On alert – New Union Station Bus Station conducts test for disaster

As it prepares to soon open, Toronto’s new bus hub will be the backdrop to an emergency exercise to see how it – as well as transit experts from across the system – would deal with a crisis. Given it’s a totally new location, the Union Station Bus Terminal will offer a unique opportunity to prepare for the unexpected.

Before the excitement of a grand opening, comes the – mock – rush of a deadly crisis.

Toronto’s new state-of-the-art Union Station Bus Terminal (USBT) will soon be the staging ground for a large-scale emergency exercise, meant to test systems as well as the mettle of responding experts.

It’ll be an odd dress-rehearsal as the USBT prepares to welcome its first GO bus passengers on Dec. 5.

But it’s only a test. To avoid unnecessary panic and 911 calls, Metrolinx wants to sound an alert early to get word out to people downtown next Sunday (Nov. 22) to prepare for emergency activity in the area of Bay St. and Lakeshore Ave.

Downtown residents, shoppers and workers toiling on the weekend will likely see a lot of emergency vehicles and urgent activity around the huge new soon-to-be-opened USBT, located just south of the existing bus terminal.  The state-of-the-art bus depot is in the base of the new glass-covered CIBC SQUARE tower.

Actors carry away a man from the scene.
Actors portray injured passengers during a past GO Transit emergency exercise involving a train. The next mock scenario will be help this Sunday, at the new Union Station Bus Terminal. (Metrolinx photo)

Traffic may be temporarily delayed during the exercise but road closures along Bay St. aren’t expected. Emergency vehicles will be arriving with their sirens blaring so road users should yield to them as in a true emergency.

The exercise will be the first for Metrolinx to include the added trauma of simulated fatalities – a particularly difficult scenario for staff to re-enact as it can be particularly triggering.  Supports will be in place for staff.

Why is Metrolinx conducting an emergency exercise?

Safety at Metrolinx, both for customers and staff is critical. The transit agency has an extensive emergency plan in place to guide all staff through every potential kind of critical incident – every worst-case scenario no one wants to even imagine.

However, any good emergency plan must be tested and retested often to ensure it actually works and staff are prepared for any type of critical event.

Coordinated with multiple partners at CIBC SQUARE, Toronto Fire, Toronto Police Services and many other city officials, this won’t be the first – or last – large-scale emergency exercise for Metrolinx.

Requiring months of preparation and hundreds of volunteer actors, previous exercises included a simulated train derailment with multiple causalities in 2018 and a terrifying exercise including multiple snipers in Union Station in 2019.

This year’s exercise comes with another layer of challenge – ensuring all participants stay healthy and follow COVID-19 safety protocols. These protocols include health screening before they step one foot into the building, wearing face coverings at all times, washing and sanitizing their hands regularly and keeping a safe distance from others whenever possible. Protocols will be monitored throughout the exercise.

While normally media are welcome to participate and witness the exercises, this year is different given the restrictions needed during the pandemic and the numbers of people within the building during the exercise must be limited. Spokespersons will be available during the day – as well as before and after the exercise – but will speak to media outside of the building closer to Union Station.

The opening of the new USBT

The Union Station Bus Terminal will be relocated to a new, state-of-art facility at the northeast corner of Bay St. and Lake Shore Blvd, an area south of the existing station and of the rail corridor[NT1] . It is expected to open December 5, 2020.

All GO bus service that is currently in the existing Union Station terminal at 141 Bay Street will operate out of the new facility – a big change for transit customers but a much more comfortable and convenient space with enhanced safety. The new site will feature a new boarding process and a two-floor layout along with many new changes and enhancements to the customer experience.

The new Union Station Bus Terminal was built in partnership between Metrolinx, Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines – it is part of the larger connected CIBC SQUARE development that includes two office towers at 81 and 141 Bay Street.

The new terminal has been built with enhanced safety measures and features and will also ensure GO customers have a comfortable, accessible transit experience with improved connections to rail and subway services.

But first, comes the rush and sirens of a – mock – crisis.

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager of media.