Construction ahead for Lakeshore East rail corridor – Here’s what residents can expect

Preparing for the future requires a lot of early work. In order to bring faster, two-way, all-day, 15-minute service along the Lakeshore East line, Metrolinx is working on the rail corridor within certain Toronto neighbourhoods.

To talk about important transit work ahead for Toronto, let’s get into the bush and trek back a bit.

Small’s Creek is known as one of the city’s lost rivers. It’s easy to miss as you travel by train along the GO Lakeshore East line. Like many of Toronto’s water courses, much of the original creek was buried in the early 1900s to make room for the development of a growing city. 

But all was not lost, as a remnant of the creek remains and can be found in Merrill Bridge Park and the Williamson Park Ravine. The two parks are separated by the embankment for the Lakeshore East Rail corridor, which adds to the dramatic valley setting.

A boardwalk is shown in warmer months.
This popular boardwalk runs next to Small’s Creek. (Metrolinx photo)

Toronto residents have been anticipating the launch of major construction in this area, part of a larger package of work between Pape Avenue and Wolcott Avenue, tentatively starting at the end of January 2021.

The work has been carefully considered to avoid as many impacts to the natural areas as possible. Protecting the ravine means ensuring that improvements to the rail corridor can be achieved with the least possible disruption. 

Work and access to the work locations will largely be completed within the Metrolinx right of way, which includes the tracks and the slope on both sides. This is possible in part because the additional land was originally acquired at this location from Grand Trunk Railway to allow for the added complexity of crossing the Small’s Creek Valley. 

The work will require trees to be removed for the replacement of the Small’s Creek culvert and an enlargement of the embankment on the north side to accommodate an additional rail track. While construction of a retaining wall within the ravine may seem unfortunate, it is the least impactful approach as it minimizes the footprint of the expanded slope required to support a future fourth track.  

As few trees as possible will be removed, but it is required in order to accommodate the additional track and to allow crews to work safely and to protect the future electrification infrastructure.

Tree clearing is carefully planned to occur outside of nesting season to minimize disruptions to the natural habitat. Tree removals are carefully considered by a qualified arborist and reviewed by the Toronto and Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA) and the City of Toronto’s Urban Forestry. The tree removal plan includes dead and hazardous trees, and only native species will be planted further aiding in the restoration of the area which enhances the biodiversity.

There will be visible and extensive work in the short term. The restoration plan has been developed by a landscape architect and reviewed by TRCA which provides a post-construction stabilization and planting details. There will be an opportunity for the community to work with the TRCA and Metrolinx on the restoration plan and further environmental initiatives in this area.

“We understand the importance and value of natural habitat and Metrolinx is committed to sustainable practices,” said Houtan Moravej, Metrolinx manager.  

“Tree restoration are always a top priority and we have taken the necessary steps to go above and beyond the regulatory requirements as an important part of our transit expansion project.”

Once the work is complete, trees as well as shrubs and groundcover will be planted within the TRCA regulated area to support re-naturalization.

In the Metrolinx right –of way, which is the slope above the culvert on both sides of the track, the area will be re-naturalized with shrubs and ground cover. Trees will not be replanted on the slope above the retaining wall to protect future electrification infrastructure and passenger safety, however Metrolinx will voluntarily provide compensation in accordance with Metrolinx Vegetation Guideline (2020) for these trees to the TRCA to support re-naturalization initiatives. The restoration plan includes the planting of native species, and stabilization of the disturbed area.

In the short term, Metrolinx will continue to meet with the community both in person and online and provide additional project information through Metrolinx News and this website, including videos, pictures and renderings of the upcoming work and restoration plans. Metrolinx will also work with the community on the restoration plan for Small’s Creek, as well as additional ecological initiatives in the area in partnership with the TRCA.

Residents can sign up to receive regular project updates or contact TorontoEast@metrolinx.com for any immediate questions and a member from the community relations team will respond.

Retaining Wall Work

Another part of the project will be grading and retaining wall work. These walls are designed to hold up soil and earth to stabilize uneven ground on both sides of the rail corridor. For retaining walls, there is no one size fits all and there are a variety of formats. A T-Wall structure will be used along the Lakeshore East corridor and is made of precast concrete. A retaining wall allows the footprint of the work to be minimized, reducing impact on the ravine floor.

Metrolinx has proposed the least intrusive option and worked closely with the City of Toronto and the TRCA to find a solution that is least disruptive to the natural environment. The retaining wall has been reviewed by TRCA staff to ensure least impact on natural habitat and no erosion hazards.

The corridor needs to be widened on the north side, to make room for the future fourth track and electrification. Grading work is required to do this. The retaining wall design meets the safety and regulatory requirements set out by Transport Canada and the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA). It is designed to support the weight of passenger and freight trains that will travel the corridor.

A tractor puts in a retaining wall.
Here’s a photo of a typical T-wall. (Photo provided by Reinforced Earth)

In 2021, the culvert located between Pape and Woodbine will be decommissioned, filled and closed. A new culvert will be installed a few feet from the old location as part of accommodating the future fourth track. A culvert is a tunnel carrying a stream, or open drain under a road or railroad.

This is an opportunity for improvements to the water flow and natural environment. The current culvert is failing, and is largely blocked, causing flooding and erosion in the area. The new culvert will be adequatley sized, improve drainage and reduce flooding, and provide wildlife connectivity between the north and south side of the tracks.

 “Installing a new culvert will help to minimize erosion, maintain proper water flow, control and reduce build up of standing rain water or snow, provide an exit for run off water and disperse water to support the surrounding natural foliage for many years to come,” said Emmanuel Essien, Metrolinx project manager.  

“We understand the importance of the culvert. It benefits the community’s wildlife and can protect the green space and infrastructure from erosion”.

Image shows a culvert.
An artist’s rendering of the new culvert and retaining wall. All renderings subject to change. (Metrolinx image).

The City-owned portions of Small’s Creek ravine areas will be largely untouched and where there is any impact they will be appropriately restored.

Metrolinx understands that people enjoy using the trails of Merrill Bridge Park, and they will continue to be open to the public when the work is completed. There will be a period when a section of the trail will be closed for safety. There will be no impact on the signature wooden stairs and boardwalks that provide the ravine access that residents and visitors enjoy.  

Metrolinx knows a construction project near communities can be challenging, and crews make every effort to minimize disruptions where possible. A dedicated community relations team is working with residents every step of the way to deliver this important project.  

Keep informed by signing up to get the latest construction notices and updates. Metrolinx Community Relations will continue to share information and will also be setting up regular construction liaison committee meetings to help answer questions and concerns from the community during the project.

Sign up for updates on Toronto Lakeshore East Rail Corridor early works project here and follow us @GOExpansion.

Story by Patricia Pytel, Metrolinx manager of Capital Communications.