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New second platform at Union Station confuses subway riders

TTC chief executive officer Andy Byford assists commuters facing the use of a new second subway platform for the first time at Union Station during the morning rush August 18 , 2014.

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

Harried subway users did double takes, with some stopping dead in their tracks as they entered Union Station on Monday.

The Toronto Transit Commission unveiled a second platform designed to reduce crowding at the station, but the change left commuters discombobulated.

"I found it strange," said Raymond Santos, a 39-year-old network architect who was heading to work. "I couldn't find where the transfer tickets are. … You get used to something and then all of the sudden it changes."

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Looking bewildered, Janelle Robinson asked a reporter for directions before realizing that she was on the wrong platform. "Once they're done construction, it'll probably be better," the 19-year-old said as she headed back upstairs. "It seems a bit confusing now."

A bevy of TTC workers wearing orange "Ask Me" vests dispensed directions. Instead of a common platform with trains on both sides, commuters now have to determine which staircases lead to the Yonge or University northbound lines.

"Naturally, if it's your first time using the station, if you don't catch the signage or somebody to show you which way to go, there's going to be a little bit of confusion, a little bit of turning around to get your bearings," TTC spokesman Brad Ross said. "But I think that's par for the course whenever you do something new like this."

Not all transit users were pleased. "Everyone's standing around and there's no one to help," a woman holding a cane said loudly to no one in particular. An orange-vested worker was soon at her side walking her toward an elevator.

On the new platform, which is used for trains on the Yonge line, commuters noticed wider staircases and improved lighting. The walls are covered with shiny white tiles, but the grey floors already had gum and coffee stains.

"I love it," Vathsala Illesinghe, 42, said after getting directions. "There is a lot of space. … It's much brighter."

Denise Hing King, a 26-year-old who was on her way to work in Yorkville, said that having separate platforms would ultimately be less confusing for transit users. "You don't have the confusion of the two trains. Sometimes that's confusing for people – the split," she said. "It's really good to separate the two."

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In addition to the second platform, the TTC station has a shiny new entrance, called a fare line, with a wide bank of turnstiles. About 115,000 TTC passengers travel through the 60-year-old Union Station every day, making it the third-busiest after Bloor-Yonge and St. George.

But despite the improvements, the station is still an active construction zone crawling with workers clad in hard hats and steel-toed boots.

The old platform, which is now being used for trips on the University line, has metal barriers and orange tarps to block access to trains on the other side as well as plywood flooring and a temporary metal staircase. The TTC will soon begin renovating it, including adding a glass "art wall," with an expected completion date of next spring.

The TTC's Union Station improvement project will cost $137-million, which includes work on Front Street in addition to the station renovations. Front Street, which remains a tangled mess of construction equipment and temporary walkways, is expected to reopen by the end of December.

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