Select few take exclusive, below-ground tour of Eglinton Crosstown LRT tunnel

It’s a chance of a lifetime as Toronto transit enthusiasts go where no commuter has gone before.

Below Canada’s largest city, in a place few have walked before, James Bow strolls along the tracks that one day will help move Toronto into the future.

He – and a select group of other transit enthusiasts – has been allowed to take an exclusive tour of a section of tunnel that will be part of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line.

One end of the imposing tunnel looks towards Fairbank Station while the other towards the light and what will soon be the completion of the Caledonia Station.

A group of people walk down through a concrete tunnel that will be part of the Crosstown LRT.

Contest winners walk a section of the Crosstown LRT line.

“This doesn’t feel claustrophobic – it’s huge,” says Bow, standing in the grey and white concrete cavern, a bit of architectural wonder that smells of concrete and cool air.

Bow is one of six people who’ve been given the chance to go down in the tunnels thanks to a contest held at the Eglinton Crosstown exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre this past December.

“It’s hard to imagine sort of being here” he adds – his voice carried down the subterranean passage.

“You’re standing where the trains are supposed to be and you’re not supposed to be here.”

Five people, all with hardhats and vests, look down at paperwork.

An official points out the details of the tunnel to contest winners.

The project between Fairbanks and Caledonia Station is in its advance stage. Tracks have been installed and soon crews will be gearing up to install overhead catenary for the trains.

The Crosstown project, which is a 19-kilometre light rail transit line, will have 25 new stations which will run along Eglinton Avenue from Black Creek Drive to Kennedy Station.

“I’m actually impressed of the scale of this operation; I think this will be very important in the decades to come,” says Bryan Bonnici, an engineer who’s also on the tour.

He entered the contest because he wanted to see what’s happening with the transit expansion in – and below – Toronto. The tour has opened his eyes, saying: “The pictures and video don`t do this place justice, you can`t get a sense of scale until you`re down here. “

The tunnel boring machines that dug these large passages are as heavy as 30 school buses and the construction was done underneath one of the busiest neighbourhoods in the country’s largest city. That’s no easy feat.

“It’s a tour of a lifetime…” – Crosstown contest winner, Cameron MacLeod.

“Our main challenge has been access, to get from point A and B,explains tour guide and tunnel project manager, Joao Santos.

“It’s a challenge, especially since the stations are being built at the same time. We require a lot of coordination to get stuff done.”

His team have been working around the clock and they managed to get this portion of the project done ahead of schedule. The tour was a prime opportunity to showcase what they’ve accomplished so far.

“When they are riding in the train, it goes by so fast they don`t have time to appreciate what the tunnel is and what`s involved,” says Santos.

It’s also a classroom in how transit construction has evolved. No messy cables or debris, the tunnels are clean and many elements hidden from view.

Nine people pose and look at the camera while standing on track and in a large concrete tunnel.

Contest winners and officials stand in what will become the Crosstown LRT route.

“I was expecting wires all over the place – it’s really impressive to see the detail and craftsmanship,” says Cameron MacLeod, as he also walks the new line.

“It`s a tour of a lifetime for now, and hopefully it will be even better in the future.”

MacLeod looks forward to being on hand when the project opens to all. That’s expected to happen in 2021. Until then, the group are among the few to walk where many will one day ride.

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, media relations and issues specialist.