Image shows people taking photos in the Don.

How Don Valley Layover is part of a new vision for transit in the GTHA

There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to the future of how people will move around in communities inside and just outside Toronto. Sometimes, how the parts are connected – to form a larger picture of transit in the years to come – can be a bit fuzzy. So we’re taking a look at the transformation against one of the most iconic areas of Canada’s biggest city – the Don Valley. Here’s how the parts fit, and how the Don Valley Layover Facility plays an important part.

The region shouldering up against Toronto is growing in leaps and bounds.

Even during the pandemic, that expansion can be seen everywhere.  Transit, to keep up with the growth, is years behind. 

Image shows people taking photos in the Don.
By building the Don Valley Layover Facility, GO Transit can store additional trains near Union Station during the midday period, when fewer – or shorter – trains are in use. (Metrolinx photo)

The good news is that there is a critical mass of transit planned and already in construction, to help move the expected nine million people that will call the region home by 2041.

New subways, light rail transit routes and GO Expansion will transform neighbourhoods, and knit together regional transit into a real network – not just for commuters going downtown, but people travelling all ways, on every day of the week.

Besides the explosive population growth, trends are emerging such as a decrease in car ownership, and new travel patterns. New stations like East Harbour, Leslieville, Pape, and Kennedy will provide new connections to multiple transit lines, for faster and more convenient travel.

Now let’s look at how one of Toronto’s most iconic area – perhaps second only to the downtown skyline from Lake Ontario – is playing an important part in that transit future.

Metrolinx is planning to build the Don Valley Layover Facility, that will be an important facility to store additional GO trains near Union Station.

Moving forward

Image shows the Don river.
A great deal of effort is going into protecting an important area of Toronto. (Metrolinx photo)

While working on that, Metrolinx is making sure to protect the Don Valley, as the area is seeing this work happening now.

  • Arborists (tree experts) evaluating trees in the vicinity of the proposed layover
  • Biologists assess the habitat features in the adjacent area 
  • Heritage experts assess any impacts on heritage features in the area including the Prince Edward Viaduct
  • Engineers assess the current infrastructure.

Metrolinx initiated a procurement process for the technical advisor that will advance the design for the layover facility. In addition to architects and engineers, this team will include landscape architects and restoration experts.

Metrolinx expects to have the consultant on board early in 2022 to begin the initial design and work with the community.

GO Expansion – the backbone of a new, green system

Metrolinx is improving service as part of the GO Expansion Program by increasing train frequency and availability. The long-term goal and vision of the GO Expansion Program is to provide 15-minute two-way all-day service on core segments of the rail network. The huge project consists of many different projects.

The largest among them will electrify core segments of GO Corridors including Lakeshore East, Lakeshore West (as far west as Burlington), Barrie, Stouffville, Richmond Hill (up to Pottery Road), the Union Station Rail Corridor and Kitchener (west to Bramalea GO).

The contract is in a multi-year procurement process, and the bidding teams submitted their final the bids just this week, on November 30.

The winning team will design, build, operate and maintain the new infrastructure and trains for 25 years, a massive, multibillion-dollar undertaking. Construction, including electrification, will get underway in late 2022 or 2023.

Electrifying the entire system is a long-term goal. Electric trains allow for faster, and more reliable service. The corridors that will be electrified represent the majority of Metrolinx owned track, while Metrolinx continues to negotiate with rail partners (CP and CN) on expanding electrification outside of GO Transit corridors.

Therefore, to start, some locations will be served almost entirely by electric trains, some by a mix of electric and diesel trains, and others by diesels.

New trains mean new and expanded facilities to store them. Metrolinx currently has 16 layover facilities with capacity for midday and overnight storage of 111, 12-coach trains.

With GO Expansion, 42 per cent more storage space will be required across the network to deliver increased service.

By building the Don Valley Layover Facility, GO Transit can store additional trains near Union Station during the midday period, when fewer – or shorter – trains are in use.

By keeping the trains close to Toronto’s Union Station, Metrolinx limits the movement of empty trains during the day while keeping the trains nearby where they are needed for evening commutes.

The Willowbrook Maintenance Facility, on the west side of Toronto, serves a similar midday storage function, to allow trains to quickly enter and exit into service.

Image shows a wild life sign.
From the beginning, Metrolinx has understood the importance of  the Don Valley Park. (Metrolinx photo)

The Don Valley Layover is one of 14 new or expanded layover and storage facilities across the rail network that will support increased service.

Don Valley Layover – the why and where

From the beginning, Metrolinx understood the importance of the Don Valley Park, and has worked with the community, the City of Toronto, and the TRCA to minimize the effects, and keep the construction impacts to Metrolinx property and out of the park as much as possible.

Here are details on how Metrolinx is designing the layover to be as green as possible.

The Don Valley layover, near Union Station, will store three trains between peak periods to help keep empty trains off the system, as rail traffic increases. The Don Valley Layover will repurpose a section of existing track next to the Don Valley Parkway.

Get the Don Valley Layover Facts.

The Don Valley Layover is just one in a long list of facilities that are required as Metrolinx transforms GO Transit into more frequent transit network.

The site was selected after meeting several criteria:

  •  The trains that will be stored at the layover use the north end tracks at Union Station, so they must be stored north of the Lakeshore East corridor. This avoids “laddering” across many sets of tracks which is like crossing all the lanes of Highway 401 during rush hour.
  • Makes use of an existing track on the Don Branch – limiting required rail infrastructure. Not using the Don Branch would cause significant traffic and slow trains and impact service on the Lakeshore East and Stouffville corridors.
  • Metrolinx owns the land under the track bed as well as the adjacent slope of land that provides a stable foundation for the railway. Most of the construction and final facility is on Metrolinx-owned land, right next to the Don Valley Parkway, and outside of the park lands.

See how other potential layover sites did not stack up. Click here.

Metrolinx experts have determined the Don Valley location is the only viable location for train storage, where it is needed. But with community input, and a new smaller design, it can be built with minimum impact to the Don Valley park and become part of a transit system to make the region greener and better connected.

Public consultation will be ongoing, and Metrolinx will continue to seek feedback as the detailed design begins in 2022.

Story by Stacey Kenny, Metrolinx communications senior advisor