Evolving West Toronto Junction
(Above) Configuration of West Toronto Junction circa 1990
(Below) Configuration of West Toronto Junction today
(Above) What GO wants to see, to improve reliability and safety on the Georgetown and Milton lines
Photos by Daniel Garcia, except where noted. Text by Daniel Garcia and Sean Marshall, revised by James Bow.
Commuter train service to the cities of Georgetown and Guelph is not new. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Canadian National operated a commuter run between Guelph and Toronto. Strangely enough, the Georgetown GO Train service had nothing to do with this like, other than to overlap it. The Georgetown service began on April 29th, 1974 as GO Transit's second train line. That first day, three trains left Georgetown Station and stopped at Brampton, Bramalea, Malton, Weston and Bloor stations before arriving at Toronto Union Station. A stop at Etobicoke North was added sometime that fall. CN continued to run it's Guelph to Toronto commuter train until November 14th, 1975: a year and a half after GO started running trains to Georgetown.
The Georgetown GO line was established to improve commuter service to the northwest of Toronto. Feeder buses extended service out to Guelph. Some of the more cynical suggested that the line was a gift to the city of Brampton, which was celebrating its 100th anniversary at the time and which, coincidentally, was also the home of Ontario Premier Bill Davis. The line did not experience much growth early in its run. A forth train was added to the schedule sometime between 1975 and 1978, but the line remained stable until 1990.
On the 29th of October, 1990, as part of a series of promises made by the David Petersen Liberals on the eve of their defeat, one train each day was extended to run from Guelph, with a stop at Acton. No connecting buses were offered from Guelph to Kitchener, which was really interested in improved rail service at the time, and the extended service foundered. Only 60 passengers per day rode the train from Guelph, making it an obvious candidate for cuts when the NDP government was forced to reduce GO Transit's subsidies in 1993. The last run from GO departed Guelph station on July 2nd, 1993.
The service kept plodding along, augmented with an hourly bus service between Brampton station and York Mills station on the Yonge subway. Ridership increased as the population of Brampton and the northwest GTA increased. On January 29th, 2000, GO Transit added a fifth round trip between Bramalea and Union, with bus connections to Georgetown.
On September 4, 2001, a new afternoon train was added that left Union Station at 14:50 making all stops to Brampton and then dead-heading back to Union Station to make a rush hour trip elsewhere in the system. In April 2002, a major service revision was made, providing partial midday trains to and from Union Station as far as Bramalea, with bus connections to Brampton and Georgetown. The new trains left Bramalea at 5:50, 10:15, 12:15 and 1:45. From Union Station, the new trains left at 9:30, 11:30 and 13:00. Unfortunately, the configuration of the bus loop and parking lots at Bramalea did not facilitate easy bus connections for Brampton and Georgetown, and the bus loop is situated on the otherside of a busy parking lot. As of early 2005, the bus loop still has yet to be changed.
A new pocket track was completed at Bramalea in 2003. The rail was built connecting with the Weston Subdivision east of Halwest, so that trains terminating at Bramalea would not interfere with CN freight trains on the Halton Subdivisions, or with future GO Transit express trains. Bramalea now has a three-track configuration, built to Lakeshore Corridor standards.
In September 2004, more changes were made to the Georgetown rail schedule. One morning train from Georgetown was converted to an express run, stopping only at Brampton, Bramalea and Union Station. A new local train from Bramalea was added to serve Malton, Etobicoke North, Weston and Bloor. The mid afternoon departure from Union to Brampton was adjusted to leave at 15:15 at the same time. Five months later, Mount Pleasant station, located at Highway 7 and Creditview Road in northwestern Brampton opened on February 7, 2005.
As time went on, and GO Transit came under the control of Metrolinx, demand increased for service extensions further west. The launch of a new GO bus linking the City of Waterloo and Mississauga (with two buses connecting with Milton GO Trains) proved popular, which increased pressure for GO rail service to return to Guelph and reach out to Kitchener.
Early in 2011, premier Dalton McGuinty announced that service would be extended from Georgetown to Kitchener. Two trains which previously operated out of Georgetown would instead lay over at a new temporary layover facility in Kitchener by the main line railway tracks between King and Park streets. The extension was accomplished for just $18 million, a minimal expenditure that limited the number of trains that could serve this extension. To bring about service on December 19, a temporary accessibility ramp had to be built at Kitchener, while more extensive construction took place in Guelph. The new service was announced to include stops at Acton, although construction did not begin on this station before the extension started operation.
A Tour of the Line
The Georgetown line runs on CN's Weston Sub north past Malton. It also parallels CP's former Galt Sub to the Junction (officially known as "West Toronto"), and CP's Mactier Sub from the Junction to Weston. Probably the most interesting part of the first part of the journey is how incredibly wide the Parkdale Corridor is: at one time the Parkdale Corridor had tracks from four different companies! Now, all that remains are the Weston Sub, and the former Galt Sub. There was so much space needed for tracks that one of the companies (possibly the TTR) built a yard just north of Queen Street (Parkdale Yard). Although this yard has been gone for many years, GO has been contemplating rebuilding the yard here, for additional daytime storage.
From Bathurst Street to the Junction, the scenery around the line is primarily industrial, with pockets of old and new housing visible in places. North of Bloor Street, the line brushes past Dundas and the houses and stores of the Junction neighbourhood. Once past the Junction, the Mactier Sub, which is CP's transcontinental mainline, runs alongside: the line is busy enough that you should be able to spot at least one freight train on your trip.
Although industries line the tracks almost all of the way to Weston Station, there are a pair of graceful bridges over Black Creek, north of Rogers Road. Here, you can glimpse the commercial and residential buildings around Weston Road. Weston Station in the old town of Weston and here the right-of-way passes close to the back yards and laneways of residential neighbourhoods. There are more road crossings per mile on this segment than there are anywhere else on the line.
A short distance north of Weston station, the Mactier Sub branches off to the north, and goes on to run through Bolton. Quickly after that, Weston Road ducks beneath an underpass and then riders are greeted to an excellent view as the line crosses the Humber River on a tall bridge. After the bridge and some greenspace west of the river, the scenery returns to factories before the line tunnels beneath Highway 401 and then makes a stop at Etobicoke North station. This station is nestled into a corner formed by the 401 - 409 junction, on a bridge crossing Kipling Avenue. There is a small industrial yard to the north of the station, one of CN's few ones left after the building of the MacMillian yard. There are a few factories here, and most of them seem to use the railroad to ship and receive their goods.
From Etobicoke North to Malton Station, the line is arrow straight, again paralleled by industrial scenery for most of the way. An exception occurs at Woodbine raceway, which abuts the northern end of the right-of-way. It is here, in one of the proposals, that a station would be built to serve the Airport. Only time will tell what becomes of this.
The line continues through the industrial areas through Malton and Bramalea, which only a brief respite of commercial/residential around the Airport Road/Derry Road intersection. Finally, five minutes west of Bramalea, the scenery abruptly shifts to residential and then dense commercial as the line ploughs through downtown Brampton, making a stop at an attractive and historic Brampton station.
Passing briefly through the industries of northwest Brampton, the line finally enters countryside. Passing through fields and past an aggregate mine, the line makes a spectacular crossing over the Credit River before entering the outskirts of Georgetown. The scenery shifts from industrial to residential until the train switches off the main line and enters into the train yard north of Georgetown station. GO Transit has set up a modest yard to hold Georgetown's four trains overnight and over the weekends. Platforms and underpasses connect these yard tracks with historical Georgetown station itself. Here the train stops and everyone gets off. It's a mad dash through the underpass to the parking lot and the connecting buses to Guelph.
As of the time of this writing (March 2012), extensive work is taking place to expand service on the Kitchener line, with full service operating between Union and Mount Pleasant by the end of the decade. Work includes adding tracks along the Weston sub, on bridges over Weston Road and the Humber River, and new bridges and underpasses for Strachan Avenue and Denison Road. A number of these changes have been controversial, particularly for the village of Weston which objected to having John Street closed to both vehicles and pedestrians. Local residents near the West Toronto Diamond also objected to the amount of noise and vibrations resulting from the construction of the grade separation there. After making changes to the line's design and construction process, GO has been able to continue with construction.
One item that has been driving construction along the Weston sub is the Airport Rail Link connecting Union station with Pearson International Airport by way of a new rail spur splitting off after the railway crosses beneath Highway 427. Originally proposed by Canada's Transport Minister David Collenette in the final years of the Liberal government in Ottawa, this project came under the control of Metrolinx in 2010, with the expectation that the line began serving passengers in time for the Pan-Am Games in 2015.
One of the projects that has yet to begin is the building of a passageway between Bloor Station and Dundas West Station on the Bloor-Danforth Subway. An underground passage was to be built by 2002, although work still has yet to be started. This would allow people better access than the current setup, where passengers have to walk along Dundas and Bloor Streets. Now that work has begun on the Airport Rail Link, it is expected that construction will start soon (in 2012 or 2013), and be ready to open in time for the Pan-Am Games in 2015.
It took a little while for the Georgetown train to take off, but now the line is serving Kitchener and will soon offer a spur to the Airport, and all-day service between Union station and northwestern Brampton. Even more service is expected to be added later this decade.