pigeon droppings had to be removed. Fortunately, the original clock faces were found and restored. The LCBO store was renovated and expanded (with a rubberized floor made from discarded automobile tires to decrease potentially bottle-breaking vibrations from passing freight trains), and other shops added to serve a new condominium development built to the south of the station. The platform remained off limits to the public, however, since no passenger trains were around to be served.
A History of GO's Midtown Plans
As GO Transit grew through the 1980s, patronage and service to Union Station started to increase to the point beyond what GO's then-current facilities at the station could handle. In the days before tight budgets and government cutbacks, GO was able to receive funding to redesign the lower mezzanine of Union Station to better handle the large crowds. At the same time, it set forth plans should patronage increase to the point where these changes would not be enough. One suggestion included the possibility of an alternate downtown station. Thus GO turned their attention to the then decommissioned North Toronto station.
Roadblocks abounded. Despite Canadian Pacific's willingness to restore the station as part of a major redevelopment of the lands, it was reluctant to give space to GO Transit on its tracks. The Milton GO line was the only GO Train line to use Canadian Pacific tracks, and that was only after considerable negotiations, and the willingness of GO Transit to invest hundreds of millions of dollars on additional tracks through Mississauga. Unlike Canadian National, which relocated its freight traffic off of GO's Lakeshore route by use of a new bypass built north of the city in the 1960s, Canadian Pacific uses the midtown Toronto as its main freight line between Ottawa, Montreal, London and Windsor. Freights are frequent, and the line through midtown Toronto is constricted with properties closely abutting the tracks.
The improvements to Union Station, coupled by the sharp recession in the early 1990s reduced GO's enthusiasm for its Midtown plan. The idea resurfaced in late 2000 as part of the GO's ten-year plan, however. Here, a proposal called for a Toronto-only line running from Kipling GO station via Canadian Pacific tracks to Agincourt station in Scarborough. The only intermediate stops would be at Spadina Road (where a connection would be made with the subway at Dupont station), at North Toronto station (where a connection would be made with the subway at Summerhill station), and in Leaside. Canadian Pacific's reluctance to accept such a proposal, as well as the presence of higher priority projects meant that nothing came of the proposal.
As the new millennium wore on, however, GO Transit's ridership increased, as did the crowds of trains and passengers using Union station. When the Ontario Government launched MoveOntario 2020 in the summer of 2007, a number of GO Transit proposals were incorporated as priorities, including a future line from Milton to Peterborough via Midtown Toronto. The Government of Ontario established the regional transit agency Metrolinx to study the projects and take over operation of GO Transit. Their studies confirmed that Union Station's capacity is running out. Even with the major renovations taking place between 2010 and 2015, the station will reach its design capacity by 2031. By that time, routing GO Trains out of Union station to satellite commuter stations around the downtown, will become a priority.
How to Begin Service on the Midtown Line
A number of improvements would be required to bring GO Trains onto the Canadian Pacific mainline through midtown Toronto. Unlike Canadian National, which removed most of its freight onto a rail bypass between Burlington and Pickering, allowing GO Transit to make heavy use of the line, Canadian Pacific still makes extensive use of the Midtown line for its freight operations, and reasonable bypasses are unavailable. The Midtown Line would run on CP's Bellville, North Toronto and Galt Subs, three sections of CP's Montreal to Detroit mainline. GO Transit would need to build new tracks and improved signalling should it want to bring trains to North Toronto station. Other costs would include upgrading the bridges over branches of the Don River.
Canadian Pacific has already received some benefit from GO Transit's construction plans. Millions have been spent upgrading the CP tracks through Etobicoke and Mississauga all the way to Milton, and the separation of the tracks in the West Toronto diamond (where GO Kitchener trains cross the CP tracks) is well underway at the time of this writing (the summer of 2013). However, Metrolinx has to deal with a limited budget and a number of other projects jostling for priority. It has been noted that only a limited number of trains could be routed to North Toronto station, and these may not help reduce congestion at Union station as much as simply move it elsewhere.
Passengers who whose work is located some distance away from Union Station can take the TTC's northbound University or northbound Yonge subway trains to their destination. They would largely be moving against the general flow of commuter traffic using the subway (southbound in the morning, northbound in the afternoon) and thus would be able to make use of some rare spare capacity on Toronto's subway network. Passengers disembarking at North Toronto station or Spadina station, however, would have to travel southbound on either the Spadina-University or Yonge lines in order to access jobs downtown. They would be joining a flow of commuter traffic that may already be at capacity.
In addition, one proposal for dealing the capacity crunch expected at Union Station is to build a satellite commuter station where the Bathurst North Yard now stands, south of Front Street, between Bathurst and Spadina. As this station would be at the edge of Toronto's downtown, Metrolinx proposes that passengers can finish their journey by boarding a version of the Downtown Relief subway line. Such a project would cost billions, but solve the Union Station capacity issues and generally decrease congestion throughout the downtown core. With Metrolinx dealing with a limited budget, the North Toronto proposal has to compete against the downtown relief line proposal, and the downtown relief line may have an edge.
A Speculative Tour of the Midtown GO Line
Although some rush hour Midtown GO Trains start service in Milton, most service on the Midtown line starts at Erindale station in western Mississauga. As the trains proceed east, the provide relief to overcrowded GO Lakeshore trains operating through Mississauga. As the train leaves Erindale, it heads past parks and houses before meeting factories and other industries as it approaches Cooksville station. Beyond Cooksville, the scenery becomes decidedly industrial, with many of the warehouses and factories using CP for their shipping needs. Dixie Station would be next, oft mentioned as a possible terminus for an extended Bloor-Danforth subway, but with very few trip generators located nearby. On the south side of the corridor, "The Annex", a small yard used by CP for holding container trains before they enter the Obico Yard, signals the entry into Toronto. Soon after passing underneath Highway 427, Obico passes to the south, and the train pulls into Kipling. Here, connections already exist with the Bloor-Danforth subway, and hundreds of parking spaces to the north and the south of the station complex.
As the train pulls away from Kipling, riders on the south side of the cars will spot a pair of tracks coming from the south and joining the mainline: these are known as "The Cutoff" (officially the Canpa Subdivision), and come from CN's Oakville Sub just west of the giant yard complex known as Willowbrook/TMC/Mimico. Continuing east from Kipling, the line cuts northeast, passing the intersection of Dundas/Royal York, before crossing the Humber River on a high bridge (which is next to a footbridge that rests on piers formerly used by the Toronto Suburban Railway). This is a favourite camera spot for many railfans in the Toronto area. After the bridge, the scenery changes to backyards of houses briefly before a more commercial/industrial mix settles in as the CP approaches the Toronto Junction. To the north of the mainline is CP's original maintenance facility for the Toronto area, called Lambton Yard. It has shrunk quite a bit since its inception, but it still remains important to the day-to-day operations of CP in Toronto. There is also a yard here where many through freights layover, and where many local freights originate.
Just past Lambton is West Toronto, where Midtown GO Trains would pass over what had once been one of the great operational headaches to freight and commuter rail service in Toronto: the West Toronto diamond. By the time Midtown trains are operational, however, they wouldn't even slow down, and would pass over the Weston Sub via bridges installed in 2013. The rail right-of-way would narrow, with old industrial buildings (now converted loft dwellings) crowding in from Dupont Street. Further east, near Dufferin, a pair of tracks push out from the main line, allowing trains to lay over. At one time, the North Toronto Sub used to have as many as five tracks in some spots. By the 1990s, this had largely been reduced to just two, although all of the bridges as far east as Leaside had room left for at least one additional track with no modifications necessary. As the train nears Bathurst Street, it passes the TTC's Hillcrest shops to its south. Past Bathurst, the trains slow down as they approach Casa Loma station, a new station built on the Midtown line offering a walking transfer to the subway at Dupont, as well as easy access to iconic Casa Loma, George Brown College, and the Annex neighbourhood.
Leaving Casa Loma station, the Midtown Train heads east two kilometres before stopping again at the line's centrepiece, the platform of the redeveloped North Toronto station. North Toronto station has ample facilities to handle large crowds, although many of the western commuters might have been channelled away onto the subway at Spadina station. North Toronto boasts two levels: the main level (where the liquor store now sits), and a smaller, upper level directly underneath the tracks. A tunnel leading to a secondary exit at the south side of the TTC's Summerhill station provides access ot the subway.
Leaving North Toronto Station, the line crosses over Mt. Pleasant Road on a spectacular high bridge which, in the 1990s, had space for three tracks. Then, the line passes very near the neighbourhood of Governor's Bridge, just northeast of Rosedale. This is one of the older parts of Toronto, with many of the houses here dating back to the late 1800's. The North Toronto Sub ends just past the bridge over Bayview Avenue. Here, a yard opens up on the north of the corridor, and Belleville Sub arrives from Union Station on the south. This yard, known as Leaside, was built by the Canadian Northern railway and once anchored a large maintenance facility, and indeed the whole town of Leaside. More recently, it was the interchange between CN and CP. CN abandoned the short spur that connects this yard to the Bala Sub, south of York Mills, and hasn't used Leaside for years. As a result, this yard, currently unoccupied save for one or two tracks, makes an ideal site for a GO yard, which could possibly house twelve ten-car trains.
To the south of the yard, just east of the end of the North Toronto Sub, sits the former, and future, Leaside Station. Leslie Station last served passengers in September 1982 when VIA (formerly CP) trains from Havelock were cut for the first time. Not only is Leaside a stop for the Midtown GO Train, it's also where a connection is provided to Union station via the former Don Branch. In 2012, GO bought this stretch of track running from the Kingston Sub by Cherry Street Yard, along the Bayview Avenue extension and thorugh the Don Valley to Leaside. The tracks had been abandoned by Canadian Pacific beforehand, but GO saw the need to protect a possible future transit corridor.
Leaving Leaside, the Midtown GO Train crosses over a trio of bridges over the Don Valley, two of which have elements that date back to the building of the Canadian Pacific line. The third bridge was built during the construction of the Don Valley Parkway and can take as many as four tracks. The other bridges would have to be rebuilt for additional track. Soon the line crosses Don Mills near Eglinton, the location of Don Mills station. Connections can be made here with the Eglinton LRT a block south, and the station serves the commercial and residential neighbourhoods nearby. A possible station also exists where the line crosses Lawrence Avenue, as that is in the middle of a major industrial area and many possible trip generators.
The line quickly crosses beneath Victoria Park, and runs in a cut all of the way to Warden Avenue. From here, it's at grade all the way to Agincourt, with the backs of factories facing the line. At Agincourt, Midtown trains stop at a new platform built south of the older GO station on the Uxbridge Sub, and southwest of the former CPR/VIA Agincourt station which last served Havelock trains until January 1990. Passengers here would transfer to trains heading to Markham and Stouffville, or possibly board LRT vehicles operating on Sheppard Avenue East. Beyond Agincourt, the line continues northeast towards Malvern before finally stopping at Markham Road. It's likely a number of Midtown GO Trains would short turn here, while a handful of others would continue east, past the vistas of CP's huge North Toronto Yard, and beyond to the communities of Seaton, northern Durham Region, and even as far as the city of Peterborough.
The Future of GO's Midtown Line
As of the time of this writing, the Midtown line is not a high priority for Metrolinx, but it is in the books. Such a line would reduce the system's reliance on Union Station, and it would improve commutes across the centre of Toronto and into northeastern Scarborough. While other projects jostle for priority over the next twenty years, who is to say what may be possible. It may not be long before passengers return to the historic and iconic North Toronto station.