Movement on the Kitchener Line: How Metrolinx is expanding GO Train service on one of Ontario’s busiest passenger routes

Individually, there are a lot of interesting projects underway on the Kitchener GO Line. When you put them all together, they start to form a telling picture of improved service and more options for transit customers. If you live near the line or count yourself as a loyal customer (even during the current COVID-19 pause), this roundup is for you.

Putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle is a lot of work, but the finished product is definitely worth it.

The Kitchener GO Line is a lot like that. It’s a massive project, made up of lots of different pieces that fit together to form important transit connections.

For the first time, Metrolinx News is taking a look at all of the different segments that make up the whole Kitchener Line picture. Think of this as everything that’s soon coming down the tracks on the Kitchener Line.

Image shows a train on tracks.
Things are moving along quickly on progress to Kitchener Line. (Metrolinx photo)

The Kitchener Line has seen dramatic advances in recent times. In the past few years, before the pandemic, Metrolinx increased service on the corridor – including mid-day and late-night options – by nearly 45 per cent.

On a related note, Metrolinx recently published the Preliminary Design Business Case for expanded service along the Kitchener Line which is the next step in the transit building process.

But Metrolinx isn’t stopping there. As part of the overall GO Expansion project, the transit agency has a number of key improvements in the works. But before diving into that, a bit of needed background.

Kitchener Line Pre-Pandemic

More people and businesses are moving to and operating out of Peel and Waterloo Regions than ever before. Prior to COVID-related passenger rail service ridership decline, the Kitchener Line was transporting 22,000 people a day at peak times and 4,000 people during mid-day and off-peak.

The Kitchener Line serves urban centres and communities west of Toronto with direct connections to Brampton, Guelph, and Kitchener-Waterloo. To meet this growth, Metrolinx is looking for new ways to improve service on the corridor.

Currently, the Kitchener Line provides a four-train peak service between Kitchener GO Station and Toronto’s Union Station in the morning rush as well as the same number of trips heading back west during the evening peak. An additional two trains per peak period run between Bramalea and Union Station in the morning peak and the same trips reversed in the afternoon peak.

There is also two-way hourly service between Union Station and Mount Pleasant. With so much expansion happening, more and frequent connections across the GO Network is vital.

Kitchener Line Upgrades

The planned work and projected service levels on the Kitchener GO corridor can be divided into three geographic parts. Here’s that breakdown:

Part One: Union Station to Bramalea:

Fourth Track Installation

In 2018 Metrolinx completed the installation of a fourth track from Nickle Street to Black Creek Drive. The addition of a fourth track allows all day service in two directions from Toronto to Brampton.

The installation of the fourth track between Lansdowne Avenue and Black Creek Drive is expected to go to tender in May 2021.  Work includes a new access pavilion and pedestrian tunnel from the West Toronto Rail Path and Dundas West TTC Station that connects with the existing tunnels at Bloor GO Station.

New Mount Dennis Station

Image shows the front of the station.
Here’s a look at a rendering of the main entrance to Mount Dennis. (Metrolinx photo)

Construction of a new transit hub at Mount Dennis will provide direct connection to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. The Crosstown project is currently under construction and planning for this station has begun. Construction coordination is underway.

Weston Station Improvements

A new north side platform, two pedestrian tunnel extensions with stairs and elevators, new shelters and platform canopy, snow melt system, and installation of a fourth track within station limits will allow for increased train traffic through the station in two directions. This work is underway and is expected to be complete in early fall 2021.

Highway 401 and 409 Rail Tunnel

Metrolinx is constructing twin tunnels, less than three metres underneath Highways 401 and 409 – all without disrupting the 21 live traffic lanes directly above. The 401 and 409 tunnels will provide space for two additional tracks in the future and supports increased service to give communities additional options outside of their typical rush hour commitments.

This work is part of the GO Expansion program, which will transform the Kitchener line to a more convenient transit experience with frequent, two-way, all-day rail service on core segments of the corridor. Read more about this project here.

Malton GO Station and Track Upgrades

Image shows crews putting down a large concrete slab.
Heavy lift – Track work that took place recently at Malton. (Metrolinx photo)

Ongoing work at this station involves a new retaining wall, hydro capacity upgrade, installation of digital signs, culvert replacement, platform widening to accommodate the new track alignment and upgrades. Work includes upgrades to the north service track between Etobicoke North and Bramalea GO Stations, which are required to allow for service increase to two-way trains every 15 minutes on the corridor. Work on the tracks and at this station is expected to be completed by fall 2022.

Bramalea GO Station

As the section of track between Bramalea GO Station and Georgetown GO Station is not owned by Metrolinx this station will be the terminus of the proposed 15-minute electrified service.

Image shows the new platform and tracks.
Up high – Here’s a rooftop shot of platform upgrades at Bramalea Go Station. (Metrolinx photo)

In order to seamlessly marry the two service models, major station and platform work is required. Work includes a new multi-level parking structure, a new station building, and upgrades to platforms and the bus loop. These improvements are well underway, with some work being accelerated due to low ridership levels during the pandemic. Read more about this project here.

Brampton GO Station Improvements:

On March 1, 2021 Metrolinx released the project construction tender for parking improvements at Brampton GO Station. There will be a new surface parking lot on the south side of the tracks at Elisabeth and Railroad Street adding over 200 new parking spots. While the tender will be awarded later this month some work to remove vegetation will take place the week of March 22.

GO Expansion/Electrification

Image shows a GO train powered by overhead wires.
Here’s an artist rendering of how the electrification system could look. And as it’s only a rendering, it could change. But it still gives a good vision for GO Transit. (Metrolinx image)

While the GO Expansion Program will see improvements across the GO Rail Network, the related improvements to this piece of the Kitchener corridor include more than 7 kilometres of new track, 23 new rail switches, and eventual electrification of the tracks from Union Station to Bramalea GO Station.

Part Two: Bramalea to Georgetown:

To most riders, all train tracks look alike. But their ownership can vary.

The rail network between Brampton and Georgetown was first built to principally carry freight. While GO Transit owns over 80 per cent of the rail it operates on, the small stretch of track between Bramalea and Georgetown is owned and operated by freight company CN Rail. Metrolinx works closely with their rail partners to operate a robust passenger service within a complex freight network. 

There are ongoing discussions with CN to explore more frequent two-way all-day GO Transit services on this section of the corridor.

While this section of track west of Bramalea will not be electrified, Metrolinx is working to bring more service to all Brampton customers.

Metrolinx is seeking approval for additional investments on the Kitchener Corridor. The Kitchener GO Rail Service Expansion Preliminary Design Business Case speaks to additional benefits realized by the minimal infrastructure solution on the Kitchener Corridor. The investment would allow for two-way all-day GO rail service from Union Station to Kitchener in the coming years.

Heritage Road Layover:

Metrolinx is proposing a new layover facility between Heritage Road and Winston Churchill Boulevard that will support future service increases on the Kitchener Corridor. On March 5, 2021 Metrolinx issued a request to qualify and quote for design and environmental assessment. There will be four storage tracks with capacity to accommodate one double headed twelve car consists on each track. Metrolinx will begin public consultation later this year once a technical advisor is brought on board.

Part Three: Georgetown to Kitchener:

Track Work

Since taking over ownership of this section of the Kitchener Line in late 2018, Metrolinx has been moving forward on extensive rehabilitation of the rail corridor between Georgetown and Kitchener.

Metrolinx has been working on installing thousands of feet of new and improved rails, replacing over 3000 track ties, rehabilitating 24 level crossings, extensive bridge work, more than 4000 feet of undercutting and ballast improvements, and fencing off the right-of-way. All of which contribute not only safer service but support increased train speeds, reduce noise, a more comfortable ride and ultimately increased service.

Metrolinx continues to work and is looking at where they can construct passing tracks to help achieve GO Expansion service levels into Kitchener.

Speed River Bridge Improvements (Guelph)

To support short-term operational improvements, Guelph’s Speed River Bridge will be rehabilitated. Construction is expected to start this spring.

Guelph Locomotive Relocation

While this may not sound like it would have an impact to GO service, last November, Metrolinx helped to relocate this 490,000 lb historic locomotive to free up some space to allow for more GO service to Guelph Central Station. You can read more about this move in a Metrolinx News post.

King Victoria Transit Hub (Kitchener)

Metrolinx is collaborating with the Region of Waterloo to design and construct a new multi-model transit station that will provide connections to GO Transit, VIA Rail/Amtrak train services, ION (LRT), Grand River Transit (bus), pedestrians, and cyclists in one location. While this is a City of Kitchener/Region of Waterloo project, moving the station will provide connections in one convenient location. Read more about this project here.

So, after dumping all of these puzzle pieces onto the table, it gives you a better idea of what the end product should look like. The culmination of all these projects will help to increase and improve the corridor and transform the Kitchener GO Line from a rush-hour commuter service into a true rapid transit corridor.

Read more about the recently released Preliminary Design Business Case here.

Story by Stacey Kenny, Metrolinx senior advisor, Communications and Stakeholder Relations. With files from Laura Durie, community relations and issues specialist, and the Malton Station Project Delivery Team.