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That time the subway went from anywhere, to anywhere

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 12, 2012

lower bay station toronto TTCMost people know that Toronto has a lost subway station--the infamous Lower Bay--but what's often left out of the story is how it got abandoned by the TTC. After all, why bother to build a station only to mothball it for several decades? The answer lies in a failed TTC experiment to create three subway lines out of two stretches of track: the Yonge-University line (as it was in the 1960s) and the new Bloor-Danforth line.

The scheme, known as interlining, meant riders could catch a train at, say, Greenwood and get downtown via Union without changing. The same system applied to eastbound trains. Riders could get on at Dundas West and get off at Eglinton without switching at St. George, Spadina or Yonge. Lower Bay enabled two separate routes to pass through the Yorkville station without having to share platform space. Despite presenting some advantages, the plan only lasted six months from the opening of the Bloor-Danforth line.

toronto subway ttcDuring the brief interlining experiment, the TTC--ever-imaginative with the names of its subway lines--offered riders the Bloor-University-Yonge, Danforth-University-Yonge and the familiar Bloor-Danforth lines on its promotional material. Today's familiar yellow and green designations for the YUS and Bloor-Danforth lines were yet to appear.

The rollsign on the front of the subway trains and the old "Next Train" displays are the TTC's most visible leftover relics of interlining. Instead of always reading "Kipling," "Kennedy," "Downsview" or "Finch," the signs would change to indicate the endpoint of the next train to save any hapless riders being whisked off against their will.bay station next train signAs you might imagine, the system wasn't without its issues. As Transit Toronto points out, a passenger heading east at Bay would have the choice of two different levels and run the risk of missing a train simply by virtue of being at the wrong platform when the train arrived. The same problem applied heading west at St. George.

Interestingly, a customer survey conducted at the time found those in favor and those against interlining were matched for numbers. Most simply didn't care one way or the other.

After just six months, the TTC decided to can interlining and stick with fully separate Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines. The arrival of the Spadina line meant the second platform at St. George remained vital while Lower Bay was bricked up and abandoned when trains stopped passing through.lower bay station sign torontoToday, Lower Bay has an almost legendary reputation amongst those with an interest in lost Toronto landmarks. Though rarely seen by regular subway riders, signs of its existence are still evident to those who pay attention: the mis-matched green tile used to cover over the stairs from the current platform at Bay, and the weird light visible down the tunnel from a westbound train at Yonge are often the first clues.

Having an unused subway station hasn't been all bad for the TTC. TV crews and filmmakers often rent the space as a filming location--chances are if you've seen the TTC on film, it's represented by Lower Bay. The TTC even owns an alternative set of signs for the platform to make it look like a stop on the New York subway.lower bay station subway sign TTC MTAIn 2009, Absolut Vodka held a promotional party at Lower Bay. We've even listed the costs involved if you decide to rent the space for yourself--the kicker is you have to keep two trains at $700 an hour in the platform to deal with the risk of people falling on the tracks. Unless you've got friends in high places or plenty of cash to spare, the best way to see Lower Bay is to wait until the TTC next runs a tour or closes Upper Bay--something it does quite infrequently--and get ready with a camera. If you can't wait, check out the images and videos below.


Looking along the Lower Bay platform.Lower Bay platform torontoA subway train at Bay showing "via Downtown" on its rollsign.lower bay station train via downtownThe TTC's stock of New York subway signs.lower bay new york signs

Passing through Lower Bay.

A tour of Lower Bay on open day.

Images: "Lower Bay" by Vlad TO, "Next train - Same as the Last Train" by The_cheeseman and "MTA/New York" by laurie.mcgregor in the BlogTO Flickr pool. All other images courtesy of Transit Toronto.



Ratpick / May 12, 2012 at 08:46 am
Why is lower Bay "infamous"?
teas replying to a comment from Ratpick / May 12, 2012 at 09:37 am
Bad station! Very, very bad subway station!!
John / May 12, 2012 at 10:36 am
Its said to be haunted with the ghost of Jennete Labelle. She jumped at upper Bay in the 80s.
mes / May 12, 2012 at 10:37 am
Looks haunted almost
alexis / May 12, 2012 at 10:57 am
i think someone should rent it out and throw a huge party there like in party monster. just send me an invite !
Laurie / May 12, 2012 at 01:17 pm
Hey! That TTC / MTA photo is mine :) Can you please adjust your credit? Thanks!
Dave / May 12, 2012 at 01:45 pm
Sorry Laurie it's in the public domain now. Free use.
Jintao replying to a comment from Dave / May 12, 2012 at 02:28 pm
Just because something is on the internet does mean it is "free use". Laurie is asking for attribution to her work, as she has posted it under a creative commons license.
jacob / May 12, 2012 at 02:57 pm

Got a chance to see lower Bay a couple years ago during Nuit Blanche, when an installation was located down there. The installation was meh, but the station was pretty cool...I had no idea it existed until then.
Rob / May 12, 2012 at 03:07 pm
Jintao is right. Credit where credit is due or it's infringing on numerous laws. And Laurie, thats why you shouldn't use Flickr, their terms and conditions are far too loose.
Alex replying to a comment from Laurie / May 12, 2012 at 04:28 pm
Thanks for pointing this out, and it's now been properly attributed. Cheers!
James / May 12, 2012 at 04:50 pm
Would interlining help the crowding at Yonge-Bloor station, a sort of downtown relief line in miniature?
laurie replying to a comment from Alex / May 12, 2012 at 05:33 pm
Thank you!
laurie replying to a comment from Rob / May 12, 2012 at 05:39 pm

Dave: Jinato is right, my work is licensed under a creative commons licence which allows people to use the image for free, yes, but I am supposed to be credited. If BlogTO found my photo on the TransitToronto site, like they originally had credited, I am unaware of my image being on there and I will be contacting them as well.

Rob: I'm happy with flickr and Creative Commons. It will happen that my images get stolen or used without credit occasionally, but I do find that most people ARE good about crediting my work and this is all work that I wouldn't expect to be paid for anyway, so really, in my eyes, it's not a big deal. I think the benefits of Flickr far outweigh the drawbacks.

Also you should all go down to Lower Bay Station the next time it's open (usually Doors Open or Nuit Blanche) - it's pretty awesome and creepy.
srsly / May 12, 2012 at 05:56 pm
You can always catch the station in the classic Olsen twins film 'New York Minute' - a true cinematic marvel that deserves all the recognition it got. A gem amongst sad films of this generation.
Fergus Flattery / May 12, 2012 at 06:43 pm
One problem he article didn't appear to mention, was that when there was a delay on ANY line, it meant a delay on ALL lines.
Adam Sobolak / May 12, 2012 at 07:12 pm
The rollsign on trains isn't totally redundant, as those who've been on a St Clair West short-turner will attest...
Josh / May 12, 2012 at 07:44 pm
Cinematic glory!
iSkyscraper / May 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm
The whole interlining incident was a terribly sad event that poisons TTC thinking to this day. There was nothing wrong with the original idea -- many cities interline. (Just take a glance at the NYC subway map.) Even small subway systems like Vancouver have interlining not unlike what the TTC tried (

You have to think that maybe 6 months over 50 years was perhaps not enough of a fair trial. Maybe it didn't work then, but given the problems at Bloor it's an interesting idea to consider again. (And seriously, the dual-level thing is not complicated with digital signage indicating next trains.) Forcing so many riders to change trains to get downtown is not a normal way of operating a subway system, but it became normal here because of what happened to Lower Bay...

... and that thinking then ruined the Sheppard line. Think about it -- in any other city, Sheppard would have been a branch line off of Yonge -- every other train goes to Don Mills, say, while the others go to Finch. Many, many cities have branch lines like this. Only a truly stupid, politically-driven person would come up with an idea of forcing a full train of Sheppard riders to all get off and pile onto a full southbound Yonge train to continue their journey.

But that's exactly what they did. Biased against interlining from the 1960s, the idiots at the TTC built the Sheppard line such that a northbound Yonge train can glide over to eastbound Sheppard, but a westbound Sheppard train cannot switch onto southbound Yonge - it would have to pass Yonge station and then reverse. ( In other words, the tracks were built in such a way to make branch or interline operation impossible. Morons! This has condemned the Stubway to uselessness. If Sheppard was simply a branch of Yonge, a through train to Don Mills (and only then a transfer to suburban LRT), we could all forget Mel Lastman, Mike Harris or Rob Ford ever existed. It would just be normal instead of a wart on the map. I blame the Bay interlining experience for this retarded excuse for transportation planning.

Freakin' TTC - they can't make a map, they can't figure out fare payment, and they goddamned can't understand interlining. It's like the whole thing is designed to the lowest common denominator so that 12 year olds can run it - trains go only to one place, you don't need to know where, just put that silver thing in your pocket in this box over here. Argh!
Dan / May 14, 2012 at 12:33 am
The company I work for did the lighting and audio for the vodka party. If you go to that link, you can see pics of the event on page 1, 4, and 5. I was just starting then and was there to tear it all out. We loaded all of our gear into the train and they drove us to danforth TTC Yard where we unloaded into our truck.
MCA replying to a comment from srsly / May 14, 2012 at 09:35 am
Ah, yes, that classic gem--cinematic marvel! O, New York Minute, your timeless message of love and punctuality only grows more poignant the more times I watch. Truly the defining moment of a generation.

Andrew / May 14, 2012 at 03:00 pm
The Sheppard subway should not be interlined with the Yonge line. It is really meant to be a crosstown line that provides an alternative to Hwy 401 (that is if they actually extended the subway, rather than building the light rail line that requires an unnecessary transfer at Don Mills), not a way to get downtown
Ben Smith replying to a comment from James / May 14, 2012 at 07:53 pm
I've been thinking about this as well. With the line being extended north into Vaughan, it could become the prime north-south route from a geographic perspective. Seeing as the line is underused, having some Bloor trains go south along University to Union I think would have an interesting effect on how people use the subway downtown.

That said, there could be a conflict with the YUS when automatic train control kicks in.
David Imrie / May 14, 2012 at 08:01 pm
I remember the "interlining" - believe me, it was FAR from perfect. In those days, a delay could stop the entire system. Happened when we tried using the University line to get back to Toronto's east end. Another, TTC patrons don't read the signs!!!. Oh, yes, the "NEXT TRAIN" sign gonged its signal as it flipped, the TTC advertised it, the media reported it, but, without fail, someone didn't read it, ending up at Museum station instead of St. George, Spadina or Bathurst, etc., then panicking. Or, just like the multi-destination surface routes, passengers became frustrated at waiting the extra minute or so for their train.

Interestingly, the University Subway was design as the first phase of the Bloor-Danforth line, so the interlining was planned. True, it's common elsewhere, but remember that the University line was considered a "white elephant" for its first few years - in fact, it did not operate on Sundays for a time due to low usage. So, many TTC passengers had simply never used the University subway before this experiment
SD / May 14, 2012 at 11:50 pm
Interlining works well in this light rail system in Sheffield UK
(see route map) However if you've been operating the lines separately in Toronto for over 40 years changing back to interlining might be a recipe for chaos!
the lemur replying to a comment from SD / May 15, 2012 at 10:12 am
Doesn't the Sheffield system just involve twinning different lines that serve some of the same stations, rather than different stretches on the same line, such as London's Central line? (
SD replying to a comment from the lemur / May 15, 2012 at 07:09 pm
Hi - interesting point. In my view Sheffield is a less extreme form of "Interlining" than was tried in Toronto - a minority of the stations towards the ends of some lines don't have the "two possible destinations" issue that applied to all the stations in the Toronto experiment and as all lines pass through the centre, the chance that the next car/train is "not going your way" is on average less than in Toronto. But it still has the central "Wye" meaning that a substantial majority of journeys can be done without changing as a conscious effort to cater for people who start in the South and want to go to the north-east (Meadowhall, largest Shopping Mall in Yorkshire). I would buy the comparison with London's central line if they ran a train from Woodford around the Hainault loop to Epping or from West Ruislip to Ealing Broadway, but unlike Sheffield and Toronto I woudl think the majority of Central Line riders want to either start or finish in the same place - central London.
Eric / May 25, 2012 at 01:38 pm
Is this open for Door Open 2012? I cant find it on the list.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Andrew / May 25, 2012 at 02:00 pm
Nice theory, but not reality. Reality says that the CBD and prime traffic generator/destination is downtown. Sheppard should have been built with tracks that provided the option of interlining. It was short-sighted and head-in-the-sand thinking not to.
Mimmo Briganti / June 3, 2012 at 09:57 am
Most, if not all, of the problems were the result of the alternating service pattern. Because each route was different in length, the schedule had to be written so that trains changed routes upon arrival at the outer terminals based on an exact schedule.

Each train carried an IDENTRA loop that would set the route to enter the wye. But, the wye was set to operate in alternating route mode on each exit to keep the trains in order. So, as a train left Museum from Bay Lower, the signal would then be set to accept a train from St. George. If that leg of the system was held up, the next train at Bay Lower would face a red unless the towerman at St. George intervened. As the day progressed, these small delays would add up and the entire system would fall behind schedule. Feeding trains into the system from Greenwood then became a problem because the other mid-day trains weren't in their proper scheduled positions along the line. There was also a time control aspect, but that was dropped one month into the trial
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Mr.bob / October 31, 2013 at 05:00 pm
Lower Bay is a work station. RESERVE IT AS A SHELTER FOR HOBOS!!!
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