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Union-airport rail link on way

Expanded GO service planned

By Hamida Ghafour and Tim Harper
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

The City of Toronto is buying Union Station and, with the federal government’s help, will build a high-speed rail link to Pearson airport.

The city will also use Union Station to expand GO Transit and TTC services as well as turning it into a retail and residential centre.

The GTA-Ottawa partnership is expected to be announced today by Mayor Mel Lastman and federal Transport Minister David Collenette.

“It will be phenomenal, just phenomenal,” Lastman said last night, refusing to give a lot of detail on the plan.

Lastman wouldn’t say how much the deal is worth although Toronto Terminals Railway Co. Ltd. - which runs the station - was asking $85 million for the station. The city made a $50 million counteroffer.

The mayor said the city got a good deal. “Would I ever give the city a bad deal?”

The deal will include a federal financial commitment to the rail link between Union Station and the airport to be completed by 2004, said a source familiar with the deal.

“It makes a lot of sense. Union is the main transportation hub for the whole GTA,” said TTC chair Howard Moscoe. “I’m very pleased.”

Today’s announcement - two years in the making - makes Greater Toronto a full partner in future redevelopment. It also has implications for the 2008 Olympic bid.

A report on the revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront by financier Robert Fung called for the overhaul of Union Station, the country’s major transportation centre.

“It enhances our chances for the Olympic bid. We need to fix up the station before we can get it,” said Moscoe.

The Fung report, unveiled in the spring, said revamping the station was crucial as it will have to accommodate a population increase in the next 20 years.

Karen Pitre, executive vice-president of TO-Bid, said bid officials knew the sale was in the works and that she was happy it finally came through.

“It’s one of the pieces of the puzzle that needed to be in place and we are happy we can get closure on it,” said Pitre.

The committee was pushing for the expansion of the subway and GO Transit platforms which would accommodate the hordes of people travelling to and from the Games, she said.

Ottawa has previously announced a $400 million commitment to redevelopment of the VIA station. When complete, incoming airport passengers will be able to land at Pearson, then jump on the rail link to Union where they will be able to travel anywhere else in the country by land, the source said.

The federal commitment will also include the announcement of a new 49-year lease at Union Station with VIA Rail and a commitment to build a new VIA station within the existing structure.

Right now, GO Transit is the station’s largest user with 100,000 riders passing through daily and 41 trains running in peak hours.

‘It’s one of the pieces of the puzzle that needed to be in place’

The city also bought the CP Express building next to the station which will be turned into a GO bus terminal, alleviating the traffic congestion now caused by the 194 buses lining up daily on Front St., said Lastman. The Bay St. bus terminal, which runs coach buses, will not be affected.

The existing GO train platforms would also be enhanced.

Union Station will undergo major reconstruction although it will retain its architectural integrity because it is protected under federal heritage legislation.

Moscoe said the station’s interior would be reconstructed. This would also mean land currently occupied by 13 unused tracks would be turned into commercial and residential units, he said.

He said the subway platforms at Union Station will be widened, something the TTC has wanted for a long time. It’s not known yet when construction would begin.

Union Station is owned by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National North America. The Toronto Terminal Railway Co. Ltd. runs the station for the rail giants. CN and CP provide the six tracks and 150 crew members, including engineers, used by GO Transit.

The station’s infrastructure is aging and thousands of square metres of space is unused.