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Soon (okay, in 2012) Union Station will debut new platform

After sewer pipe bypass, `detailed design’ next for keenly watched project at fourth busiest station

Jan 05, 2008 04:30 AM
Paul Moloney
city hall bureau

When the Union subway station opened in 1954, there was no Air Canada Centre, Rogers Centre or Harbourfront. The O’Keefe Centre, now the Sony Centre, hadn’t opened yet, and the downtown financial core was much smaller.

Today, the station is the fourth busiest in the subway system, behind Bloor-Yonge, St. George and Finch. It has 75,000 people a day jostling for space on the narrow two-way platform.

What was adequate back then is a safety concern now - one finally being addressed as work continues to install a second platform.

When the work is done in 2012, the rails won’t move but the existing platform will service only southbound Yonge trains looping to University. Across the way, the new platform will handle southbound University trains looping to Yonge.

“It’s a great project,” said TTC spokesperson Marilyn Bolton. “It’s going to make the flow so much better.”

A second platform will come in handy as GO Transit ridership spilling out at Union Station continues to grow by 5 to 7 per cent a year and plans proceed to build a streetcar line along Queens Quay E. while extending the Harbourfront line west to Etobicoke, said TTC vice-chair Joe Mihevc.

There’s also the small city of condo towers sprouting up west of the Rogers Centre to consider, and the plans for a rail link from Union to the airport, he added.

“To facilitate all of that, of course we need a second platform,” Mihevc said. “We need it bad. We’re at the beginning of the crowding issues. It will only get worse until we get this together.”

Dignitaries gathered back in May 2006 to announce the start of construction, but little progress is apparent so far.

That’s because the first order of business was to move a sewer from where the new platform will go. That job will be completed about a month from now, six months later than originally estimated.

It’s not the first time a TTC project has faced this snag: Mihevc said it took a year to move a sewer from the path of the Eglinton subway line, only to have the project killed by the Mike Harris Conservatives.

“The reason Harris was able to scrap it was we lost a year relocating the sewer pipe,” Mihevc said. “Otherwise, it would have been too far along to stop.”

That won’t happen with the Union platform, classed as one of four priority projects in the waterfront revitalization program. The city, province and federal government are splitting the $90 million cost.

Ten years ago, the TTC sought a contribution from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, since Union Station would be crucial for its new arena. But the company refused, noting that no levy was imposed on the owners of the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) after it opened.

Once commitments arrived from the public sector, funding was no longer an issue. Unlike the actual construction.

“It’s very complex,” said project chief Rick Thompson of the subterranean site. “It’s a smorgasbord under Front St. It’s a whole other level of complexity.”

No one gets more impatient at how long a project can take, from earth-turning to ribbon-cutting, than the politicians.

“(Their) horizons tend to be election mandates, which are four years,” Mihevc said.

“You really want to show the public that you’re working, and sometimes after four years of hard work, what you’ve done is finished the engineering drawings.”

That’s exactly the case at Union Station, where only about 30 per cent of the design work has been done and actual construction of the platform won’t begin until 2009.

“We’re just entering what’s called the detailed design phase,” Thompson said. “We have another 18 months of design.”

And so the TTC won’t have much to show for its efforts any time soon.

“It’s like doing the foundations of a house,” Bolton said. “It has to be done, but it’s much more fun decorating the family room when you get to that part.”




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