Metrolinx abandons plans for GO Transit railyard in Don Valley

A GO Transit train is seen here sitting parked in the summer of 2022. Metrolinx announced on Wednesday it is abandoning plans for a GO Transit railyard in the Don Valley.  (Tara Walton/Canadian Press - image credit)
A GO Transit train is seen here sitting parked in the summer of 2022. Metrolinx announced on Wednesday it is abandoning plans for a GO Transit railyard in the Don Valley. (Tara Walton/Canadian Press - image credit)

Metrolinx says it is abandoning plans for a GO Transit railyard in the Don Valley in favour of a new site in a light industrial area in North York.

In a statement on Wednesday, the provincial transit agency said the new proposed location is on the Richmond Hill GO Line, near York Mills Road and Leslie Street. The previously proposed site was along the old rail line that lies next to the Don Valley Parkway and underneath the Prince Edward Viaduct, which connects Bloor Street to Danforth Avenue.

Metrolinx, responsible for regional transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, said that the new proposed location is close enough to Union Station for its requirements and large enough to contain the facility.

The agency said the new proposed site is also outside of Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) regulated flood plains and has fewer community and environmental impacts than the previously proposed site.

"Metrolinx engages with Indigenous nations, communities and stakeholders and where possible makes changes to its designs or plans when it is feasible," Metrolinx spokesperson Fannie Sunshine said in an interview on Wednesday.

"The new proposed location meets operational and service requirements but will not be confirmed until stakeholder engagements are complete," she added.

"We consult with communities with all the projects that we do. This project isn't any different."

In the statement on its website, Metrolinx said it will no longer pursue planning and design work for the Don Valley site. Community members were opposed to the original site for the layover facility because of concerns that it would damage an environmentally sensitive area of the valley. The decision follows a rally and a petition against the proposal.

Dale Manucdoc/CBC
Dale Manucdoc/CBC

The agency said it will continue to consult Indigenous groups and interested parties about the work needed to design and operate the site. Metrolinx said it will determine at a later date when the site will be in operation.

"Metrolinx is committed to working closely with Indigenous Nations with established and credibly asserted Aboriginal and treaty rights asserted, the City of Toronto and the TRCA to engage on the new identified location and reduce any potential impacts," the agency said in the statement.

The agency, however, said it will use what is called the Rosedale Siding, between Bayview Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway, on the west side of the Don Valley to store GO trains during the day temporarily. Metrolinx could not say how long it will use the Rosedale Siding, which is next to the Richmond Hill GO Line, as a temporary staging area for trains.

Trains will be stored there for about two hours in the morning and about two hours in the afternoon, Metrolinx said. The agency said use of the Rosedale Siding will enable it to increase rail service while it designs and constructs the new layover facility.

Metrolinx 'did the right thing,' community group says

Community groups are pleased with the decision.

Lawrence Warriner, president of Don't Mess with the Don, a registered charity, said in an interview that the decision is great news.

"It's a great win for the Don Valley. The Don Valley is under constant threat from development. The proposed layover area was an extremely narrow area that would have severed the Don and disrupted habitats to no end," he said.

But he thinks Metrolinx decided to relocate the layover facility for practical reasons, not for the community. He said the site would have been extremely close to the Don River in an area that floods continuously.

But he said it is a still a victory for community members. Many groups were involved in the fight against the original site, he added.

"It will allow the continued restoration of the Don. It will allow species like beaver and deer and coyotes to move through and have some sort of habitat where they are not bombarded by light and noise and construction continuously. It's a great victory for the environment but a bigger victory for habitat and the amazing green space we call the Don."

Dale Manucdoc/CBC
Dale Manucdoc/CBC

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Don't Mess with the Don said: "This means thousands of trees will be saved, the Don Valley remains a park and wildlife habitat! Thanks to the mounting pressure from various concerned citizens, groups and councillors over the past years, Metrolinx listened and did the right thing.

"We all support public transit, and this proves it doesn't have to be done at the expense of our parks and green spaces. We cannot thank enough those folks who tirelessly worked to research, question, and challenge Metrolinx, raise awareness and inform the public."

Floyd Ruskin, a member of an advocacy group called  A Park for All, said community members worked for three years to get Metrolinx to change its plans.

"Today is a terrific day for the Don Valley and citizen activism," he wrote on the group's Facebook page.

"Many thanks to everyone that stood up to Metrolinx to protect our parks, ravines and greenspaces."