Saturday, 18 August 2012

Ghosts of Raillines Past - The GECO / Kingston Extension

I saw a post somewhere that made mention of trains passing by the old Hy & Zel's in Warden Woods Mall and it sparked a memory for me at the same location. I remember sitting in the parking lot as a train headed south, my wife headed into the mall and I stayed back to watch a short consist go by.  I now recognise this rail line as part of the GECO branch line.  This section was built to form a loop for local switch traffic in nearby yards, connecting back to the very busy Kingston line.  It was closed in 1996 and Hy& Zel's, together with the rest of Warden Woods Mall, is now history.

A few weeks back I traced the existing active section of the GECO branch from Comstock to the Uxbridge sub.  This weekend I followed the path of the removed section to see what would remain 16 years later.

With Google maps, the rail bed can be traced fairly easily and the in between reclaimed sections are easy to interpolate from it's satellite view.  On foot, it's not so easy.  I cached the satellite view on my phone, grabbed the Sony cam too, just in case I met some traffic on the active lines, and went off towards the southern connection point.

I wound my way south to along the Danforth then east to Danforth Road.  Near Warden, I could hear a short unit, maybe engine(s) only, heading along the Kingston line but wasn't yet in position to catch it.  A bit later I found Milne Avenue near where the spur connected up with the Kingston line tracks.  An industrial building occupied the section just north of the switch and I wasn't about to enter to see if I could spot any remnant of the switch bed, with 'private property' sounds in abundance.

Edit: I found this image on from June, 1983. On the right side of the image is the building shown above. Note the railway crossing signal where the extension would have passed near the building. The first indication of the line is an asphalt patch on Milne Avenue left behind after rail removal.

At the north end of the patch is a short metal barrier added to prevent road traffic from accessing the road level bed.

The path of the rail bed is quite obvious here as it parallels Milne Avenue.  When you stand at this point you can see the path of the former railbed through the entire section.
It the crosses Mack Avenue with a similar patch in the asphalt.  At both former crossings can be seen the painted 'X' warnings on the roadway, this despite maybe 20+ years of wear.

North of Mack the patch guides the railbed into a dome shaped storage building.
With the path leading into closed industrial property, I was forced to head west and looped around to find the crossing point on Danforth Road.  Here, I had to resort to my cached map on my phone as finding the location was essentially impossible visually.  There was no sign of any former crossings, likely the roadway had since been resurfaced.  The only indication of the former line was the curvature of the property lines of the nearby buildings indicating they abutted to the right-of-way.
Maybe this road patch was part of the crossing, but I doubt it.  My maps indicated it was very close to the correct location but it didn`t seem to completely cross the road.  However, it`s possible that more patching simply fooled me.  Very difficult to say.  This lead to a roadway into a new housing development.  I followed the road until it was blocked and exited to some new but existing housing at Oates Drive

After running through a park north of Oates and passing a couple of standing water overflow ponds, I was now on Bell Estate Rd., a section thoroughly regraded and any hint of the former rail bed is long since removed.  Back to Warden I headed north.  A multi-business complex had an access area towards the back just south of a Hydro One station.  The area of the rail bed is somewhat obvious here, if you knew what you  were looking at.

It`s recessed along the back fences of some older existing housing of Santamonica Boulevard (yes, that`s what it`s called).  You can detect the climb from further south as you get here so the recessed grading was necessary for rail traffic.
I had no intent to wind my way behind the Hydro One station so instead headed back to Warden and then north to St. Clair Avenue.

At St. Clair, a trio of railway bridges cross overhead.

The western two bridges are for TTC line traffic.  The eastern bridge serviced this GECO branch section.
Climbing some stairs to Santamonica Blvd off St. Clair, you can cross along a field to track level and see the top of the bridge.

The rail ties are still in place, but no rail.  There still exists `no tresspassing' signs so it may still technically be trespassing to step onto the bridge, so I didn`t.  The TTC tracks into Warden Station are adjacent to the west side.

Back along the field, you can see more ties where the rails used to reside.  A TTC train is seen exiting Warden Station.

Southward, the rail bed disappears into the brush, heading on a downgrade.  I didn't venture down this way as the growth is pretty thick and leads back behind the Hydro One station.  I'd be interested to see how far the ties carry though without venturing too far, but not today.

While nothing large and mechanical may ever cross the GECO part of the bridge ever again, the other two bridges are perpetually active with TTC traffic, seen here as a TTC train crosses St. Clair.

I headed north through a park adjacent to the tracks, eventually returning to lower spur of the existing active GECO branch line extending from the Uxbridge subdivision.  This was seen in my previous GECO blog entry.

The immediate southern section has been regraded, making it impossible to locate any trace of the line.  A bit further south, adjacent to Pidgeon Street (clearly, they are running out of names for streets in T.O.), the line can be picked up through traces of right-of-way fencing and 'No Tresspassing' signage, the signs seemingly ludicrous given that nature has effectively reclaimed the entire area.

From Google maps, it does look traceable, although the late summer growth shown here makes naviging it next to impossible.  I may revisit this area sometime before next spring after the growth has died off and see what remains.

Of the whole spur section, the reminders of the track persist in the southern most section through the impact on the streets and housing.  The centre section is mostly reclaimed by industry and housing development.  In sections not regraded, the location of buildings and fencing hints at the CN ROW points.  Only in the nothern sections, especially around St. Clair Avenue, can the former railbed's infrastructure be seen and will likely be there for a very long time to come.

It was a fun run for a Saturday, about 90 minutes of running with an added hour for the shot taking.


  1. I grew up near the GECO Spur. Our house was opposite the junction with the Kingston Sub main line. I still remember Pilkington Glass and the GECO buildings. Beckers Milk and a battery manufacturer were on the souther part of this spur, as was a gum manufacturer. We kids loved that factory and the gum they threw out. CN had a freight house on Warden north of St. Clair. There were other factories as well and Roots Motors had their warehouse at the corner of Warden and Eglinton. A lot British cars moved into that building in CN cars.

  2. As a rail fan....and former summer student employee at Becker's...I've been tracing the rail bed on Google. Thanks for the memories. Sad to see it all bulldozed now for yet another housing development. I remember working at Becker's in the late 70s or early 80s and seeing CN switchers taking cars to and seeing them parked at Pilkington Glass (thanks! I couldn't remember the name of the adjaecent factory). They had a spur beside the factory that went perpendicular to Warden on the south side of Becker's if I remember correctly. I don't think Becker's had rail least by then it was all trucks. I use to load them!

  3. Thanks, guys. Eventually all of this will disappear as roads are resurfaced and land is repurposed, I thought I'd get some record down of what was there while it was still visible.