Operating a public transit system is a difficult job, continually plagued by budget cuts, aging infrastructure and rampant customer dissatisfaction. We’ve always been fans of GO Transit, however, which has generally proven to be clean and reliable despite being operated by the Government of Ontario (hence, the acronym “GO”). When the 2005-06 provincial budget was announced and included more than $300 million in funding for GO’s operating and capital costs, transit enthusiasts were ecstatic. Now, some of that promised modernization is about to be realized, with 27 sleek new locomotives and a glass atrium for the Union Station train shed.
Currently being built in Boise, Idaho by Wabtec, the MP40PH-3C locomotives are not only much more fuel efficient, but are able to haul two more passenger cars and therefore adding the capacity for 300 more passengers. Twenty more Bombardier bi-level coaches are also coming, and new GO stations in Mount Pleasant, Kennedy and Milliken are also a result of the funding.
The streamlined locomotives will begin arriving in September on the Milton line at a cost US$112 million, and GO maintains an option for 26 more at an additional US$105 million. The high-horsepower, microprocessor-controlled engines will allow the trains to accelerate faster with fewer emissions and reach a top speed of 150 km/h, and the cabs are designed to meet higher rollover and crashworthiness standards. The older locomotives currently servicing some of GO Transit’s 140,000 daily riders are beginning to fall apart, resulting in expensive maintenance and customer delays. They can also only reach a top speed of 133 km/h—not a huge difference in comparison to the new ones, but potentially significant on express routes.
But what’s a sexy new locomotive without a nice place to put it? Union Station may be a gorgeous landmark, but its train shed is purely industrial. The shed is the dark, leaky set of covered platforms to the south of Union Station where passengers board trains, and the soot-encrusted 1927 roof isn’t holding up well in the aesthetic department. Even worse is the view from above, whether it be from the Skywalk or from an expensive new condo tower. GO Transit has announced that the historic roof will be revamped with a glass canopy that will be striking inside and out, day or night.
Historians, don’t fear too much (yet)—much of the historic steel arch truss structure will be preserved when construction begins next summer, pending final approval, and repainted to a dark colour to match their original appearance (they are currently light grey). The building is one of the only two remaining “Bush Sheds”—named for the designer Alexander Bush—and was built in a “unit construction” design, allowing rapid and simple expansion on the east and west ends. Over the years, the corrosive gas and heat from the trains has deteriorated the smoke ducts and red pine roof, and the dark, leaky platforms aren’t appealing to passengers. The new glass canopy will cover only the centre of the shed, with a green roof slated for the remainder. Solid escalator and stair exits will also be replaced with glass walls, and platform lighting will be brighter and more energy-efficient.
Our love of the automobile permanently changed the design of our city decades ago, but with high fuel costs, unbearable traffic congestion and environmental concerns now on everyone’s lips, there seems to be a mildly-renewed interest on the importance and convenience of rail travel in Toronto. While the TTC, Via and GO Transit need a lot of capital to maintain tracks, signal systems and other infrastructure, it’s highly visible changes like this that get people interested and excited—perhaps enough to start leaving their car at home more often and taking the train. Now, if we could only do something about that amalgamated transit pass.
Locomotive rendering courtesy of GO Transit; train shed photo by Ryan Coleman in the Torontoist Flickr Pool.