West Harbour GO Station
West Harbour GO station is the fourth GO train station in the history of the city of Hamilton, and the first one built not as a replacement for an existing station. Located at James & Stuart, across the street from the former CNR James Street Station (now the LIUNA Station) it is one of two Hamilton stations that are the termini for rush hour GO trains from Toronto along the Lakeshore West line, the other being the Hamilton GO Centre.
West Harbour GO Station is the fifth railway passenger station in the vicinity of Stuart Street since the opening of the Great Western railway in 1853.
The Hamilton GO centre had served well as Hamilton's downtown station for GO bus and trains, but had two problems for future service increases.
First, the presence of the Hunter Street Tunnel to the west of the station served as a bottleneck to GO Train operations. The tunnel was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, who only permitted a total of eight daily GO train movements through the single tracked tunnel. This meant that GO could not offer Hamilton all day GO train service. While it would be possible to lower the tunnel floor and create enough vertical clearance to fit two tracks side by side, this would be expensive and disrupt GO Train service for several months.
The second problem was that GO Transit wanted to extend service east of Hamilton along the QEW corridor to St. Catharines and Niagara Falls as part of the MoveOntario 2020 transit plan. Using the rail line east of the Hamilton GO Centre was not suitable for this task. The line is a single track only, and past Centennial Parkway the line climbs the Niagara Escarpment and then swings southeast away from the QEW corridor across sparsely populated farmland. While a spur line does run northwards from near Gage Park towards the Canadian National's Hamilton-Niagara Falls line, this is a ground level single track slow speed freight route with multiple road crossings and has no interchange with the CN Hamilton-Niagara Falls line. Upgrading this line for GO service would require the expropriation of several dozen homes to straighten the line and create a connection to the CN Hamilton-Niagara Falls line, while still having several very busy level crossings.
Therefore, GO Transit decided to bypass the Hamilton GO Centre entirely, and return GO Train service to the CN Hamilton-Niagara Falls line as it was before the opening of the Hamilton GO centre. As the LIUNA station had by this time been converted into a privately owned banquet hall, a new station would be built next to it, on the other side of James. The proposed name for the new station was James North. Under the original concept, this would be a simple platform with a small station building.
On June 27, 2009, GO Transit began an experimental weekend summer only service to Niagara Falls from Toronto. These trains passed through Hamilton, but could not stop as there was no useable station. The experiment was deemed a success, and has since then has been repeated every summer. GO Transit's proposals for regular train service in the Niagara Peninsula were unveiled to the public on Jan 26, 2010, with James North replacing Aldershot station as the terminus for all-day GO Train service from Toronto with a proposed 20 trains a day. Preliminary designs of James North were revealed on May 11, 2010. The station would consist of a single platform along the south side of the main line, with the station building right at James street.
The completed Niagara Peninsula Rail Service Expansion Environmental Assessment was issued on May 19, 2011. From the EA, GO Transit decided that the previously shown simple station would not be sufficient. Instead a much larger station would be built at James North, with an opening date closer to the opening of the 2015 Pan Am Games for which Hamilton was the site of the men's and women's soccer matches.
In October 2012 it was announced that construction on James North Go station would begin in March 2014 with the station open by June 2015 and the station completed by March 2017. The station design was unveiled at a presentation at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre on May 1, 2013. The station building itself would be located just east of the MacNab Street North bridge, and would have a plaza that would stretch to James Street North (and allow it to have an official address on James St). The station would have multi-level parking, bus bays, a kiss-n-ride, pedestrian walkways and areas for public art. While the station entrance would be at MacNab, the platforms would be about eight metres directly below.
Kenaidan Contracting of Mississauga won the construction contract, and began clearing the site in February 2014. Construction began with the building of a large retaining wall along the south side of the site, followed by the excavation of all the soil on the north side of the wall. Building foundations for the station were built in August, and by the end of October the steel skeleton of the station was complete. Construction efforts then swung to the building of the parking garage for most of the winter. Installation of glass panels for the station began in April.
There was one change small but important change to the station made on May 6, 2015: the name. James North became West Harbour. The north platform was completed by the end of May, with the laying of the north station track starting immediately after.
There were two incidents that delayed construction. First, the replacement of the adjacent Bay Street bridge over the railway tracks by CN took until the summer of 2014 instead of the scheduled end of 2013, due to delays in the construction of the south bridge abutment and a decision to put off pouring concrete for the bridge deck until spring, to avoid a potential freeze during the curing process. This was followed by the accidental puncturing of a storm sewer by one of the station contractors, a puncture that was unfortunately not discovered until after the storm sewer had been filled with concrete. This resulted in the need to build a bypass around the obstructed pipe.
These delays meant that the station would not be fully complete for the start of the 2015 Pan Am games, While it had always been the intention to continue construction after the Pan Am games, it was planned that the station itself would be finished. Instead, the station opened without exterior coverings and with an unfinished ticket office and plaza. Only the north platform and the MacNab pedestrian bridge and stairwell were complete. The station elevator was not certified until July 13.
On June 8, GO Transit announced that West Harbour GO station would begin service on July 9, 2015. Initial service would be two morning and two evening rush hour trains, with special services for the Pan Am games. A VIP train arrived on July 6.
Construction has continued after the Pan Am games. On November 5, Laura Marotta's sculpture 'Bead Maze' was selected to be the artistic centerpiece of the West Harbour plaza. It was installed in the spring of 2016. The first parking spaces became available on Jan 23, 2016. The station is still on schedule for completion in early 2017.
(All photos © Tom Luton, except where noted)
The original plan for a simple GO station at James North would have had a single platform along the south side of the main line, with the station building right at James street. Notice the planned removal of the MacNab Street bridge. (Image courtesy of Metrolinx)
The future site of West Harbour GO Station, looking west to MacNab St from James St on September 14, 2013. The flat area next to the tracks is the former site of the approaches and platforms of the old James St station.
Early in the construction of West Harbour GO Station, looking west to MacNab St from James St on May 4, 2014.
Early in the construction of West Harbour GO Station, looking southwest from MacNab St on May 4, 2014. The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre is on the left.
Early in the construction of West Harbour GO Station, looking east from MacNab St on May 4, 2014. LIUNA station is in the background.
Photo taken from the crane, looking west, May 8, 2015. In the foreground is the parking garage underconstruction. The new Bay St bridge is in the midground, in front of it is the Bay street secondary exit still under construction. (Image courtesy of Metrolinx)
West Harbour GO Station, looking southwest from James St, September 12, 2015.The south platform is still under construction.
West Harbour GO Station, looking southeast from MacNab St with LIUNA station in the background, September 12, 2015.
North end of the West Harbour GO Station, September 12, 2015.
Station sign on the MacNab pedestrian bridge, September 12, 2015.
Stairs to south platform, parking garage and kiss & ride still under construction, September 12, 2015.
Kiss & ride on top of the parking garage, September 12, 2015.
Tracks and platforms, looking west, September 12, 2015.
Construction is still ongoing at the west end of the station, September 12, 2015.
The stairs at Bay Street, still under construction, September 12, 2015.
The West Harbour GO Station main entrance, September 12, 2015.
Nolan, Daniel. "GO unveils all-day trains plan" Jan 27, 2010, pg A4
Smith, Douglas N.W. "A Tale of Two Stations" Canadian Rail Passenger Yearbook, 1995