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Canadian Pacific Railway
Toronto Yard

by R. L. Kennedy

View from the hump looking east, General Yard Office (GYO). Canadian Pacific/Roger Robinson

Canadian Pacific Railway's Toronto Yard is often erroneously referred to as Agincourt Yard. The reason for this is its location in what was once Agincourt, Ontario, part of Scarborough Township, (later the Borough of Scarborough and finally the City of Scarborough before being amalgamated into the City of Toronto.) Since 1954 Scarborough was part of Metropolitan Toronto, which also disappeared with the amalgamation January 1, 1998. The post office continued to use the address of Agincourt, Ontario for the village for many years. Most of the yard was actually beyond the small village, except the far west end. The situation was further exasperated by the fact Agincourt remained a point in the timetable with a small station serving passengers particularly on the old O&Q main line through Havelock. So, it became an accurate expression to say a train was "going to Agincourt" even though Toronto Yard was its actual destination. Originally, the C.P.R. had called it the Agincourt Marshaling Yard, but changed this before its opening. The reason was simple; it was the main freight marshalling yard and terminal for Toronto and would be better identifiable across Canada. Lambton Yard, the existing freight yard actually used the station number (3190) of its first component, West Toronto Yard. Its telegraphic code was JU (Junction) and this carried over to teletype as well. The two names long interchangeable, but Lambton was a name not easily recognized at distant points. There was also Lambton Park, an industrial area in Calgary! To further confuse things there was also Toronto Coach Yard, although usually called John Street, only the Engine Terminal was officially so named. (Later, the piggyback terminal was also named John Street) The coach yard was also "Toronto" due to its downtown location, so the "other" Toronto was often referred to as Agincourt to distinguish between the two. Thoroughly confused? Good! Now, let's get on with the story.

The selection of its location in the far northeast of Metro Toronto, north of Sheppard Avenue East, west of Markham Road and south of Finch Avenue West, between the two Toronto-Montreal main lines was the culmination of decades of choices and delays. It was in a way an inferior location since the majority of local freight traffic was in the west end near Lambton Yard. There was also much additional local traffic in the downtown area served by Parkdale Yard, closer to West Toronto and Lambton than to Agincourt. Parkdale was to be closed immediately Toronto yard was opened. It didn't happen. Industry in Agincourt was practically non-existent, only Scarborough and Leaside had an appreciable amount of local traffic, but in total it represented a small fraction of what there was in the west end. For decades, this would require three transfers around the clock, seven days a week to move local traffic between the "Hump Yard" and other yards in the Toronto Terminals. This would continue until changing times resulted in the loss of most industry served by private sidings, bringing about the closing of Parkdale yard. There is still one transfer a day between Lambton and Toronto Yard, handling local traffic for as far west as Streetsville and Guelph Junction!

The need for a new yard had existed since World War II when Lambton and West Toronto had proven unable to handle the demands of greatly increased wartime traffic levels, which followed the large decline of the Great Depression. The yard was seriously congested and hampered by lack of capacity. It was common to hold trains out of the yard for many hours, wasting crews and engines. A Catch 22 situation developed whereby trains couldn't get into the yard until trains first got out. Trains couldn't get out until crews and engines were available. For some reason it was apparently beyond the ability of decision makers to leave the trains, send the road engine and crew to the shop and later call an extra yard to pull trains into the yard. Not in my budget, I guess.

Many times over the years locations for a new yard were considered, and in some cases land was bought. This included Obico, Emery, and Kleinburg not far from Vaughan, where years later hundreds of acres were bought for a major intermodal yard. Wexford, just west of Agincourt was also considered. One location selected on the Mac Tier Subdivision was discovered to be in a snow belt! There were also various proposals to expand Lambton Yard including one to convert West Toronto Yard into a hump yard.

Finally, on September 11th. 1959, the Board of Transport Commissioners handed down its decision approving the application of the Canadian Pacific Railway to construct a hump classification yard east of Agincourt in the Township of Scarborough. 432 acres of land was bought and the work began. It took 20 giant earth-moving machines five months to excavate 54,000,000 cubic feet of fill and was one of the largest such jobs ever attempted. Excavating and grading took an entire year. The following two years, 1961 and 1962, were used to lay the more than 90 miles of track and 311 switches. Buildings were started in 1962 and signals and communications installed in 1963. The yard opened at the change of time Sunday, April 26, 1964. .

The yard under construction October 1960. R. L. Kennedy


Further construction work August 1961. R. L. Kennedy

Toronto Freight Yard booklet

Even here a cost cutting decision saw the land requirements reduced with the result tracks were curved to fit west of Markham Road instead of running straight east across it. Little room for expansion was another result of this smaller land acquisition. There was also minimal land for industrial expansion something recognized as being a problem as far back as the late 1920's! The lack of a buffer resulted in housing being built too close to the yard in later years which would result in noise complaints plaguing the railway.

By the time land was purchased prices had risen as the city built out making it more expensive. The budgeted cost was $15 million, a lot of money in the early1960's. By this time choices were fewer and it was pretty well the last location of a large amount of land next to a main line.

Aerial view looking northeast. Click to enlarge and read text.

The 1950 proposal for a new yard at either Kleinburg or Wexford included a by-pass across the north of Metro Toronto to avoid the grades up Wexford and to Bolton. A costly project, it would have greatly reduced traffic through the city and cut operating costs over the grades out of Toronto. It never came about.

When Canadian National also relocated out of the city to its new Toronto Yard it bit the bullet and built a long bypass to go with it in 1967. It was said the CPR was offered joint use of this bypass provided they paid for a third main track with each road having use of all tracks as traffic required. The CPR apparently wanted to use the two tracks for wheelage charges only. It didn't happen. When traffic problems grew after Toronto Yard opened, the CPR allegedly offered to pay for a third track, but the CNR was no longer interested having seen traffic growth of its own on the bypass and they decided to keep it for themselves. Another lost opportunity.

Toronto Yard was the most modern freight marshalling yard in Canada when it opened in April 1964. The first hump retarder yard in Canada was the C.P.R.'s St. Luc Yard, (Montreal) which when it opened early in 1950 was also the most modern freight marshalling yard in Canada. St.Luc also contained the second last roundhouse built in Canada. (The last was Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.) The only other retarder yard on the CPR is Alyth (Calgary), which was later converted from an existing flat yard.

The production line style of switching a retarder yard uses is completely different from the traditional method used in older yards, and has an advantage handling what has become known as "loose car" traffic. They were at a disadvantage handling unit trains or through trains. Built in an era largely before unit trains (except perhaps for grain) and before container and stack trains, the growth of these types of trains and the operation of more "through" trains has changed hump yards, even eliminating them. St.Luc was one such yard where the hump was removed.

In those older yards cars or cuts of cars are "flat switched" often by cutting the cars off in motion, allowing them to roll to a stop. Some yards, such as Lambton and West Toronto were designed with a very low hump, almost invisible, along with saucer shaped tracks that prevent cars from rolling out the other end. Parkdale, a small, local yard in downtown Toronto was a flat yard with a grade that required cars to be ridden and hand braked. Winnipeg is an old rider hump yard, with about a four-foot high hump.

Toronto Yard was based upon the Great Northern hump yard at Minot, North Dakota. This was because it was designed to handle 2500 cars per day, the same capacity as was needed in Toronto. A single-track hump can handle about 800 cars per shift. When the count gets up to about 835, damages begin occurring. There was however, one major difference between Minot and Toronto. Minot, "in the middle of nowhere", was strictly an east-west marshalling yard, with only the one main line, no branches or local jobs. Toronto was a major terminal, originating and terminating trains for five main lines, and more importantly, home to a large number of yard and local jobs serving local industries requiring transfers between several yards.

A modern diesel shop replaced obsolete outdoor facilities at Lambton where the roundhouse had been previously demolished (1960). Roundhouses were designed for steam locomotives and not easily adaptable to diesels, the turntable being a serious impediment to servicing multiple unit consists requiring them to be disconnected.

Two modern car shops were also built. One, a new type of repair shop called a "one spot" was where light repairs were performed. Here, a car was left in one place with all tools and equipment available next to it. It replaced an open-air facility in West Toronto. Also, a heavy repair shop replaced similar indoor shops at West Toronto, although some major work had to be sent to Angus Shops.

A major feature left out of the original plans was a turntable. It was felt this was a holdover from the steam era and un-necessary in the diesel era, the few units needing to be turned could be turned on the wye. Fortunately, this decision was changed and the shop track layout altered to accommodate a relocated 110' turntable from???

On to: Toronto Yard Part II


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