Bridging the gap to increased rail service at Union Station – How to preserve Toronto transit history while preparing for the future

Restoration of three downtown bridges is critical to the operations of the nation’s historical transit hub. With the current lull in city traffic due to COVID-19, let’s take a look at the needed work taking place.

Talk about spanning the generations.

The bridges over York, Bay, and Yonge Street were built over 90 years ago and are a piece of rail transit history in Canada.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t change with the times.

Image shows old cars near a bridge under construction.

When important bridges over roads were being built in downtown Toronto, they were symbols of a modern city growing upward, as well as outward. (Metrolinx archive photo)

Structural rehabilitation of the bridges supports continued safe operation of trains above, and maintains pedestrian and vehicular safety below. The restoration work started at the York Street Bridge on March 2. And once complete, the work will shift to the Bay Street Bridge, and will finish at the Yonge Street Bridge in 2021.

Damaged concrete under a bridge-support is shown.

An example of how time has caught up with some of the downtown Toronto spans. (Metrolinx photo)

The work will maintain historical their attributes – preserving the past while preparing for the future.

The York and Bay Street Railway Bridges have historic value for their association with the Union Station complex and Union Station rail viaduct. When the bridges were built, the railway played an integral role in the industrialization process, and opening new markets for construction and manufacturing. It was significant to modernizing transportation along the Canadian rail system, including providing passenger travel.

Image shows a bridge.

The bridges are links to the past, but perform in a city that’s usually hectic and busy. (Metrolinx photo)

The work being done to the bridges includes: concrete repairs, structural steel repair and recoating (sandblasting and painting), and structural rehabilitation of Teamways (the covered pedestrian walkways that provide access to platform level on each side of York and Bay Streets).

While the bridges are being restored, there will be some lane restrictions – maintaining traffic flow in both directions. However, the bridges are being restored one at a time to reduce the impact to vehicular traffic below and to strategically align with the City of Toronto’s lane reduction at York Street (south of Bremner).

The bridges are inspected annually and currently require repair to maintain and extend their service life. Jeffrey Luckai, Bridges & Structures Specialist at Metrolinx explained the work being done will extend the life of the bridges by approximately 20 years.

Image shows concrete breaking away.

Another good example of needed repairs – this support is under the Bay Street bridge. (Metrolinx photo)

As Metrolinx continues to introduce more service across the region, Union Station is being given a tune-up so that it’s ready to support 15-minute service with up to 6,000 trains per week.

While the temporary reduction in service makes that seem far off, it will be needed again as society gets back in motion.

The improvements at York, Bay, and Yonge Street Bridges span into that future.

Story by Stacey Kenny, Metrolinx communications senior advisor.