Rail Attractions in Central Toronto
Rail Attractions in Central Toronto Canada
Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR)
The TTR deserves a great big Web Site all to itself. (It has one, actually!)
The TTR is a separate company responsible for operating the "Union Station Rail Corridor": Toronto's Union Station, and its eastern and western approaches. While Toronto's downtown landscape has changed dramatically, the TTR still boasts many of the classic facilities of steam-era metropolitan rail terminals: large throat trackwork with interlocking towers and double-slip switches; a classic depot with covered station platforms; and frequent passenger train activity. As each year passes, the traditional Union Station landscape is hidden behind yet another big building development, but the TTR still operates pretty much as it did back in the days of steam.
Best of all, there are many safe and sheltered vantage points from which to watch the action!
To the east of Toronto Union, the line is elevated and well fenced. It is possible to gain access via TTR roads, but stay well back from the tracks, and be prepared to move along if asked.
West of Union
Station, the line is mostly below grade with several overhead bridges
in the John Street - Peter Street area. Further west, it's possible
to reach trackside from the 'Railway Lands' - a vacant area west of
Spadina and east of Bathurst. But with the excellent overhead vantage
points, why bother?
Cherry Street Tower/Scott Street Tower
East of Union Station, the Scott Street and Cherry Street interlocking towers guard junctions with the CN Kingston Subdivision, CN Bala Sub, and CP Belleville Sub (Don Branch). These are working interlocking towers.
The Scott Street tower can be accessed from a laneway running west off Sherbourne Street, just south of the railway overpass. This is railway property and is patrolled by USRC security, but it's possible to grab a quick shot from the roadway without entering the yard area. This is a nice shot in the morning with the depot and the downtown skyline in the background.
Toronto Union Station
Toronto's Union Station was built between 1917 and 1927, and is a true classic railroad terminal. It features a huge main hall, and a modernised - but still attractive - departures hall. The station was recently purchased by the City of Toronto; with rail transportation a proven necessity in this transit-oriented city, Union Station's future remains bright. The depot's only problem is an enviable one.....it has reached its maximum capacity, thanks to the growth of commuter and intercity passenger rail in the area. The city is planning a multi-million dollar expansion project for the terminal, and may have to build additional station facilities elsewhere to meet the demands of GO and VIA passenger traffic.
You can't see many trains from inside the station, but the atmosphere is on par with Grand Central Terminal or Chicago Union at their best.
It is possible to gain access to the platforms via the staircases in the arrivals area, which are unattended. Be careful: some of the platforms in Union Station are 'Proof of Payment' zones; if you are found wandering in this area you could be fined by GO Transit Security as a "passenger without a ticket".
The elevated 'Skywalk' and roads to the Skydome, just west of Union Station, offer wonderful photo and trainwatching access to the throat of the passenger terminal.
The walkway between the CN Tower and the Skydome will lead you to the John Street Roundhouse. Just east of the CN Tower is the south entrance to the Metro Convention Center. If you ignore the 'do not climb' signs you can get good photographs from the flower beds at the east end of the Convention Center. There is a "lookout" on the west side of Lower Simcoe Street (right over the parking entrance) that aims right over to the depot.
Some through freight movements do use the TTR, passing to the south of the depot on a bypass track.
CP John Street Roundhouse
CP's former John Street roundhouse stands to the south of Union Station. Now owned by the City of Toronto, it's bereft of rails. Nonetheless, it is currently undergoing a rebirth as a heritage structure and - hopefully one day soon - a rail museum.
The roundhouse ceased operation in the mid 1980's. Over the last 15 years, the area around the roundhouse was redeveloped, first with the Skydome, and then with the construction of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The roundhouse was preserved as a heritage building, and enjoyed some basic structural care, but its future plans were smothered in the "care" of various government agencies: each with their own agendas and mandates, and all without any source of funding. Meanwhile, a number of pieces of railway equipment - several diesel locomotives, a passenger car, and some vintage freight cars - languished in the roundhouse's darkened stalls, and Cabin D - an interlocking tower from the western approach to Toronto Union - was parked behind the roundhouse in hope of preservation.
After years of proposals and plans, the bureaucratic logjam finally broke. In 1999 a lease was awarded to Steam Whistle Brewery - a local microbrewery. The Brewery renovated eleven stalls of the 32-stall structure. This brought the first public access to the roundhouse, in the form of retail sales and periodic open houses tours. In addition, Steam Whistle promotes special events at the Roundhouse and offers meeting facilities for group functions.
Development plans for the remainder of the roundhouse seem to come and go. There have been efforts to start preservation and restoration work on the rolling stock and structures, but until development plans mature, these are logjammed in the City's bureaucracy. The most tangible product of this work has been the structure's inclusion in Toronto's annual Doors Open festival, when it is possible to gain access to the turntable area. On this weekend, the roundhouse doors are opened and visitors can peer into the dim stalls.
The area is landscaped as parkland. It's possible to walk all around the structure. Some parts, such as the turntable pit, are fenced off, but the unique feel of the engine house area remains. You can see in through the structure's large windows. The original coal and water towers are also preserved, although not in their original locations.
The roadway on the south side of the Skydome leads directly to the roundhouse site. A parking garage was built underground immediately to the east of the structure and can be accessed from Lower Simcoe Street. The Brewery has a retail store which sells six-packs and the usual caps, sweatshirts, etc...and they will gladly offer you a small sample to whet your whistle!
For a somewhat acerbic (but not necessarily inaccurate) account of the checkered past history of the Roundhouse project, check out The Roundhouse Alliance web site.
John Street Interlocking
The TTR's John Street interlocking tower is tucked behind the Metro Convention Center on the south side of Front Street, across from the Skydome. It controls all movements to the west end of Union Station. A yard track leads to a GO Transit servicing yard, north of the station leads, between John Street and Bathurst Street.
In steam days the trackage between John Street and Bathurst Street was unsignalled, with switchtenders at 'Cabin D' (Bathurst Street) giving hand signals to trains. In the 1980's, the current track arrangement was built, and CTC was installed in this region, controlled from John Street Tower. The original station throat remains a working interlocking plant.
In the Front Street-Bathurst Street area, the rail lines running west out of Toronto converge to a single junction. This plant includes a double track flyover allowing trains to the CN Oakville Subdivision and CP Galt Subdivision to clear other trains using the Galt and CN Weston Subdivisions. With all these lines meeting in one place, the traffic is steady and varied. This junction is also the focal point for equipment deadheading to/from Union Station. The Bathurst Street bridge is an excellent spot for watching VIA and GO trains, and TTC streetcars too!
Just west of Bathurst Street is Strachan Avenue. There is a road bridge over the CN Oakville Subdivision, and a very wide crossing at grade over the CP Galt and CN Weston Subdivisions, the one place to get shots 'at ground level' on the TTR property.
CN U2g 6213 - Exhibition Park
This Northern class steam locomotive is on display beside the Marine Museum at Exhibition Park, on the north side of Lakeshore Blvd just across from Ontario Place.
Owned by the City of Toronto, the 6213 has gained attention in recent years as a candidate for restoration. Plans are still in the formative stage, but stay tuned.
The locomotive is in superb condition, having received tender loving care from dedicated volunteers over the years. Unfortunately for photographers it's well-fenced, but it's still worth a good look. Accessible 24 hours a day.
The Marine Museum is all about marine transportation in Toronto - the phone is 416-392-1765, hours for the museum itself are Tues-Fri 9:30am to4:00pm Sat & Sun noon to 5:00pm.
East Toronto Lines
West Toronto Lines
North of Toronto
Halton Peel Lines
Copyright © 1996, Paul Cordingley
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