A black and white photo of a train yard with trains. On the left is a cylindrical tower. In the distance smoke rises out of a smoke stack.

Rail Lands: Bathurst Yard

Bathurst Street Yard

A black and white photo of a train yard with trains. On the left is a cylindrical tower. In the distance smoke rises out of a smoke stack.

CN’s Spadina Yards, south of Front Street West, looking east from Spadina Avenue, Toronto, 1955. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Historical hand-drawn map illustrating the circular route of the Belt Line railway around downtown in Toronto titled Bird's Eye View of the Toronto Belt Line Railway

Bird’s Eye View of the Toronto Belt Line Railway, 1891. York University Libraries.

A black-and-white photo of a group of well dressed men in a subway car. The two in the center are facing the camera and smiling. The two on wither side are facing the two men in the middle. Behind them are two well-dressed women. One is looking off to the side, while the other is looking forward with her face partially obscured.

Mayor Allan A. Lamport and Metro Chairman Frederick G. Gardiner at the official opening of Yonge Street subway, Toronto, March 30, 1954. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

A group of GO trains moving along a series of tracks on the right side of the photo. The track is raised. Below the track to the left is another track coming out of a tunnel.

The Toronto fly-under, Toronto, July 11, 2022.

A history of commuting in Toronto

The stretch of railway near today’s Union Station is among the busiest in the city. Commuter trains have relied on this stretch of track, known as the Union Station Rail Corridor, as well as the nearby rail yards for over one hundred years. In 1906, the Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific Railways created the Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR) to help maintain rail infrastructure and to oversee the creation of what would become Toronto’s third Union Station. During the 1920s and 1930s, TTR made multiple improvements to the railways, including implementing a state-of-the-art interlocking system and building a roundhouse to service trains. The nearby rail yards, once known as the Spadina Yard, are now known as the Bathurst Street Yard and also form part of the Union Station Rail Corridor.

Although both cargo and passenger trains use the yard, commuter trains have arguably had the largest impact on the Union Station Rail Corridor. Over two million people commute daily to Toronto. Of commuters that do not drive, almost half use some sort of rail transportation.

Toronto’s first commuter train

GO Transit is Ontario’s main commuter rail provider today, but it was preceded by another commuter railway, known as the Toronto Belt Line Railway. Founded in 1889, the Belt Line Railway served smaller communities north of the city, including Moore Park and Forest Hill. The Belt Line ran from Toronto’s Union Station along the former Ontario, Simcoe and Huron rail line. The base fare was ¢5 with a maximum fare of ¢25 to travel the entire route.

Unfortunately, much of the area that the line travelled through was sparsely populated. Due to low ridership, along with the relatively high fare price for the day, the railway shut down in 1894. A large portion of the line now serves as a walking and biking trail. Created in 1989, the Beltline Trail spans nine kilometers from Caledonia Road to east of Yonge Street.

Trains and the TTC

Toronto’s first electric street railway system started operations in 1892. Run by the privately-owned Toronto Railway Company (TRC), the system helped move passengers throughout the downtown. In 1921 the city merged the TRC’s routes with the Toronto Civic Railway and created the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) to help standardise transit in the city. The TTC continued to increase its routes all over the city as ridership increased.

By the 1940s the city realised that there needed to be substantial improvements in Toronto’s transit system. In 1946 the public voted in favour of the TTC creating an underground subway system. Construction began in 1949 of a twelve-stop subway line from Union to Eglinton Avenue.  The system officially opened in 1954 and became Canada’s first subway. At present, nearly 600,000 people ride Toronto’s subways every day.

On the GO

Following the Second World War, governments around the world promoted the idea of travelling by car. By the 1960s, highways throughout Ontario had become extremely congested. With an ever-increasing number of automobiles on the road, the Ontario Government decided to launch a new commuter rail service called GO Transit in 1967. The service was popular from the start, seeing 2.5 million people travelling on the system in its first year.  

 By the 1980s, GO Transit had significantly expanded its service. Unfortunately, the Bathurst Street Yard could not deal with the increase in trains. At this time, it was common to see GO Trains waiting for up to 10 minutes to get through the yard. By 1983, Go Transit redeveloped the yard and created the Toronto fly-under. Using multiple levels of tracks, a fly-under allows trains going in different directions to cross each other without crashing. Composed of a 400-foot tunnel and two levels of rail line, the Toronto fly-under substantially reduced the wait-times that GO trains had to deal with coming in and out of Union Station.   

Additional resources