Over a billion dollars worth of construction is currently underway in and around Union Station. The multi-modal transport node is Canada's busiest hub for moving people – over a quarter of a million people pass through the node every weekday – and significant annual growth is expected for the foreseeable future. Union Station's transport features are expanding in every possible way to handle the coming numbers: the subway station is getting a new platform, platforms have been added to the GO and VIA shed while decisions are still coming as how to add yet more platform capacity for new rail services, plans (still unfunded) are in the works to boost the Waterfront LRT connection capacity, rumours abound of a relocation of the city's coach terminal to the south of Union Station, and more than anything the pedestrian realm is being entirely reworked including many new paths through the station, as well as a new arm to the (mostly) underground pedestrian PATH network itself.

Capacity is not the only issue at the station: aging infrastructure means that the place has been looking rather long-in-the-tooth too, and an upgrade of the facilities, both practical as well as aesthetic, has been needed for years. As of yesterday, the first upgrade at the station is now complete, and the new VIA Panorama Lounge has officially opened after $4.2 million work. Available to VIA Rail Business Class or Sleeper Class passengers, the lounge provides comfortable seating, free wifi, work stations, meeting areas, and refreshments in a beatifully restored an updated space which once housed the station's long closed Front Street Bar 'n Grill, originally a lunchroom.

On hand for the dedication of the lounge were Denzil Minnan-Wong representing the City of Toronto, VIA Rail employees, Marc Laliberté, President and CEO of VIA Rail, Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Transport, Paul G. Smith, Chairman of the Board of VIA Rail, and Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, General Counsel and Secretary of VIA Rail.

Dedication of VIA Rail Panorama Lounge at Union Station, TorontoDedication of the new Panorama Lounge at Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

The lounge is on the first floor of the west wing, just to the west of the Great Hall. Entrance to the Great Hall is from Front Street through the columns which can be seen in the distance in the photgraph below. Closest to the viewer is scaffolding covering an office area currently being restored and updated for use by GO Transit.

Construction at Union Station, TorontoConstruction obscures much of Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

The moat below Front Street currently holds many construction materials. The Panorama Lounge's windows are those just above the scaffolding on the left side of this image.

Construction at Union Station, TorontoThe Panorama lounge's windows are above construction in the moat at Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

Doors to the lounge have been recreated to match the heritage aspects of the station's interior.

VIA Rail Panorama Lounge at Union Station, TorontoDoors to the new Panorama Lounge at Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

During the renovation process massive amounts of marble were found which had been lost over the years under plaster and layers of paint. Meticulous claning, and some replacement pieces from the same Quebec quarry where the original marble was mined, has brought the space back to a gleaming luxuriousness. Energy efficient windows were fitted in seemlessly with heritage wooden frames. Light fixtures, furniture, and woodwork in the kitchen area create a contemporary-classic design. 

VIA Rail Panorama Lounge at Union Station, TorontoThe main room at the new Panorama Lounge at Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

There's more than one room for waiting passengers to relax in, and some provide more quiet. Space has been significantly increased over the previous lounge, and seating doubled.

VIA Rail Panorama Lounge at Union Station, TorontoQuiet seating area at the new Panorama Lounge at Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

Facilities are also available for business on the go: tables are ready for meetings, while internet workstations are also provided.

VIA Rail Panorama Lounge at Union Station, TorontoMeeting table at the new Panorama Lounge at Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

VIA Rail Panorama Lounge at Union Station, TorontoInternet stations at the new Panorama Lounge at Union Station, image by Craig White 2012.05.24

Improvements such as these are welcome news for travellers wishing to travel greenly between cities as opposed to flying, and provide more choices in a city that aims to better compete with other globally sigificant centres. It's also a great step forward in a country that was built by rails, but where their significance had been minimized over the last half of the 20th century.

We will be back to see much more of what's going on at Union Station in coming weeks. In the meantime, check out the UrbanToronto dataBase page for Union Station, linked below. It contains many renderings and more information about what is going on. Want to get in in the conversation? Choose the associated Forum thread link!