October 1, 2018, and October 1, 2021. Mark both dates on your calendars, if you're an observer of Metrolinx's mammoth Crosstown Light Rail Transit project. The 2018 date—just six weeks away—is when the line's storage and maintenance facility will be "ready to receive trains", according to the contractors who are building the project.

Aerial-view rendering of Mount Dennis station, as it will appear when the LRT is operating, image, Metrolinx

As for October 1, 2021? Well, more on that later…

Metrolinx and Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the group that is building and managing the project, recently offered media a sneak-preview tour of construction at the Mount Dennis work site at the western end of the line. That location contains several elements of the project including:

  • Mount Dennis LRT station;
  • a TTC bus terminal;
  • a GO Transit and Union Pearson Express station;
  • an elevated "guideway", carrying the LRT cars into Mount Dennis station; and
  • the maintenance and storage facility.

The biggest take-away from this tour is how quickly the project has progressed. Urban Toronto has visited this site several times: first in August 2016, when Metrolinx and its contractors moved a heritage building on the site about 61 metres (200 feet) on rails to a new location out of the way of construction; and most recently in August 2017, when Mayor Tory and Ontario's then Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca and other officials participated in a ceremonial laying of the first track. During that event, the site was mostly a sea of mud and the maintenance facility just a shell of steel girders.

Parker (left) and Persson led the tour, image, Robert Mackenzie

Crosslinx' officials, Deputy Regional Director Anders Persson and Deputy Segments Director Don Parker, led the reporters through the site. First, we passed the former Kodak employees' club house, the last relic of the site's former use as plant which manufactured photography supplies. This is the heritage structure that Metrolinx moved out of the way of construction two years ago.

    The former Kodak building will be home to the TTC bus terminal, image, Robert Mackenzie 

    The building will eventually house retail and community space. However, it also performs an important transit function: the GO and UP Express waiting area and public washrooms will be on the main level of the building, while the TTC's terminal will be in the basement.

    Platform level at Mount Dennis Station today, image, Robert Mackenzie

    Rendering of platform level, when the LRT is in service, image, Metrolinx

    We visited a location near the railway right-of-way that borders the western edge of the site. There, crews are busy working on a tunnel that will, eventually, allow the LRT tracks to extend under the railway. Parker explained that the team first relocated the GO and UPX tracks–to the west so that the team could build the eastern half of the tunnel. Eventually, they'll move the tracks eastward again, so that they could dig the western tunnel.

    Crews are tunnelling under the railway tracks for pedestrian connections and future westward extension, image, Robert Mackenzie

    The tunnel will allow Metrolinx and the City of Toronto to extend the LRT further westward to Toronto Pearson International Airport and a future transit hub there as part of the SmartTrack project. More immediately, it will also allow passengers to walk between the LRT and the GO/UPX stations, and the main and secondary entrances.

    Rendering of the main entrance to the station west of the railway tracks, image, Metrolinx

    We headed south toward Eglinton Avenue West to discover that much of the infrastructure for the Mount Dennis Station is already intact. Tracks are in place and platforms are in position. Mount Dennis is an above-ground station well above street level. (Eglinton dips at this point so that traffic can flow under a bridge carrying GO and UPX trains.) Light streams into the station through the all-glass south facade.

    The secondary entrance east of the tracks, with the former Kodak building behind, image, Metrolinx

    The station will have three accessible entrances:

    • the main entrance at the west end of the station between Weston Road and the GO/UPX rail corridor, with an underground connection from the main entrance to the former Kodak building);
    • a secondary entrance east of the rail corridor on the north side of Eglinton Avenue West; and
    • a third in the former Kodak building.

    Rendering of the TTC bus terminal in the former Kodak building, image, Metrolinx

    The TTC terminal will include bays for 15 buses. Plans include 40 outdoor and 80 indoor bicycle parking spaces. The indoor bicycle storage will stand beside the main entrance. A passenger pick-up and drop-off structure or "kiss 'n' ride" will accommodate riders of all the transit modes at Mount Dennis—LRT, UPX, GO, and buses.

    Crews are still digging for the spur track that will allow LRT cars access to the MSF, image, Robert Mackenzie

    East of the station, crews are building a spur from the main line tracks. The LRT cars will travel along that spur to reach the storage and maintenance facility.

    Aerial-view rendering of the maintenance and storage facility, showing the green roof, image, Metrolinx

    A bus carried the group around to the north side of the construction site. Along the way we glimpsed the elevated guideway that will support the LRT tracks east of the station. LRT train sets will emerge from the tunnel just west of Bicknell Avenue and onto the guideway which will carry the trains across Black Creek and Black Creek Drive, and into the station on the north side of Eglinton.

    These poles at the MSF await the imminent arrival of catenary--overhead wiring to power the cars, image, Robert Mackenzie

    The bus paused on an overpass so we could gain a bird's-eye view of the maintenance and storage facility or MSF. Anders pointed out the multiple poles that will soon receive overhead wiring to power the trains. The exteriors of all structures are complete and tracks are in place. Eventually this site will store and maintain all the cars for the line and can, in fact hold as many as 162 Bombardier Flexity Freedom LRT train-sets.

    Structures within the MSF include:

    • a vehicle cleaning & inspection facility
    • a vehicle cleaning staff building
    • an operations company building
    • a maintenance building; and
    • a bridge over the rail corridor to allow staff and service vehicles to access the MSF from the northwest

    The design for the facility incorporates two artificial ponds and green tracks, so its landscaping better integrates with the nearby parkland in the Black Creek valley. The facility also has a "green roof", meaning vegetation partially or completely covers it.

    Inside the MSF—still a construction site, but not for long, image, Robert Mackenzie

    The site will have storage for 162 Bombardier Flexity Freedom LRT vehicles and, according to Persson, the first of which will arrive later this year. Once more track is complete, the team will test the new cars by running them between the MSF and the future Caledonia Station, two stops east. When the cars have notched 600 kilometres on the odometer, they will be ready for the public.

    Service bays will allow mechanics access to the underside of the cars, image, Robert Mackenzie

    We toured the maintenance building and saw the bays where future mechanics will work under the cars. In the washing facility we learned that each train set requires just two minutes to be cleaned, and will likely get a scrub every second day.

    The washing facility can process the LRT vehicles in two minutes, image, Robert Mackenzie

    In March, 2015, Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario named Crosslinx the preferred proponent for building and maintaining the 21-kilometre LRT line. The three parties signed a contract in November of that year. The $9.1 billion value of the contract includes a 30-year maintenance agreement which allocates funding to the lifecycle repair and renewal of systems components. The Crosslinx consortium includes ACS Dragados Canada, AECON, EllisDon and SNC Lavalin.

    As promised, here's information about that October 1, 2021 date: Metrolinx and Crosslinx have targeted 2021 to open the line. While Metrolinx and Crosslinx are dealing with a legal dispute over some construction complications, during our visit, we heard whispers of a possible opening date of September 29. So, October 1 may very well be the second day of full operation—if everything gets back on plan.

    Mark your calendars.

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