Text by Daniel Garcia and James Bow. Photos by Daniel Garcia
- Click here for a web page describing the redevelopment plans for North Toronto station.
As GO Transit grew through the 1980s, patronage and service to Union Station started to increase to the point beyond what GO's then-current facilities at the station could handle. In the days before tight budgets and government cutbacks, GO was able to receive funding for redesigning the lower mezzanine of Union Station to better handle the large crowds. At the same time, in case patronage increased to the point where these changes would not be enough, GO considered the possibility of an alternate downtown station, and turned their attention to the decommissioned North Toronto Station.
Canadian Pacific built North Toronto Station, located on Yonge Street north of Price Street in the Rosedale/Deer Park area of midtown Toronto, on June 14, 1916, although CP had been using the North Toronto site as a terminus for some passenger trains since 1912. It's not immediately clear why CP should have invested so much time and money in building this beautiful structure, as it was also running trains to the second Union Station (west of the present building, between York and Simcoe Streets) ever since it acquired the Credit Valley and Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railways in 1883 -- the Don Branch was built in 1887 so that trains from the east could get to Union Station without going via West Toronto Junction.
While the North Toronto station was being built, CP was collaborating with Grand Trunk to build the third Union Station (the current building) starting in 1904, when the Great Fire cleared the site. The new Union Station opened in 1927, delayed for some years by a dispute between the railways and the City of Toronto regarding the elevation of the tracks into the station, but CP trains continued to make their stops at the old Union Station further west. Three years after the new Union Station opened, North Toronto station shut its doors to passenger trains, although it did receive a train carrying the British royal family in 1939.
By the 1980s, North Toronto station was no longer in use by CP Rail. Its major tenant was now an outlet of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Its clock had been disassembled and stored within the station, and much of its interior abandoned to the pigeons. GO's plan offered up the hope, not only of relieving Union Station, but also of restoring this beautiful and historic landmark.
Marathon Realty (an arm of CP rail) took over the station and set about making some cosmetic improvements. Plans moved forward for a commercial redevelopment of the site, with the restored station and GO Train service at its centrepiece.
The improvements to Union Station, coupled by the sharp recession in the early 1990s reduced GO's enthusiasm for its Midtown plan. The proposal remains on the books, however, resurfacing as recently as late 2000 in GO's ten-year plan. Among the possible new train lines cited, was a Toronto only line running east from Kipling station, along the CP tracks into Agincourt, with intermediate stops at Spadina Avenue, Leaside, and at North Toronto station. It's not inconceivable that the service could operate as far west as Erindale station, as Milton trains did during GO's foray into midday service for this line in the late 1980s.
How to Begin Service on the Midtown Line
A number of improvements would be required to bring GO Trains onto the CP mainline through midtown Toronto. Unlike CN, where GO Transit is the second biggest generator of revenue for most of its lines between Oakville and Pickering, CP still makes extensive use of its line for freight operations. The Midtown Line would run on CP's Bellville, North Toronto and Galt Subs, three sections of CP's Montreal to Detroit mainline. And, unlike CN, there are no other lines for CP freights to run on. New tracks would have to be built to handle GO's trains. Some of the improvements are completed or underway, including the third track west from West Toronto (part of the Milton improvements). Others would include:
- Third track from West Toronto to Markham
- Improved signalling
- Rebuild the bridges over the branches of the Don River (currently two double bridges)
- Rehabilitate North Toronto Station (long planned)
- Grade separation of West Toronto
A criticism of the proposed midtown line is that its location is not as well suited to the travel patterns of commuters as Union Station is. Passengers who whose work is located some distance away from Union Station can take the TTC's northbound University or northbound Yonge subway trains to their destination. They would largely be moving against the general flow of commuter traffic using the subway (southbound in the morning, northbound in the afternoon) and thus would be able to make use of some rare spare capacity on Toronto's subway network.
However, passengers disembarking at North Toronto station or Spadina station would have to travel southbound on either the Spadina-University or Yonge lines in order to access jobs downtown. They would be joining a flow of commuter traffic that may already be at capacity.
The GO Midtown service would still provide speedy crosstown service east from Kipling station and into northern Scarborough (with a possible connection with an extended Sheppard subway at some point in the future). It could relieve pressure on the Bloor-Danforth subway, and provide for crosstown commutes better than the current subway network.
Connections would still have to be built with the TTC at its Dupont and Summerhill stations. Although GO is making no moves in this direction, the TTC is with Summerhill. The TTC is planning a second exit from its Summerhill platforms, extending south from the station and exiting onto Yonge and Price Streets near North Toronto station. The design is being made with a connection to a possible GO station in mind.
A Tour of the Midtown
Upon leaving Erindale station, the trains would run past parks and houses initially, with factories and other industries becoming common further east. Five minutes later, trains would reach Cooksville station, located near Hurontario Road at the northern end of a large parking lot.
Beyond Cooksville, the scenery becomes decidedly industrial, with many of the warehouses and factories using CP for their shipping needs. Dixie Station would be next, oft mentioned as a possible terminus for an extended Bloor-Danforth subway, but with very few trip generators located nearby. On the south side of the corridor, "The Annex", a small yard used by CP for holding container trains before they enter the Obico Yard, signals the entry into Toronto. Soon after passing underneath Highway 427, Obico passes to the south, and the train pulls into Kipling. Here, connections already exist with the Bloor-Danforth subway, and hundreds of parking spaces (belonging to the TTC and for Metropass users only before 3 p.m. on weekdays) to the north and the south of the station complex.
As the train pulls away from Kipling, riders on the south side of the cars will spot a pair of tracks coming from the south and joining the mainline: these are known as "The Cutoff" (officially the Canpa Subdivision), and come from CN's Oakville Sub just west of the giant yard complex known as Willowbrook/TMC/Mimico.
Continuing east from Kipling, the line cuts northeast, passing the intersection of Dundas/Royal York, before crossing the Humber River on a high bridge (which is next to a footbridge that rests on piers formerly used by the Toronto Suburban Railway). This is a favourite camera spot for many railfans in the Toronto area. After the bridge, the scenery changes to backyards of houses briefly before a more commercial/industrial mix settles in as the CP approaches the Toronto Junction. To the north of the mainline is CP's original maintenance facility for the Toronto area, called Lambton Yard. It has shrunk quite a bit since its inception, but it still remains important to the day-to-day operations of CP in Toronto. There is also a yard here where many through freights layover, and where many local freights originate.
Just past Lambton is West Toronto, one of the great operational headaches in Toronto, although by the time the Midtown line becomes reality, the tracks might have been redesigned so that one set will cross over or under the other (CN over CP looks most probable). This will allow many more trains to run on both lines without interference with each other.
The North Toronto Sub begins at West Toronto Junction. Further east, near Dufferin, a pair of tracks lie unused, covered by weeds. When the Midtown Line becomes reality, it is likely that these sidings will be rebuilt to allow a pair of trains to layover here. The North Toronto Sub used to have as many as five tracks in some spots. Although this has since been reduced to two, all of the bridges as far east as Leaside have room for at least one more track with no modifications necessary. As the train nears Spadina Road, it will pass the TTC's Hillcrest shops to its south. At Spadina Station, an easy connection would exist between the Midtown line and Dupont station on the TTC's Spadina subway. George Brown College, Casa Loma, the Annex and a redeveloped high-end residential neighbourhood at Spadina and Davenport are all just a few minutes walk way.
North Toronto station is just two kilometres east of Spadina station and would be reached by GO trains within four minutes. North Toronto station has ample facilities to handle large crowds, although many of the western commuters might have been channelled away onto the subway at Spadina station. North Toronto boasts two levels: the main level (where the liquor store now sits), and a smaller, upper level directly underneath the tracks.
Leaving North Toronto Station, the line crosses over Mt. Pleasant Road on a spectacular high bridge designed for three tracks. Then, the line passes very near the neighbourhood of Governor's Bridge, just northeast of Rosedale. This is one of the older parts of Toronto, with many of the houses here dating back to the late 1800's.
The North Toronto Sub ends just past the bridge over Bayview Avenue. Here, a yard opens up on the north of the corridor, and Belleville Sub arrives from Union Station on the south. This yard, known as Leaside, was built by the Canadian Northern railway and once anchored a large maintenance facility, and indeed the whole town of Leaside. More recently, it was the interchange between CN and CP. CN has recently applied to abandon the short spur that connects this yard to the Bala Sub, south of York Mills, and hasn't used Leaside for years. As a result, this yard, currently unoccupied save for one or two tracks, sits as an ideal site for a GO yard, which could possibly house at least twelve ten-car trains.
To the south of the yard, just east of the end of the North Toronto Sub, sits the former, and future, Leaside Station. Leslie Station last served passengers in September 1982 when VIA (formerly CP) trains from Havelock were cut for the first time. Not only could Leaside station serve patrons of the Midtown line, but also should the Richmond Hill line get rerouted along the Belleville sub, this station could act as a transfer to Richmond Hill trains.
Leaving Leaside, the line crosses over a trio of bridges over the Don Valley...two of which have elements that date back to the building of the line. The third bridge was built during the construction of the Don Valley Parkway and can take as many as four tracks. The other bridges would have to be rebuilt for additional track.
Soon the line crosses Lawrence Avenue East, and the location of Lawrence Station. There are many industries in the area, and many of the employees take transit to work everyday. That said, many of the residents in the area could use the line for quick access to Yonge Street.
The line quickly crosses beneath Victoria Park, and runs in a cut all of the way to Warden Avenue. From here, it's at grade all the way to Agincourt, with the backs of factories facing the line.
Agincourt Station would be built south of the existing GO station on the Uxbridge Sub, and southwest of the former CPR/VIA Agincourt station which last served Havelock trains in January 1990. This stop would allow a transfer to the Stouffville line. Should the Sheppard subway be extended to Scarborough Centre, a connection with that line could occur here as well. The area is industrial, but with the presence of two GO train lines and one subway line, the area would likely redevelop rapidly.
The last section of the line, the run to Markham Road Station, would treat riders on the north side of the train to a great view of CP's North Toronto Yard, one of the two major freight yards in the Toronto area. The train would come to a stop beneath the Markham Road overpass, just metres away from McLevin Road. This stop is close to the neighbourhood of Malvern, and will provide them with a quick trip downtown.
The Midtown line is not a high priority for GO Transit at the moment, but it is on the books, at least. It would reduce the system's reliance on Union Station, although there are some questions as to its usefulness for downtown commutes. Crosstown commutes would be significantly improved, however, as the line would get from former Etobicoke to former Scarborough far faster than the Bloor-Danforth subway could even dream.
The potential exists for the Midtown line to be extended east and west. Trains to Milton are already operating at capacity, with numerous train-buses augmenting service to Erindale, Streetsville, Meadowvale and Milton. Had the Midtown Train been inaugurated in the late 1980s, it would likely have taken the form of a series of Milton trains rerouted to North Toronto station. To the east, promising extensions exist to Oshawa via the Belleville sub and to Markham and Peterborough via the Havelock Sub. Who knows what the future may bring?