Sell Union Station to us: GO Transit boss
Published: November 6, 2007
Source: Peter Kuitenbrouwer, National Post
The City of Toronto should sell Union
Station to GO Transit because dithering politicians at City Hall are
letting the 1927 Beaux-Arts heritage building become "a public eyesore,"
the head of GO said yesterday.
Gary McNeil, chief executive, said GO should have bought Union Station
in 2000, when Canadian National and Canadian Pacific turned the station
over to the city in lieu of $25-million in back taxes.
CN and CP had not invested in the station since the 1950s and the City
of Toronto has done no better, he said.
"A lot of repairs to Union Station are not happening because of what I'd
call political reasons.
"People point the finger and meanwhile cracks are growing, the clocks
are broken. It's a shame, it's an embarrassment, it's a public eyesore."
GO operates 181 trains in and out of the station every weekday, making
it Canada's busiest transportation hub. The city is now coming up with
retail ideas for Union Station while forgetting that it is a train
station, Mr. Mc-Neil said in an interview in his office, at the foot of
"Our focus would be on the customers, not the commercial side," he said.
Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, who heads council's government
management committee, said last week she wants to bring St. Lawrence
Market fishmongers and bakers to Union Station. But she also suggested a
partnership with GO, noting, "GO has a lot of money."
Councillor Karen Stintz said the city should sell to GO.
"We should register our interest in maintaining its historic value, and
then sell it to GO," she said.
"We don't have the expertise to develop the station in the way it needs
to be developed to serve the transportation needs of the region."
But Councillor Joe Mihevc, who sits on the boards of both GO and the
Toronto Transit Commission, said the city is the correct owner for Union
Station, managing all its users: GO, VIA, the TTC and eventually a new
Greyhound bus terminal.
"Union Station is a major intermodal station," he said. "You can't have
any one of these players in charge of the whole thing."
He conceded that the city lost most of a decade debating a private deal
for the station. Now it's time to move forward, he said, adding that he
wants a "big fat cheque" from Queen's Park for Union Station -- to
revitalize it, not as payment for its sale to provincially owned GO.
In 2000, GO spent $85-million to buy five kilometres of track in the
rail corridor, the Union Station train shed and the old CP Express shed.
"If I'd been in charge, we would have bought the station as well," Mr.
GO, which moved 41 million passengers in 2006, is spending $100-million
over six years to replace the train shed roof.
"It was built in the 1930s to last 20 years," he said. GO also is
spending $300-million over seven years to replace the station's signal
system, Mr. McNeil said.
"Every bit of money that's gone into Union Station has been from GO
Transit," he said.
GO would love to fix the station proper as well.
"We would have definitely gone in there and addressed the
infrastructure," he said. "It's not just an eyesore, it's a liability."
City of Toronto staff are preparing a report, to go to council on Nov.
26, about revitalizing the station.
Mr. McNeil said that plan involves digging down two metres under the
east side of Union Station.
Rather than being a one-storey passenger concourse with a three-metre
ceiling, the station would have an underground mall and a station with
just a 2.5-metre ceiling, he said. He called it a bad idea, saying
riders should have a spacious area in which to walk.
"You go into the new Terminal One at Pearson," he said. "Where the
pedestrian flows are, you are king."
Mr. Mihevc said the motivation for new retail partners at Union Station
is "to recoup capital costs through the rents."
GO, meanwhile, plans to build a new head office on a piece of adjacent
land, he added.