Text by Daniel Garcia and James Bow
When the Milton line began service on October 25th, 1981, it was the fourth line of the system, and the first (and still the only) line to be operated by CP Rail. It's original purpose was to serve the rapidly expanding suburbs of Peel and Halton which were not properly serviced by either the Georgetown line or the Lakeshore West line. But there was another reason why GO trains were introduced along the CP main line.
By the late 1970s, GO Transit's popularity had exceeded expectations, and the system was coming dangerously close to choking on its own success. GO took two steps to solve this. The first was to purchase the first of the bi-level coaches that are now standard ont the system today. The second was the Milton line. The rush-hour trains on the Milton line were designed to catch Mississauga riders before they reached the overcrowded Lakeshore line.
Service started out with three round trips every weekday, stopping at Kipling, Dixie, Cooksville, Erindale, Streetsville, Meadowvale and Milton. Kipling station provided a direct connection with the western terminus of the Bloor-Danforth subway, opening up more destinations for western commuters than if the train had just run to Union. By 1988 ridership was increasing, so GO Transit added two more round trips each day starting January 9th, 1989.
October 29th, 1990 marked the beginning of midday service on the line, the first line other than Lakeshore to offer it, and again the goal was to try to reduce the pressure on Lakeshore. Between rush-hours, a trainset operated between Union and Erindale station (with buses taking passengers beyond to Milton), with the first outbound train leaving at around 8:30 a.m. and the last inbound train departing Erindale just before the afternoon rush-hour. Unfortunately, the service didn't last. Due to the same budget cuts that cost Burlington and Oshawa evening and weekend train service, Milton midday trains stopped running on January 8th, 1996. In their stead, GO Transit started operating 'Train Buses' throughout the day serving all the stations on the route, except Kipling.
Tour of the Line
From Union Station to the Junction (officially known as the "West Toronto Junction"), the Milton line runs on the east end of CP's former Galt Sub, now owned by GO Transit. The scenery is industrial all the way to the Junction, although there are pockets of housing to the west of the tracks. When CP sold the end of the Galt Sub, they tore up their north-south track across the diamond, and installed a new south-to-west track to complement their existing south-to-east track, as seen in the diagrams. Now, trains heading west from the continental mainline no longer have to use CN trackage, or head to Agincourt to turn around. A new high-speed turn was also built for the GO trains to run onto the Galt Sub westbound, and run to Union southbound. Before, the GO trains had to use the existing turn: a rather tight curve that connected directly to the mainline, and limited speeds to about 20 mph. The new curve is banked, allowing for higher speeds, and instead of directly connecting with the mainline, bypasses the yard throat to the south of the mainline first before joining up with it.
At Lambton, a large yard sits to the north of the tracks: this yard sees much use as through freights drop off and pick up blocks of cars from the local industries, and was in fact, CP's main steam-era maintenance facility. Now though, there is just a small locomotive maintenance area at Runnymede Road. Towards the west end of the complex, lies a small intermodal/container facility where CP's Detroit and Montreal-bound RoadRailer freight trains originate.
Just past the yard, lies a tall bridge over the Humber River. It is quite a pretty spot, especially in the fall, and a favourite spot for railfans to catch trains on film.
Continuing westbound, the scenery changes to single-family housing and then high density apartment buildings. Crossing Islington Avenue and Bloor Street over bridges, the line is joined by the Bloor-Danforth subway, which rises out from underground and parallels the Galt Sub to the north through an industrial neighbourhood. Both the subway and the Galt sub pass beneath a high bridge carrying Kipling Avenue before coming to the Milton line's first stop, Kipling station, where the Bloor-Danforth subway terminates.
Kipling station's only exit is down a set of stairs and into the subway station. When the TTC drivers go on strike, Milton trains are forced to bypass this station, as their only exit is locked. Directly opposite Kipling Station lies the junction of the Canpa Sub, also known as "The Cutoff". This sub runs south to meet up with Oakville Sub just west of the Willowbrook/TMC/Mimico yard complex. It doesn't seem to be used much lately: it is normally used for CP's auto trains to reach the Ford plant at Oakville. Other than this, though, traffic is sporadic on this line.
Just past the junction to the Canpa Sub, on the south side of the mainline you will find the Obico Yard: one of CP's two large intermodal terminals in the Toronto area (the other being the Vaughan Intemodal Terminal). This terminal is busy, so expect to see action anytime you're by there.
Once past Kipling station, the industries fan out on both sides, though there is a brief lapse when the line travels underneath the 427. Here, there are a couple of storage tracks to the south of the mainline called "The Annex" used primarily for holding strings of cars waiting to enter the Obico Yard. From here to Dixie Station is a short jaunt past the backs of factories.
The industrial character of the line continues as it moves west, ending abruptly as the line crosses Hurontario Road over a bridge and stops at Cooksville station. To the north of Cooksville station, town homes house potential passengers. To the south, a large commuter lot separates the station from a large development of high rise apartments. The commuter lot is accessed through an underpass between the platform and the station building. Many passengers use this station, and crowds on the train noticably thin out once afternoon trains reach it.
West of Cooksville station, the line's character ranges from residential to industrial. The number of green spaces increases as the rails turn north and enter Erindale station. Here, another large parking lot abuts the station, and high rise developments can be seen in the distance. The line continues north, through burgeoning subdivisions which abruptly change to old industrial, commercial and residential buildings as the Milton line enters the village of Streetsville. Crossing Mississauga Road at grade, the line soon reaches Streetsville station.
North of Streetsville, industries abut the right-of-way again, as tracks branch off, some heading up through Caledon to Orangeville. Businesses in the Town of Orangeville have bought this railway between Orangeville and Streetsville and maintain a short-line along it. Although CP no longer owns the tracks, some say that future GO train service to Orangeville is inevitable.
Passing more industries, the line reaches Meadowvale station and then turns west again and leaves Mississauga, running through endangered countryside through the Town of Milton. Farm fields rub shoulders with industries and intermodal terminals as the line enters the urban section of Milton. Milton station is located some distance away from Main Street, across a sea of parked cars.
Milton station is the final stop on the line. All passengers leave the train and get into parked cars to finish the rest of their journey. Milton runs connecting buses between the GO station and the residential neighbourhoods in the town, but many have driven into this station from further afield. The 401 is five minutes away by car, and Kitchener another 30 minutes further, in good traffic.
Milton GO trains never linger long at Milton GO station. Until recently, once all the passengers have departed, the train closed its doors and continues further west, to the overnight storage facility at Guelph Junction. Now, Milton trains reverse direction into a new storage yard built just east of the station. Milton trains stop right on the CP main line, and they waiting risks having an angry CP freight on one's tail.
Milton has the most going for it in terms of expansion. The communities surrounding the route are growing. Milton station provides excellent access to the 401 and commuters coming in from the west. The problem of overcrowding on the Lakeshore line also remains an issue. Often as many as three buses are required to handle passenger loads during one of the 'Train Bus' runs. The departures between 2:20 p.m. and 8 p.m. are popular enough to fill up a train set.
However, the Milton GO line may be the most difficult to expand. Unlike the other lines on the network, which are CN-owned and have some capacity to spare, Milton GO trains must share tracks with numerous CP freights. CP is understandibly leery of increased GO Train traffic tying up their lines, especially considering it is their one and only mainline through Toronto. Even to extend midday service as far as Erindale will likely require GO to install a third track along the CP's main line. That takes money, and considerable political will.
However, political will may be building. There were rumours this past May that GO and CP were in negotiations for more trains. Waterloo Region continues to make overtures for an extension to Cambridge. It is only a matter of time before something happens.