Text by Daniel Garcia and James Bow.
In the 1950s, Toronto's development, held back by two decades of war and depression, boomed. Since the city had instituted a moratorium on annexations in 1931, this meant that a ring of twelve municipalities surrounding Toronto were left to pick up the growth. In this period of unprecidented growth, this ring of municipalities were handling the growth with varying degrees of success. Some were prospering. Others were being choked on the rising demands for serviced land and were facing bankruptcy. The city itself had to deal with the high cost of aging infrastructure and no free land with which to reap the benefits of new development. Worst of all, there was no overall plan for growth.
As the problems progressed, the City of Toronto reversed its annexation moratorium and sought to absorb its neighbours, envisioning a City of Toronto stretching to the outer boundaries of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough townships. The outer ring of municipalities (North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke townships), fearing the loss of their independence, but desperate to handle the high cost of servicing their newly developed land, demanded a service-sharing agreement between all the suburban municipalities and Toronto. The provincial government of the day took a middle view, and created a two-tier municipal federation of the twelve suburban municipalities and the City of Toronto called the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. This change set the stage for the area's subsequent forty years of prosperity.
However, by the 1960s, the problem resurfaced on a larger scale. This time, development spilled beyond Metro's boundaries and into the then rural areas of Peel and York Counties. Villages such as Port Credit and Streetsville were seeing an influx of people who commuted to work in Toronto. A number of planners and politicians called for Metro's boundaries to be expanded to encompass this new growth, but the provincial government of the day was leery. Metropolitan Toronto was already a powerful government in its own right; making it bigger could cause it to rival the provincial government in prominence.
So, the provincial government vetoed Metro expansion. But it still had to deal with the fact that runaway growth was beginning to choke the townships and villages surrounding Metro. It also noted that, as the number of commuters increased, the provincial highways such as the 401 and the Queen Elizabeth Way were likely to receive the brunt of the traffic. Something had to be done to manage the costs of maintaining and possibly expanding these highways.
The provincial government commissioned a number of reports, one of which was the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Transportation Study (MTARTS for short). It confirmed what the province already suspected about the increase in traffic on the provincial highways entering Metropolitan Toronto. It noted that expanding the highways to fit demand would be costly. One way of alleviating the load was setting up a parallel commuter rail service to act as a relief valve for the overburdened highways.
The other reports eventually resulted in the creation of regional governments, or "mini-Metros", out of the counties of Halton, Peel, York and Durham, but the long-term provincial plan for growth in the region would soon be tossed out the window. One legacy of this set of reports remains, however, and has prospered. Acting quickly, the province set up a commuter rail service paralleling the lake shore between Oakville and Dunbarton (now Pickering). The service was to take pressure off of the Queen Elizabeth Way to the west, and Highway 401 to the east. The rest, as they say, is history.
Service begins on the Lakeshore Line
Train service on the Lakeshore corridor began on May 23, 1967, just two years after then Premier of Ontario John Robarts announced the plan for a commuter railroad operating from Dunbarton (Pickering) to Hamilton. The first train left Dunbarton at 6:00am that morning, with another train departing Oakville station 10 minutes later. The next day, trains departed from Pickering at 5:00am, 6:40am, 8:00am, 11:00am, 2:00pm, 4:00pm, 4:40pm, 6:00pm and 11:00pm, arriving at Oakville at 6:09am, 7:49am, 10:49am, 1:49pm, 3:49pm, 4:29pm, 5:09pm, 7:49pm, 12:09pm. By September 1967, trains were running hourly, seven days a week. Even though the service was given only three years to prove itself, GO carried its first million passengers within four months; two months later weekday ridership was averaging 15000 passengers per day.
Today, GO Transit treats the Lakeshore line as two lines, separated by Union Station, even though most trains run through the station between Aldershot and Oshawa. Rush-hour service sees trains operating at intervals as frequent as every ten minutes, with extra express trains ferrying commuters from the east and west ends of the line directly to Union Station. The Lakeshore East line currently stretches 50.1 km east from Union Station to Oshawa, of which the first 30 km (approximately) is on CN's Kingston Subdivision. The rest is on the GO Sub, which branches off the Kingston Sub at Durham Junction, about 1 km west of Pickering Station. Between Union and Oshawa are the intermediate stations of Danforth, Scarborough, Eglinton, Guildwood, Rouge Hill, Pickering, Ajax and Whitby.
Service was not extended east from Pickering until December 4, 1988. After spending years negotiating with Canadian National (which controlled the Kingston Sub), and flirting with ICTS-like technology (see GO ALRT), GO Transit extended service to Ajax and Whitby on its own right-of-way. Starting October 1, 1990, a train started serving Oshawa, bypassing Ajax and Whitby on its way to Oshawa's VIA Station. Oshawa would not be added to the GO Sub until January 8, 1995. The eastern suburbs enjoyed expanded service until July 3, 1993, when budget cuts forced all but the rush-hour trains to be cut back to Pickering. On May 1, 2000, all-day-weekday service returned to the GO Sub, although weekend and holiday trains still terminate at Pickering.
The Lakeshore West line currently stretches 64.2 km from Union to Hamilton station. Virtually all, except for the last 2-3km of this route is on the CN Oakville Sub, while and the remainder is on the CP Hamilton Sub. The original Lakeshore West line served stations at Mimico, Long Branch, Port Credit, Lorne Park, Clarkson, Oakville, Bronte, Burlington and Hamilton. Sometime in August of 1967, GO trains started serving the Exhibition. In November 1967, Bronte Station was replaced by a new station a kilometre and a half to the east, named Oakville West (and renamed Bronte in the 1990s). Sometime in 1967, Lorne Park Station closed and, in March of 1980, Burlington station was replaced by a station bearing the same name, three-quarters of a kilometre to the east. Appleby Station opened on September 19, 1988, followed by Aldershot on May 25, 1992.
At first, the bulk of GO's Lakeshore West service was to Oakville, with two rush-hour trips running to Hamilton. Starting October 27, 1986, a third rush-hour train was added to Hamilton's service. GO wanted to extend service westward for some time, but had the same difficulty in negotiating track time with the freight railroads as it had in the east. Unfortunately, the GO ALRT project for the west was never as developed as it was in the east, and so no right-of-way was available when GO decided that conventional equipment would be better for the westward extensions than ICTS technology. Despite this, GO Transit was able to extend all day and weekend service from Oakville to Burlington, including stops at Appleby and Oakville West stations on May 23, 1992 (the twenty-fifth anniversary of GO service). Budget cuts forced all but peak service to be cut back to Oakville on July 3, 1993.
Undaunted by this setback, GO continued to prepare for improved service to Hamilton, rerouting its trains and buses from the inconveniently located CN station to the refurbished TH&B station in downtown Hamilton on April 29, 1996. A fourth rush-hour train to Hamilton was added on May 1, 2000, the same day that all-day-weekday service was restored to Burlington. In September 7, 2007, GO extended weekday service outside of rush hour one station to the east at Aldershot, connecting GO Trains to VIA services offered at the same station, and reducing the pressure on Burlington's parking lots. Weekend service to Aldershot began on Sunday, October 28. Limitations with equipment and track time initially prevented the extension of rush hour service to Aldershot, beyond the four trains operating through to Hamilton, but additional rush hour service has been added to Aldershot since.
In May 2009, GO Transit announced it would begin a special summer weekend and holiday operation between Union and Niagara Falls. Four trains were scheduled to depart Union Station, stopping at Exhibition, Port Credit, Oakville and Burlington stations before following CN tracks through north Hamilton to the VIA station at Niagara Falls. Trains made an additional stop at the VIA station in St. Catharines. Service began on Saturday, June 27, 2009 and ended on Thanksgiving Day. The service proved popular and resumed for weekends and holidays on May 21, 2010. The service has continued to operate during summer weekends ever since.
A Tour of Lakeshore East
After leaving Union Station, Lakeshore East trains run along the CN Kingston Sub, with the Gardiner Expressway on its right and the residential neighbourhood of St. Lawrence on its left. The renewed-industrial scenery continues until the tracks cross the Don River, at which point the line turns northeast and passes through working class residential neighbourhoods until it reaches Danforth Station. Until a few years ago it was possible to see "Helper Pockets", short stub tracks used for storing extra engines to help the trains up the hill, along the route. The line is elevated up to Danforth Station, and the backs of buildings and parking lots are the typical trackside scenery. Treats along the way include a good view of TTC's Greenwood Yard and Shops, especially if you are seated in the upper level of the bilevel coaches.
Past Danforth, the line runs in a cut until Scarborough Junction, just past an overpass over St. Clair Avenue. Here, the CN Uxbridge Sub branches off, taking GO's Stouffville trains north. There are three tracks from here until Guildwood, 6 km away, the result of GO Transit building a siding when the stations were built in 1967. That original eastbound track now sits between the outer tracks that GO uses. Just east of Danforth Station, it is possible to see the remnants of Midland Yard. With the opening of the CN MacMillian yard in 1965, this and other yards (including Danforth yard just south of Danforth Station) became redundant and were eventually torn up.
Between Danforth and Guildwood, the station stops come almost every three kilometres. Despite this, the parking lots at Scarborough and Eglinton stations are often full, proving the popularity of GO Service even in the suburbs within old Metro Toronto. GO shares Guildwood Station with VIA Rail, which uses it as a suburban Toronto stop for its Ottawa and Montreal trains.
East of Guildwood, the number of tracks shrinks to two again. Here there are a number of level crossings which cause the coaches to "buck" up and down. This area features some great scenery compared to the more urban surroundings between Union and Danforth. Around Rouge Hill GO Station, the line comes very close ot the shore of Lake Ontario, providing some spectacular views. There are a number of industries depending on the railroad, even out here, and GO trains are often switched onto the opposite track to get around the freights.
After cresting a small hill by the lake, the trains run downhill into Rouge Hill Station. Stand back from the edge of the platform at this station, for VIA trains often roar through at over 100 km/h. East of Rouge Hill, the line parallels Lawrence Avenue and the lake on an embankment, and crosses the Rouge River on a bridge. The line then cuts in away from the lake. After a grade crossing, the train enters fields before dipping under a road, and coming within sight of the 401.
At this point, the Lakeshore East line branches. If the train terminates at Pickering, than it will stay on the Kingston Sub and pull into what is officially known as Pickering South station, the original terminal for the GO Train. Trains bound for Oshawa cross over onto the GO Sub, dipping underneath the CN York Sub (which joins up with the CN Kingston Sub at this point) and beneath Liverpool road before stopping at the current Pickering Station, located just to the north of the original terminal.
The line than continues east to Ajax, with Highway 401 the north side and the Kingston Sub on the south. The GO Sub is built to exceptionally high standards, with concrete ties and continuously welded rail, producing an extremely smooth and quiet ride. The stations of Pickering North, Ajax and Whitby are built to similar architecture and look like dedicated subway stops rather than a concrete platform poured beside freight tracks, as can be the appearance of other GO Stations.
Further east, there is a siding just north of the GO Sub, and, depending on what time of day you pass at, you will see either one or two trains waiting. This is the Henry Street "Yard" (named for the street the tracks are about to cross under), and two trains are stored here overnight. Upon leaving Whitby, the train enters the newest part of the line, remaining just to the north of the Kingston Sub, but pulling away from the 401, leaving it behind a sewage treatment plant and a stand of trees. There is the odd factory, but little else to see other than fields. Oshawa station offers a moderate-sized terminal allowing passengers to transfer to buses bound for points further east, and access to a huge parking lot where passengers may park and ride. Trains lay over for 40 minutes here (33 minutes at weekday off-peak times) before returning to Union.
Proposals have surfaced to take the line to Bowmanville, but few concrete plans have been drafted. It's not known whether such an extension would be on GO's own right-of-way, or by rejoining CN's Kingston Sub. Oshawa was the primary goal for GO Train expansion to the east and, now that this has been achieved, there seems little enthusiasm for trains into Courtice.
A Tour of Lakeshore West
After leaving Union Station, the line passes into a "duckunder" which allows Lakeshore trains to move from the northernmost tracks out of Union Station and access the Oakville Sub without interfering with trains from the CN Weston and the former CP Galt (now owned by GO Transit as far as the West Toronto Junction) subs. After passing beneath Bathurst Street, these subs branch off and head north. While this group of lines once had as many as eight tracks, it now "only" has four: two for the Weston sub (one of which feeds the Newmarket Sub, which begins at Queen Street near the site of the former Parkdale station), and two for the former Galt Sub.
The Oakville Sub then passes north of the Exhibition, passing by the Dufferin Gates and then following a tight right-of-way with the Gardiner Expressway on the south and King Street and the Queensway to the north as it curves around Humber Bay to the Humber River. After passing the TTC's Humber Loop, it ducks under the Gardiner Expressway and heads for Mimico Station.
At Mimico, several tracks branch off both north and south of the main line while the main line converges into three tracks. Here, GO trains pass between two large yards. To the south exists VIA's Toronto Maintenance Centre (TMC) where passengers can see an assortment of VIA trains, including the Canadian.
Just west of the TMC is CN's Mimico yard, a shadow of its former self. Its current duty is to hold and sort cars for the industries west of Union Station and it boasts its own yard switcher, usually a rebuilt GP-20u that spends its nights at the Cherry Street Tower and yard.
To the north is GO Transit's own Willowbrook Maintenance Facility and Yard. This is where most of the Lakeshore and all the Richmond Hill trains spend their nights and weekends, and where most of the Richmond Hill, Bradford, Milton, Stouffville and Georgetown trains spend their weekdays. (Click here for an excellent off-site page on Willowbrook)
Just past the Willowbrook/TMC/Mimico threesome, a pair of tracks comes from the north and joins up with the main line. These tracks belong to CP's Canpa Sub, also known as "The Cutoff". They join up with the Galt Sub at Obico, just west of Kipling station. A nice little tower still stands at the junction, but it's currently used for maintenance-of-way crews. These tracks used to be used frequently by CP's Oakville auto trains to reach the Ford plant in Oakville, but this service now varies considerably, with seemly over forty trains emerging from the Sub one month, followed by nothing for another two months.
Once past Canpa, it's a short distance to Long Branch Station. Beyond Long Branch Station, the scenery changes from industrial factories to residential backyards and trees. These are some of the oldest houses in Mississauga, built by families that where brought out here by either CN trains or by the Lakeshore Interurban trolley that ran to Port Credit until the 1930's. As the train gets closer to Port Credit, apartment buildings become more and more common.
Beyond Port Credit, the line passes over an old bridge over the Credit River and dives into some of the oldest neighbourhoods of Mississauga. Just before the train arrives at Clarkson Station, you'll pass a small yard to the south of the main line, where the west yard lead wraps around the south platform of the station. This, too, used to be part of a bigger yard, but it now stores cars for the local industries and extra cars that are headed for the Oakville Ford Plant.
Past Clarkson Station, most of the scenery is obscured behind the thick layer of trees on either side of the right-of-way. This shields passengers from such sights as an oil refinery and other heavy industry until the line reaches the Ford plant and its yard. Here, you can see the switcher CN has permanently assigned to handle this extremely busy industry; it is usually a rebuilt GP-20u. Past the plant, it's a short trip to Oakville, a station which was the western terminal for most GO trains for almost 25 years, and still is the end of the line for all weekend and holiday trains. The station is located some distance from Oakville's downtown, which is well worth a look. The station itself sees a lot of activity, including VIA trains to London and Niagara Falls, which make stops here.
Just past the station, the line crosses over a river, and expands into three tracks. The line runs very straight alongside industrial scenery, past Bronte and Appleby stations. Here, GO Trains have to contend with more freight traffic; the third along this part of the route was built specifically to extend GO service to Burlington. Should a GO train have to contend with a freight train up ahead (and many depart from the Ford plant), it would likely use one of the crossovers to move onto an empty track. The crossover for westbound trains heading to Appleby is located close to Bronte station; the crossover for Burlington station is at Cumberland Avenue, two kilometres east.
Continuing west, the line passes under the Queen Elizabeth Way as the highway cuts south to cross Hamilton Harbour on the Burlington Bay Skyway. Later, a yard can be seen north of the mainline, used to stage and hold freight trains for the Halton Sub. Just past the west end of this yard lies Aldershot Station. Opened on the 25th of May, 1992, Aldershot is one of the newest stations in the system, and now serves Niagara and Windsor VIA trains, and rush hour GO trains to Hamilton. GO Transit may have built this station, but VIA Rail used it to consolidate their operations around Hamilton, closing its Dundas, Burlington and Hamilton stations soon after its opening.
Soon, the line transfers off of CN and onto CP-owned tracks. GO used to continue on CN, rounding Hamilton harbour and terminating at Hamilton's station near Burlington Street. This station was located some distance from Hamilton's downtown, so GO decided to replace it with the former TH&B station located on Hunter Street, just south of King. The TH&B station has been restored to its 30s Art Deco splendour and now acts as both Hamilton's GO Train station and its intercity bus terminal.
GO's Lakeshore line is the keystone corridor of the GO Train network. GO Transit's goal is to establish seven day a week train service between Hamilton and Oshawa and it is partway there with all-day weekday service between Burlington and Oshawa and three morning inbound and four afternoon outbound trains every rush-hour between Hamilton and Union. The next step is increasing service to the west, likely through adding an extra track to appease the freight railroads worried about the lines' capacity.
However, now that GO operates seven day a week service between Aldershot and Oshawa, the focus for new service will likely be the rush-hour only train services which operate to the northwest, north and northeast. GO has even experimented with adding all-day weekday service to the Milton line in order to reduce congestion on the Lakeshore line (an experiment ended due to budget cuts). There is a lot of demand that other lines outside of GO's Lakeshore route receive similar service.