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Queens Quay

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Text by James Bow and Richard White

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Queen’s Quay station is an underground stop on the streetcar network at the foot of Bay Street, serving the 509 HARBOURFRONT and 510 SPADINA streetcars. It is a unique facility as it is the only underground streetcar stop that isn’t directly connected with Toronto’s subway network. It is the only underground stop where passengers are allowed to cross over the streetcar tracks (albeit at a narrow access point), and the only underground stop without fare gates or ticket collectors.

The station opened for service on May 17, 1991, months after the opening of the HARBOURFRONT LRT, but it serves a large number of people seeking access to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, and the eastern end of the Harbourfront neighbourhood.

Initial Plans and Design

Although Queen’s Quay station is a key part of the original HARBOURFRONT LRT line, it was a little while before plans were laid for the current site. Initial plans for streetcar service to the developing Harbourfront neighbourhood came in the 1960s, as Toronto City Council looked at transit options to reconnect the city to its deindustrializing waterfront, which was separated by long bridges and pedestrian-hostile underpasses beneath the Gardiner Expressway and Union Station. Those plans included a longer line running from Mimico along lake shore, and extending east of Bay towards the Port Lands. The first plans to connect the line to Union Station called for the line to be at grade beneath Bay Street, and for it to somehow loop on street in downtown Toronto.

As proposals for the HARBOURFRONT LRT coalesced around a shorter line running from Union Station to Queen’s Quay and Spadina via Bay and Queen’s Quay, plans soon called for a tunnel to operate beneath Bay Street, and an underground streetcar loop and platform to connect with the subway at Union. As late as the early 1980s, as the design was being worked out, the plans called for the line to come to the surface in the middle of Bay Street. These plans were amended to extend the tunnel south and west and have the tracks emerge onto Queen’s Quay, so as to prevent streetcars from being caught at traffic lights at the Queen’s Quay/Bay Street intersection. At the same time, an underground station was proposed to link passengers to the Toronto Ferry Docks, and surrounding new office buildings as they were redeveloped.

Queen’s Quay station was designed very simply, as a through-stop on a longer route. Two side platforms ran along the northbound and southbound tracks, with space given for passengers to cross between the platforms over the tracks. The platforms themselves were no longer than two CLRV streetcars. A stairwell leading from the northbound platform brought passengers to the east side of Bay Street, north of Queen’s Quay, in a very simple exit. Stairs from the southbound platform led up into a new building built at 20 Bay Street. The building also offered an elevator to the southbound platform, even though the streetcar line serving it wasn’t wheelchair accessible, and wouldn’t be for over two decades.

Initially, the City of Toronto and the TTC worked out a deal with the Harbour Castle hotel to build a tunnel south from Queen’s Quay station, below Queen’s Quay itself and up to the south side of the street, offering direct access to the hotel and the Ferry Terminal. This project was estimated to cost $4 million, and the hotel would have paid $2.5 million of the cost. When the hotel was taken over by the Westin chain, however, the parent company balked at the deal. As negotiations stretched out and no new deal materialized, construction of the station stop was delayed. The 604 HARBOURFRONT LRT opened to passengers on June 22, 1990, but passengers wishing to head over to the Ferry Docks were forced to disembark at temporary platforms built on Queen’s Quay West, immediately west of the tunnel portal and ramp. The TTC continued work on the station, without the tunnel connection to the Harbour Castle Westin, and it officially opened for service on May 17, 1991.

Station Appearance and Design Challenges

Queen’s Quay station is a simple concrete shell with terrazo platforms and ceramic tiles on the walls. The wall tiles have a three-tone platform, with deep blue tiles at the lower quarter, a transition level of tiles from there to the halfway point going from lighter blue to blue-green, followed by grey-white tiles extending from the halfway point to the ceiling. The station name is sandblasted into the walls on this second tile level, with “QUEENS QUAY” displayed in larger Univers font, and “FERRY DOCKS” displayed beneath it in slightly smaller Univers font. Support pillars and fencing separate the two tracks, except for the crossing area at the south end of both platforms. Light poles can be found in this centre section, with fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling between the tracks and the platforms. The fluorescent lights have been upgraded to brighter LEDs in recent years.

Located below the water table, Queen’s Quay station and the tunnel to Union Station have seen considerable water damage from leaks in the concrete walls. The TTC responded by closing the tunnel for repairs, drilling holes in the concrete walls and ceiling and pumping in a vinyl mix to coat the tunnel in a waterproof sheath. More recently, Queen’s Quay station closed again on July 26, 2012 when the TTC shut down the Union Station platform to accommodate the construction of a second subway platform at the station. Queen’s Quay station did not reopen until October 12, 2014. Between that time, the TTC also worked with Waterfront Toronto to redo the tracks along Queen’s Quay, rearranging the street so that all car traffic passed to the north of the tracks, rather than on either side of them.

Unfortunately, some car drivers unused to driving eastbound on Queen’s Quay to the left of westbound streetcar tracks (and who may have been somewhat inebriated) sometimes found themselves on the streetcar right of way itself. Between 2014 and 2018, as many as 26 motorists ended up driving into the tunnel portal south of Queen’s Quay station, becoming trapped in the tunnel. In 2016, one car even made it as far as Union Station, despite having to drive above streetcar tracks protruding from the floor. These incidents blocked service from anywhere from 15 minutes to 5 hours, depending upon the severity of the damage to the vehicle. In April 2017, the TTC tried to stop these incidents by lowering warning lights at the tunnel to be more easily seen by drivers, adding signs and rumble strips. In spite of these measures, more incidents occurred, prompting the TTC to add bollards and gates, which reduced, but did not completely eliminate the incidents.

Plans for Harbourfront East

Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto and the TTC plan to extend streetcar service along Queen’s Quay east of Bay into Toronto’s developing Port Lands. While some funding has been committed to this project, it has been complicated by the question of how to connect this line to Union Station. This debate has implications for Queen’s Quay’s future.

A line from Toronto’s Port Lands would likely meet the current tracks at Queen’s Quay at Bay via an underground T-intersection. Space does exist south of Queen’s Quay for such a junction, but there is debate over whether this is the best way to bring Harbourfront and Port Lands streetcars to Union Station. These plans require the expansion of Union Station’s streetcar platform with passing tracks to allow for the termination of multiple routes, and the cost of such a project could prove expensive. Constructing a tunnel east from the Bay/Queen’s Quay intersection is also challenging, although initial proposals call for such a tunnel to extend 250 metres east of Yonge Street before coming to the surface at Freeland Avenue, with an additional Queen’s Quay-style station located just west of Yonge. Plans for the Yonge Street stop have since been dropped.

Other proposals have suggested closing Bay Street between Queen’s Quay and Harbour, and bringing Queen’s Quay station to the surface there, removing the need for an underground junction and tunnel beneath Queen’s Quay. Still others have called for a new underground station running east-west between Queen’s Quay itself, with the tunnel to Union Station being retrofitted for use by a cable-pulled people-mover, or a series of moving sidewalks along the 400 metre distance between Queen’s Quay and Union stations. This last proposal was dismissed for being technically unfeasible, and a detriment to TTC passengers’ travel times.

At the time of this writing (August 2020), the City of Toronto and the TTC favour maintaining the streetcar link between Queen’s Quay and Union Station, and biting the bullet to expand Union Station and extend a tunnel beneath Queen’s Quay to meet new surface tracks east of Yonge Street. However, although the cost of the project has been estimated at $700 million as of June 2019 (including the expansion of the Union Station streetcar platforms and surface streetcar tracks to Queen’s Quay and Parliament), the funds for such a project have yet to be committed, despite streetcar service to the Port Lands remaining an identified priority for the City and the TTC.

Service Notes (as of August 31, 2020):

  • Off-Site Resources:
  • Hours of Operation:
    24 hour service provided.
  • Address: 10 Bay Street
  • Opened: May 17, 1991 (temporary platform on Queen’s Quay West used until then)
  • Wheelchair Accessible Since: 1990
  • Entrances:
    • Queens Quay West and Bay Street (Northwest and Northeast corners)
  • Non-TTC Elevator in adjacent building linking to the southbound platform entrance
  • No collector on duty
  • Side platform with at-grade connection to adjacent platform

TTC Surface Connections:

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