Public invited to offer input on Union upgrades
We all agree Union Station needs a major upgrade, not only to accommodate many more rail passengers, but to assume its potential as a central jewel of downtown Toronto.
Already described as the busiest transport hub in the country, millions of additional users will use the terminal as service expands on VIA Rail, GO Transit and the TTC.
There is disagreement, however, on who will control the station, and how to pay for the extensive physical upgrades needed to bring the building up to date. The City of Toronto now owns most of the structure while GO Transit is responsible for the aptly named “train shed” where the platforms are.
GO has been gradually adding access points for easier boarding of trains, and intends to not only fix the roof of the shed, but allow more light onto the platforms.
After a deal between the city and a private firm collapsed, significant plans to reinvigorate Union have been delayed. Toronto has put a few million dollars into relatively minor improvements, and is hampered by an ongoing municipal funding crisis.
The TTC has started a multi-year project to add a second underground platform at its Union subway station to relieve overcrowding. Work to relocate a sewer line will wrap up this year, and the platform is set to go in between 2009 and 2012.
City staff are readying a report on the future of the commuter complex, and there is much talk whether the building should emulate the majestic rail stations of Europe, as well as Union Station in Washington, D.C., and New York City’s Grand Central terminal. These places are more than transport hubs — they are destinations of themselves. Shops and restaurants amid beautiful architecture attract locals and visitors, and offer regular users a wide range of services and products they can access while waiting for trains. The commercial model allows rental income to pay down capital upgrades, and since the city is so tight for cash this may be the preferred approach.
GO Transit seems keener to focus on the transportation function, and managing director Gary McNeil has said GO should take control of the larger building. The city won’t let go of Union, but commuters cannot afford a pointless turf war that further delays the station’s renaissance. Toronto must demonstrate the will — and ability to gather private and public finances — to deliver a vibrant, high-functioning urban transport hub.
Give your input starting next Wednesday, Nov. 14, at an open house from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the station’s Great Hall. Learn more at toronto.ca — look for “Union Station revitalization.”