New condominiums and office buildings sprouting up all over downtown have drawn residents and commuters into the core of our city at a staggering pace over the past few years, and while the building boom continues to make downtown’s numbers swell, those numbers put immense pressure on our transit system. At the heart of it all, Union Station sees upwards of half a million bus, train and subway commuters passing through on the average weekday, and the numbers are expected to just keep rising.
Over the past few years, a massive multi-part revitalization of Union Station has been slowly transforming the octogenarian rail station and its transit links into a modern commuter hub. Upgrades are being undertaken to improve the flagship station in our national and regional rail networks (VIA, GO) as well as subway (TTC) and pedestrian accessibility.
Of the over 500,000 commuters that pass through Union Station every workday, more than 100,000 use the TTC Yonge-University-Spadina subway line. The U-shaped line’s two branches meet at Union Station, the TTC’s busiest non-interchange subway station. While Union’s TTC ridership may not quite be the highest on the system, with a single centre platform, it is certainly the most cramped. Designed to accommodate Toronto’s mid-1950s population of around 1 million people, the Yonge subway line opened in 1954 with just 12 stations.
That same line now has 32 stations with 6 more under construction, and the City’s population has swelled to 2.79 million while the population of the Greater Toronto Area is now over 6 million, and as the Downtown meeting point of the line’s two branches with the GO commuter rail network, Union Station has become quite a squeeze during rush hours.
To alleviate this choke point, the TTC is constructing a new second platform on the south side of the existing subway tracks (as wide as 10 metres in places) which will exclusively serve trains bound for the congested Yonge branch, while the existing 6.9-metre-wide platform will eventually serve only University-Spadina branch trains.
Construction progress on the new platform is difficult to get a glimpse of for those lacking x-ray vision, but the edge of the new platform is now visible at the east end of the subway station at platform level.
The second platform is certain to improve congestion at track level, but getting to and from the subway station to the train station can be a challenge in itself. Commuters move at different paces through subway concourses, and in the narrow corridors of Union Station it is easy for a few slow paced walkers to create a cascading bottleneck effect which can cause delays and frustration for all. The Union Station revitalization is addressing this issue with a large new concourse designed to allow much more efficient pedestrian flow. The temporary concourse access point and stairs in the photo below will be repeated twice more to the immediate east and moved about as construction progresses, eventually easing the bottleneck when these stairs can be removed at the end of the train station rebuild.
Work on the central and eastern subway concourse and underground services continues with concrete now reaching grade level on Front Street.
East of Bay Street, a new east exit/entrance to the subway station will connect to the PATH system walkway to Brookfield Place. Construction related to this is currently taking place in front of the Dominion Public Building.
A prominent element of the revitalization project is the new Zeidler Partnership-designed glass atrium now replacing the centre of the historic but dark train shed. Work on the light-filled atrium, meant to bring a sense of arrival for GO, VIA Rail, and Amtrak passengers, is ongoing. The 71,000-square foot, 2-storey structure is supported by 48 canted steel columns, the last of which was lifted into place just over one month ago. While the atrium may now appear close to completion, there is still much many months of work left to before the grand space is completed.
Elsewhere at Union Station, much more is going on behind closed doors, including work on the new York Street GO concourse which will open later this year. UrbanToronto looks forward to taking you behind the scenes soon.
Looking for more information about Union Station in the meantime? Project facts and renderings can be found in our dataBase files, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Join in the conversation in our associated Forum threads or voice your opinion in the comments section provided at the bottom of this page.