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A Look Inside Toronto’s Newest Subway Tunnels

A guided tour through the still-unfinished tunnels of the Spadina Subway Extension.

Often ignored during the course of the ceaseless political arguments over where and how to build new subway stops in Toronto is the fact that it’s already being done. Construction on the TTC’s Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension is well underway. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have six more stops on the north end of the Spadina subway line by late 2016, the northernmost of which will be all the way up in Vaughan.

It’s a massive job, requiring four tunnel-boring machines and an estimated $2.6 billion in funding from three levels of government. Although there’s still plenty of work to do, the dirty part is actually almost done: the TTC was saying, as of its last progress update in June, that tunelling was about 85 per cent complete. Earlier today, we, along with reporters from other media outlets, were given a guided tour of the interiors of some of those still-unfinished underground shafts. We visited two construction sites: the future Downsview Park Station and the future Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station.

Click through the image gallery above for a look at what we saw, and try to imagine the trains running through.

CORRECTION: September 10, 2013, 9:40 AM This post originally referred to Sheppard West Station. In fact, the construction site we visited will one day be known as Downsview Park Station. (The current Downsview Station will be renamed Sheppard West Station once construction is complete.)


  • Syn

    I love me some construction porn, but all I keep thinking of is that we’re giving Vaughan three stops and Scarborough two.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      We tried to give them seven.


      What passes for reality in Glen Murray’s brain and what actually is reality are two very different things. Murray blithely waved away the problem of essentially having to build a new Kennedy station to accommodate his fantasy as a trifling problem (running subway trains north of Kennedy requires the station to be in a completely different alignment than it is now). Who knows more about transit design: a transit expert like Andy Byford (who I think used more than a little English understatement when described Murray’s hare-brained scheme), or someone like Glen Murray, who knows little about transit, but does know how to go running after a bandwagon? Yeesh.

      Short story: Murray’s Scarborough extension is not very likely to happen.

      • milanista1

        I’ll agree with that and take it one step further.
        When’s the last time we heard from the actual planning department? Other than a short quote from Jennifer Keesmaat the other day, it’s been nothing but crickets. All the planning these days seems to be done by politicians who draw subway routes by the seat of their pants and completely fabricate what they think an LRT is or isn’t, while nothing actually gets done…and just when you think it is done it gets cancelled in favour of an even more expensive, even more poorly designed scheme.
        Short story (sorry, I liked that): Get politicians out of transit planning. Most of them are run of the mill professionals, career civil servants, or some sort of unknown sticker and label company worker anyway.
        Let’s allows urban planners to do some urban planning again, otherwise we should just let them all go and save the money since we don’t seem to be using them anyway.

        • Paul Kishimoto

          100% in agreement, but the hard part is that “Governance reform, more power and less political interference for Metrolinx!” is a mouthful next to “Subways, subways, subways.”

          In the next campaign, we need make it really clear that “I’m seriously going to build Line X!” is a red flag that indicates someone is NOT actually serious about transit. I think it’s mainly on reporters to ask, “Mr. Candidate, why should voters believe you know more than the planning experts?”

          • dsmithhfx

            “I already answered that. Subways! Subways! Subways! I saved a billion dollars, that’s a lot of gravy!”

          • Lee Zamparo

            Seconded. This would be ideal, but makes far too much sense for the current Torontarian political climate.

            I love this city, and this province, but the politicians we elect seem to be incapable of listening to civil servants when investing in transit or other infrastructure projects. It has been so for at least the 10 years I’ve lived here in Toronto. The hand-wringing, the bombast, the false outrage, the race to the bottom populism and the sheer ineptitude form a powerful political cocktail that neutralizes any effort at rational, evidence based transit planning by civil servants.

            I’d be overjoyed if our bozo politicians would get out of the way and just let urban planners do their job. I also think it’s less likely to happen than it is for Hank Scorpio to take over the Golden Horseshoe.

          • milanista1

            I’ve emailed countless councillors, urging them to put forward some sort of motion that takes transit planning out of their hands in favour of an evidence based upgrading system/queue where once a certain bus/streetcar/RT line crosses X amount of ridership/capacity overload it gets put into the upgrading queue. No line jumping for votes, not promises of subways in suburbs that will never be filled because you don’t know what “grade separated” means. Just a simple evidence based system.
            I only got responses from a couple councillors:
            Mike Layton said the current political climate shows no appetite for it (total shocker there), Josh Matlow’s response (via his assistant) was in favour, Michael Del Grand actually exchanged quite a few (mostly rude) emails with me where he mostly gave me talking points (the people want subways, it increases jobs, LRTs are only temporary yadda yadda yadda) and finally I must have pissed him off with too many facts, resulting in him sending a one-line email, and I quote, “Want to make a difference? Run in the next election”
            I did what I could, I guess.

          • Lee Zamparo

            “Michael Del Grande actually exchanged quite a few (mostly rude) emails with me where he mostly gave me talking points (the people want subways, it increases jobs, LRTs are only temporary yadda yadda yadda) and finally I must have pissed him off with too many facts, resulting in him sending a one-line email, and I quote, “Want to make a difference? Run in the next election”

            I did what I could, I guess.”

            Now *that’s* customer service :)

            I’ve taken the same tack with many different councillors on transit (usually Ford, Ford, Perks, Wong Tam) but am yet to get a response beyond form letters or rude talking point emails from Ford’s office drones. They aren’t genuinely interested in other people’s input, they just want to be able to say with some credence that they respond to emails from constituents.


            Given the disgusting flyer handed out by Norm Kelly during the LRT debate in March 2012 (which attempts to use deaths on the Edmonton LRT for political advantage, mixes up a picture of Yonge north of Finch with Sheppard Avenue, among other gems), simply getting everyone on board with a basic grasp of the facts would be a huge achievement.


          In the mean time, Calgary has just finished extending its LRT (and isn’t done yet), while Edmonton has unveiled ambitious plans to expand its LRT with reason to think that they are actually going to build it. This, in a province where large sections of the population would use progressives as target practice if they could get away with it. Of course, we all know that LRT lines are being built in Alberta in a devilish plot to bamboozle Ford and his cronies.

          Regarding the silence of the city planner, it’s really hard to put the sound of banging your head against your desk repeatedly into words.

          • David Chipman

            “One moment while I bash my head against my desk, *again*!….” How’s that?

  • OgtheDim

    I remember taking the Sheppard line on the first day it was opened.

    The walls were so clean. Grey as against brown like they got really quickly.

  • bobloblawbloblawblah

    Beautiful, in a brutalist sort of way. Shame there isn’t another one like it running under King or Queen Sts.

    • nevilleross

      We don’t need one down under either street as much as we need smart people to understand how transit is built and planned-and people like you aren’t it.

      • bobloblawbloblawblah

        Really? I guess all those “smart people’ who are calling for the DRL which would likely run under either King or Queen or a combination of both are wrong. Y’know, smart people who actually do this sort of thing for a living like TTC manager Andy Byford:

        • nevilleross

          I’m talking about the ‘smart people’ who vote for Ford to fuck up transit in Toronto generally (and no, I’m not against the DRL, just any idea that we need a subway line down either King or Queen streets.)

          • gricer1326

            To be fair the 504/508 are getting to the point of the old Yonge streetcar. Vehicles on the route are packed to the gills during peak periods and better-used than most TTC routes whenever the sun is up, and nothing’s being done to mitigate King’s terrible traffic situation. The TTC has essentially maxed out its capacity and vehicle frequency with the resources it has. The point is that King’s going to need an upgrade soon to prevent it from becoming unusable (especially as the condo developments creep west). A DRL via King, while gratuitously expensive, could actually prove to be a useful investment in the long run.

          • nevilleross

            Sorry,but a subway won’t work under Queen, King, or St. Clair avenues; it would cost too much, disrupt the street, and also wreck business and the character of all three streets (in particular Queen Street). Queen has a distinctiveness to it that evolved because of the streetcar; putting the transit underground would destroy that distinctiveness completely and leave it as boring as Danforth and Bloor is now (studies have shown that streetcar lines enhance neighborhoods and streets, as is happening now with the new streetcar and LRT lines in many cities in the USA that bought them back.)

            What we really need to do is ban on-street parking on Queen, Bloor, and King, and also making the loading of streetcars a lot better-the adaptation of Presto and all door boarding would be a great step in the right direction. The way the DRL’s been planned won’t allow for a Queen Street subway anyway, or a King one.

            If you want to get more info from a better source, here he is:

          • gricer1326

            I apologize if it wasn’t clear in my post, but I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. In terms of King’s streetscape…well…there’s not much of one, at least relative to Queen or St. Clair. Street parking on all major downtown streets undeniably needs to go, even on non-streetcar streets. Hell, the streets hosting transit routes with the greatest ridership could be closed to cars entirely. King’s got a ways to go in terms of a subway. There’s no arguing that. As the development boom creeps west, however, we will start to see the 504 pushed to its limit, even with the new streetcars arriving this year and transit priority measures in place.

            In 2012 the King streetcar carried 57,300 passengers per day. That’s nowhere close to Yonge’s roughly 700,000 or Bloor’s 400,000, but it outperforms every other route on the system except for the Spadina streetcar (this includes the remainder of the rapid transit network). 50 vehicles were scheduled to operate the route, the most the TTC can fit on it without encountering serious operational issues. Certainly there are measures that can be taken to improve the transit situation on King without springing for a full subway. That is undeniable.

            Independently of King, there’s no easy way around building the DRL. The tricky part, of course, is figuring out where to put it, and on that we’re pretty much snookered. The CN rail corridor through the south of downtown seems easy, quick and cheap, but that rail corridor is going to need all the spare capacity it can get as GO service along the corridor grows. Perhaps the biggest flaw with this proposal is that the line deposits downtown-bound commuters at Union Station, which is already close to maxing out its capacity. Any alignment north of Queen misses too much of downtown to be useful, while King and Queen themselves would have to be built in some of the deepest tunnels ever constructed in the city to avoid skyscraper foundations. It’s unreasonably expensive, but King is the best bet here – it hosts a very well-used streetcar line, it’s dense, provides the line’s strongest anchor and there’s not a hell of a lot of streetscape to disrupt during construction.

          • nevilleross

            The DRL is going to be mostly underground anyway, so I don’t think that the CN rail corridor will even play a part in it. I think that people like are just too preoccupied with subways and hateful of street rail to see any alternative other than getting rid of the King and Queen streetcar. And I’m sorry, but King Street does have a streetscape and culture that would be wrecked and made boring (just like the Danforth east of Pape Avenue is now-take a good walk down it one day, and you’ll see what I mean) if the streetcar’s removed for a subway running underneath it as part of a future DRL

  • Whitebox

    It’s really cool that the sides are all made of pre-fab concrete slabs and they can just pop into position.

  • Truth_Seeker

    This is great; excellent executed project. Congratulations to everyone involved.

  • Sircrapsalot

    Great to see the TTC building and subsidizing Subways in other cities! Glad to see all the fare hikes going to good use! Thanks, you’re the best!

    • gricer1326

      You are aware that Vaughan is funding their end of the extension right?