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Wilson Yard Connection Tunnel

Text by James Bow

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The Wilson Yard Connection Track is a new tunnel dug from the crossover south of Sheppard West station, southwest across Allen Road to the northern limit of an expanded Wilson Yard. The bulk of the tunnel was built in 2010, but tracks were not laid nor put in service until the extension of the SPADINA subway to York University and into Vaughan.

Wilson Yard Needs Space

The TTC built Wilson Yard along with the original SPADINA subway. The combined bus and subway facility was located at the top of the SPADINA line. It provided additional storage space for trains as well as maintenance facilities. The new facility allowed the TTC to reduce its use of Davisville Yard and Vincent Yard, consolidating train storage at Wilson and Greenwood yards.

Wilson Yard was sufficient to meet the TTC’s needs for several years, as soon after the construction of the SPADINA subway Toronto subway construction stalled. Over the next decade, only one new subway station was opened (North York Centre station), and one new line (the Scarborough RT) was built. In the 1990s, an economic downturn coupled with funding cuts resulted in service cuts.

However, after 1995, the demand for subway service began to increase again. The construction of the SHEPPARD subway, which opened in 2002, increased the number of trains that needed storage, resulting in the re-activation of Davisville Yard. Further service increases meant that, by 2005, space at Wilson Yard was at a premium, and the TTC was storing trains in unexpected areas, including the platforms and tail tracks of Finch station. With the province announcing funding for the extension of the SPADINA subway into York Region in 2007, the TTC knew that new space had to be found.

Improved Facilities and a New Connection

Although the TTC considered other locations for new storage yards, Wilson Yard offered several advantages over new sites. Located at the southwest corner of the former Downsview Airport, plenty of empty land was available for expanded facilities.

However, Wilson Yard needed several changes to handle an expanded fleet, and the changing nature of the TTC’s fleet. Wilson Yard, like the other TTC facilities, had been designed to maintain Toronto’s subway trains as two-car married pairs. The new Toronto Rockets were 6-car semi-permanently coupled trains, with open interior gangways. This design could handle more passengers more efficiently, but Wilson Carhouse’s maintenance tracks had to be extended to handle the longer trains.

On July 10, 2008, TTC staff released a report calling for the Commission to award a contract to Black & McDonald Limited to handle the expansion of Wilson Yard. The contract was worth $63.1 million to expand the carhouse by 2,800 square meters over two levels, a two-storey training facility featuring classrooms and a subway cab simulator, and additional carhouse equipment, including a tandem wheel truing machine, “a drop table with a turntable, and three separate turntables”.

However, expanding the use of Wilson Yard offered challenges in terms of maintaining the service of the YONGE-UNIVERSITY subway. Serving the long line from one location meant lengthy deadheading to get trains starting service around the same time throughout the line. The limited connections between Wilson Yard and the mainline represented a bottleneck, limiting the number of trains that could leave the yard and get on the line.

A solution was to build a new connection tunnel, linking the YONGE-UNIVERSITY mainline with a different part of the Wilson Yard. By running from closer to Downsview (later renamed Sheppard West) station to the north end of Wilson Yard, more trains could leave the Yard and enter service at any given time.

Construction Begins, Pauses, then Ends

On Friday, November 27, 2009, politicians gathered for the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Spadina-York extension. The specific project being started was the new tunnel that would take trains from Downsview station to Wilson Yard. The tunnel broke away from the southbound mainline at the south end of the double-crossover south of Downsview station, curving southwest beneath Allen Road and continuing underground to a portal at the north end of Wilson Yard. The new tracks would link to eight new storage tracks.

The tunnel was built using cut and cover, with metal i-beams used to shore up the walls, and support a ceiling that was built in afterward. Construction completed quickly, and then the tunnel remained empty for the next few years. The entrance to the tunnel from the YONGE-UNIVERSITY mainline was blocked off with hoarding, and no tracks were laid, although lights were installed and powered up. The tunnel had been built long before its need. Work to finish the subway extension and the expansion of Wilson Yard would continue until 2018, keeping the tunnel in mothballs.

Tracks were finally laid early in 2018. Effective May 2018, trains started ending their runs at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station, deadheading southbound to Wilson Yards, which ended the practice of northbound out-of-service trains crossing southbound tracks after departing Wilson. In September 2018, work on the expansion to Wilson Yards was largely complete, including a new hostler platform supporting the new northern entry/exit track. The arrangement, the TTC said, helped to reduce traffic delays by up to 44%, especially in the early morning, when work cars returned from their night shift, and service trains departed.

Wilson Yard Connection Tunnel Image Archive

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