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Toronto Union Station users in for ‘a pleasant surprise’ with York Concourse opening

Completion of the York Concourse at the west side of Union Station is one of a number of recent transit developments.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A large passenger area at Toronto's Union Station is set to open Monday, capping a string of good-news transit announcements by the provincial government.

The York Concourse, at the west end of the historic building, is 50 per cent bigger than the existing Bay Concourse – and part of a larger plan by GO Transit to boost capacity and manage big rises in ridership.

"This will be a big surprise for people, but I think it's a pleasant surprise," Mike Wolczyk, vice-president of GO Capital Infrastructure, said during a media tour of the site Friday.

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"[Union is] already a huge hub for the city and it will become even more so when we start launching Regional Express Rail."

Regional Express Rail is the name the Ontario government has adopted for its planned expansion of GO. The province has long promised to increase service, expanding what is now mostly a commuter service into an all-day option.

Just over a week ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca laid out the details of the $13.5-billion GO rail plan, which they believe will lead to huge increases in ridership over the next decade.

It was the first of a series of transit events. On Tuesday, the Premier and the Transportation Minister were in Mississauga announcing that a light-rail line connecting that community with Brampton would go ahead. One day later, they were riding the new Union Pearson Express train from downtown Toronto to Pearson airport, part of an event announcing that the UPX would launch June 6.

On Thursday, the government introduced a budget that trumpeted $130-billion in infrastructure spending. "It is the largest infrastructure build in Ontario history," said Finance Minister Charles Sousa. About $81-billion of that was described as transportation spending, although the total included a number of projects that had earlier been announced or were under way.

More announcements are expected, including rapid transit for Hamilton and a re-announcement of the Finch light-rail line in Toronto. The long-gestating project for Finch has had its environmental assessment and preplanning work done. According to this week's Ontario budget, procurement is to start later this year.

The flurry of announcements has drawn parallels to a pre-election blitz. The Liberals are firmly ensconced in power, with a majority mandate less than a year old, but these events allow the government to showcase its investments rather than the relatively lean remainder of the budget.

The new York Concourse is part of a nearly $800-million renovation and expansion of Union Station. It will be matched by another expanded concourse at the east end. Together, they will triple the space for GO passengers at Union.

The new space lies roughly where a parking area once was and another level is being built below it for retail. That shopping floor will be level with the TTC and the underground pedestrian PATH network, prompting passengers to go down to where the merchants are.

Considerations about pedestrian flow and motivation have also been incorporated into other parts of the design.

The sunken "moat" outside the northwest of the station will get a glass roof, allowing a sheltered passage to the new PATH extension that will reach Wellington Street by 2017. And the glassed-in passageway running along the sidewalk beside York Street can absorb crowds while providing access to both the concourse or GO train level. It will also be a weather-protected route for pedestrians connecting to the booming area south of the tracks.

"This will become a major thoroughfare for people," Mr. Wolczyk said.

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