Toronto’s Union Station prepares for new work on major section

When an 80-plus year old train station gets a makeover, it doesn’t mess around. Among the changes to come is a significant upgrade to the the southernmost part of the transit hub. Here’s your early tour.

Union Station has lived many lives.

Not only the generations who have counted on the Toronto hub to help move them through work and play, but the actual transformation and evolution of the buildings that have carried the historic name.

As Union Station prepares for a significant new section to be redeveloped and upgraded – more on that deeper into this story – it’s good to remind users how many other projects have taken place before. Even in recent history, where the upgrade list has been long and impressive – though a bit exhausting for users, who have to keep alert for sudden new paths and detours.

Remember when the glass atrium was installed high over the trainshed in 2011, using a tower crane installed right down through the middle of the roof?

View of the trainshed at Union Station with the glowing CN Tower in the background.
View of the trainshed at Union Station with the glowing CN Tower in the background. (Metrolinx photo)

What about in May 2009 when Platform 26/27 – and the east and west concourses below – was built to offset trains displaced by platform closures?

How about in 2012 when the VIA Lounge moved to its new home in the new renovated and reopened west wing?

The list of improvements that have been made at Union Station since 2012 is long, detailed and sometimes complicated – including opening of York Concourse and all the limestone being cleaned in the Great Hall.

Keep in mind trains kept running throughout the various renovations – it’s a transit hub that never sees a pause, even during major changes. Even the station ownership is not straightforward – the City of Toronto owns some parts, Metrolinx owns some other areas, and there are multiple tenants to be mindful of.

Most of the work at Union Station goes on after the trains stop running and the station closes for the night – in the rain, in the snow, in the cold and in the heat. And lots of the toiling takes place behind hording – those temporary walls – or underground. Or it’s cleaned up and put to a service-ready state where customers, tourists, and visitors to the station can’t necessarily see it.

For Metrolinx, the next piece of this massive, complicated puzzle is the Union Station Enhancement Project. This new upgrade mission is to design and construct transit infrastructure and put in upgrades at the southernmost part of Union Station. These will accommodate GO rail service increases, improve customer experiences, and enable the planned expansion of GO rail services.

Customers wait for trains on Union Station
Customers wait for trains on Union Station platforms, in this rendering. (Metrolinx image)

The list of chores to be done is hefty.

  • Construction of new wider platforms, with canopies, and stairs and elevators connecting to new concourses below.
  • Pedestrian connections from the new concourse to Bay and York Streets and the concourses to the north and Scotiabank Arena to the south.
  • Construction of two new tracks designed to allow for future passenger train speeds up to 45mph, with associated signal works.
  • Storm water management system and other necessary building systems.

This project was previously tendered to the market as ‘Design, Build, Finance’, but during the request for proposals phase, the prequalified bidders and Metrolinx identified several project risks that were difficult to manage.

It is vital that, in these situations, planners find creative ways to manage these risks in a way that ensures the success of the project and best protects the taxpayer. The goal is to use the best contracting model for each project, to most effectively partner and share risk with the private sector.

After listening to the feedback from the market, the procurement was pulled back and it’s been retendered using a different procurement model called ‘alliance’. Alliance contracting delivers major capital assets, where a public sector agency – the owner – works collaboratively with private sector parties (non-owner participants or simply called ‘NOPs’ in industry jargon) to share the risks and responsibilities in delivering a project.

Image is a rendering, showing customers on a platform
An artist rendering of Union Station platforms. (Metrolinx image)

An alliance model gives owners and their alliance delivery partners  the flexibility to manage new or changing project risks collaboratively.

Procurement for the alliance partner is underway, and a selected proponent will be announced later in 2020.

It’ll mean another major upgrade and evolution for Union Station. That’s something the hub – and those who have used it for generations – are very used to.

Story by Stacey Kenny, Metrolinx senior advisor, Communications and Stakeholder Relations