Toronto Union station terminal that service Go Trains, VIA Rail Canada, UP Airport Express and freight trains

Metrolinx’s new 30-second ad is pretty cool. In it, a teenage boy poses for a photographer. The kid, wearing a jean jacket, flashes a photo of himself from his “awkward” phase — he’s got braces and glasses in the shot. 

Then, the fresh-faced teenager gets right into talking about how improvements are happening all over the place — not just in himself, but at Metrolinx. “Bloomington GO Station? Complete. Bay Concourse at Union? Looking good. Free wi-fi on GO trains and buses? Need I say more?” he says, with a grin for the camera. “Because once the progress train gets moving? There’s no stopping it.” The message is obvious: Transit progress has gone from awkward to awesome, and Metrolinx isn’t afraid to admit that, while things were rough there for a bit, they’re moving in the right direction — planning, preparing, building better transit for all users across the greater Golden Horseshoe.

Toronto Union station terminal that service Go Trains, VIA Rail Canada, UP Airport Express and freight trains with the CN tower in background

They’re all systems GO. Pun most definitely intended.

Transit change is happening. If there was any doubt before, it’s crystal clear now: Metrolinx is changing transit to make it better for Ontarians. Better transit creates more possibilities and better regions. “Metrolinx connects communities across our dynamic and growing region. We are not only undertaking the largest transportation investment in Ontario’s history — $75 billion — to transform our current transit network, but we also serve and move riders each and every day through GO Transit, UP Express and PRESTO. As the only agency overseeing transit development across the entire region, from Niagara to Oshawa to Barrie, Metrolinx is uniquely positioned to plan, build, operate and connect transportation here,” says Jennifer van der Valk, chief communications officer at Metrolinx. She says the company’s mandate is to transform mobility across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. “The Regional Transportation Plan guides the work being done to provide an integrated transportation system that contributes to a high quality of life, a strong, prosperous and competitive economy, and a protected environment — now and in the future. Advancing this work remains our priority and a significant way that we contribute to sustainable development.”

While the pandemic saw more people working from home and fewer users of GO buses and trains, Metrolinx didn’t stop — they continued to build the transit the region will need for the next several decades. The company is all about innovation and improving customer experience, and that’s abundantly obvious — they have more than 200 infrastructure projects underway, with a list that includes both endeavours most of us are familiar with and many we didn’t even realize were in progress.

“The corridor will improve connections between TTC, Durham Region
Transit and GO Transit services, allowing transit riders to get where they
are going faster than before.” — Jennifer van der Valk”

For example, work continues along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (light rail transit). “We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with what is considered the largest transit project in Canada. Vehicle testing has been ongoing in the west and started this past spring in the eastern surface portion,” says van der Valk. “The Mount Dennis, Keelesdale and Science Centre stations have all reached 98 percent completion, with more stations nearing completion before the end of the year,” she explains. The Eglinton Crosstown is being extended toward the west, which will bring more rapid transit to Etobicoke and Mississauga. “The extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will run 9.2 kilometres from the future Mount Dennis LRT station to Renforth Drive and will operate mainly underground, helping to reduce travel times and improve access to jobs, schools and other destinations throughout the Greater Toronto Area,” says van der Valk. “In May, the advance tunnel contract was awarded to West End Connectors, who will design, build and finance the tunnels for the project. Construction is beginning at the tunnel launch site at Renforth, with the tunnel-boring machines expected to arrive on site in early 2022.” Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are working together on this project, which is slated to be complete by 2031.

There are two subway extensions Metrolinx is excited about. The first is the Scarborough subway extension, which will bring nearly eight kilometres of subway service further into Scarborough and “provide one reliable, smooth ride to and from downtown Toronto and within the city’s growing east end. This project will deliver the reliable and modern rapid transit the people of Scarborough need,” van der Valk says. “Shovels are now in the ground and people are hard at work to turn plans into reality. Fences are up, drill rigs are on site and crews are working to keep up the momentum Metrolinx has set over the past year.”

The other is the Yonge-North Subway extension — a four-stop, eight-kilometre extension that will connect Toronto, Vaughan, Markham and Richmond Hill. It will see TTC’s Line 1 (which now starts at Finch Station) start at Yonge and Highway 7 in Richmond Hill. There will be a station at Steeles, as well as Yonge and Clark and High Tech Road. “The time-saving benefits of those seamless subway rides speak for themselves — travel times to downtown Toronto will be reduced by as much as 22 minutes and the time spent commuting in Toronto and York Region will be cut by a combined 835,000 minutes each day,” she says. “One of the more innovative ways the extension will improve the transit network and serve growing neighbourhoods is how the line will run at ground level in the northern part of the extension, linking up with the CN railway corridor in the area of Langstaff Road. This positions the project to serve communities on the boundary of Richmond Hill and Markham that are poised for significant growth. Creating stronger connections here means better connections to transit, including the Richmond Hill GO train line, and less traffic congestion as communities grow.”

3 Go Trains at Union statin waiting to be serviced

“Today, we run 1,500 weekly trips on the GO Transit system. Each year we’re adding more, and when we’re done building, we’ll be running over 6,000 weekly trips.” — Jennifer van der Valk

Perhaps one of the biggest projects residents are looking forward to is the Ontario Line, which will create easier and faster connections between dozens of neighbourhoods. It’s a nearly-16-kilometre, 15-stop subway line that will run from Exhibition Place through downtown and up to Ontario Science Centre. “It will give people major relief from crowding on the Line 1 subway and other busy transit lines across the city, thanks to connections with dozens of other travel options along the way, from regional GO trains to existing subways, to new light rail transit lines and more. What it all adds up to is a bigger, more connected transit system that will make it easier to experience the entire region — where and when you want to,” Van der Valk says. Environmental assessments are underway, and there will be a series of detailed reports to cover sound planning, design and construction. Early work construction is scheduled to start at Exhibition Station this fall.

When it comes to state-of-the-art stations, Bloomington GO opened on June 28. It’s about as innovative and forward-thinking as a public transit station can get. Located at Bloomington Road and Highway 404, in the northeast corner of Richmond Hill, the station was designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, which is a green building certification program used worldwide. “Some of the features include solar panels, a storm water management system and the creation of a specialized underground crossing that allows frogs to travel from the existing pond on site to neighbouring wetlands,” she says. It’s a fully accessible station that features a three-level parking structure with 765 parking spaces (with an additional 253 surface parking spaces for more than 1,000 total parking spots); passenger pickup and drop-off areas; a six-bay bus loop for GO Transit; a bicycle shelter and scooter parking with direct access to the platform; and 12-car train platform that has a canopy, heated shelters and integrated snow-melt system to protect customers from the elements.

When it comes to Durham Region specifically, Metrolinx has committed to servicing the region by delivering more rail service beyond Oshawa as quickly as possible. The area is booming and thriving, with more families moving into new housing developments and more businesses opening. With the population increasing and the region expanding, van der Valk says Metrolinx is cognizant of the way transit must adapt to the needs of what the people of Durham need. “We’re delivering more transit options for Durham Region with the Durham-Scarborough Bus Rapid Transit — a corridor that proposes about 36 kilometres of bus rapid transit infrastructure along Highway 2 and Ellesmere Road connecting downtown Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering and Scarborough,” she says. “The corridor will improve connections between TTC, Durham Region Transit and GO Transit services, allowing transit riders to get where they are going faster than before.” The Bowmanville Line will also service folks who live east of Oshawa GO Station with a 20-kilometre extension of the Lakeshore East GO Train service. In fall 2019, Metrolinx added 15 new weekly midday trips on the Lakeshore East line.

There are so many programs Metrolinx is working on, but the GO Expansion program — which creates a range of improvements to the lines that will benefit users, including trains at least every 15 minutes and more accessible stations — is a key initiative. “Year after year, train by train, bus by bus, Metrolinx has steadily increased GO Transit service. And now, that work is taking on a whole new energy. We’re building transit service that will change life in this region through the GO Expansion program. More than a rush hour commuter service, GO will offer more service with faster trains, more stations and seamless connections to a regional rapid transit network,” says van der Valk. “As part of the Regional Transportation Plan, Metrolinx is running faster, more frequent GO service to keep GTHA residents moving on public transit. This includes offering all-day, every-15-minutes service in both directions on sections of the rail network owned by GO Transit.

“We’re experiencing incredible growth, with an estimated nine million people calling our region home by 2041. Growth means opportunities — for careers, for families, for entertainment and everyday life. It must be matched by a transit system that keeps pace with changing realities,” says van der Valk. “Today, we run 1,500 weekly trips on the GO Transit system. Each year we’re adding more, and when we’re done building, we’ll be running over 6,000 weekly trips.”

Metrolinx is doubling transit’s share of travel; tripling trains, light rail lines and bus rapid transit; and quadrupling GO rail service. There are more than two dozen projects underway between GO expansion, rapid transit, subways and regional hubs, and there’s no sign of slowing down. The organization continues to ensure every community is connected, thanks to forward-thinking transportation plans that transcend borders. There’s no stopping the progress that’s been made and the commitments Metrolinx has promised to Ontarians when it comes to helping us get to and from both easier and faster. We’re all moving in the right direction.

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