Brampton Infrastructure Transit

A better Bramalea Station, finally

Bramalea Station has come a long way, but it is not yet used to its full potential.

I have written a lot about Bramalea GO Station on this website. In 2016, I wrote about the poor pedestrian, cycling, and transit access to the station; in 2020 I was stranded at the station because of poor train-bus connections, and in 2021, I compared the construction of a new parking garage at Bramalea to a new parking lot at nearby Brampton GO Station.

But in January 2023, I returned to Bramalea GO Station and came away feeling satisfied. Metrolinx has finally built a Bramalea GO Station that works. Now it is time to use the rebuilt station to its full potential.

Since opening in 1974, Bramalea GO Station has gone through several major changes and expansions, reflecting growing ridership and its eventual importance as an intermodal hub. In the 1990s, GO Transit acquired an adjacent lumber yard, expanding the parking lot and building a new bus loop and temporary bus garage. The bus loop and garage were necessary to support GO’s new Highway 407 bus service that connected York University with several suburban GO stations and bus terminals. Unfortunately, the bus loop was a long way from the station platforms, with riders forced to cross a busy parking lot. To make matters worse, buses were unable to turn left onto Steeles Avenue from that bus loop, requiring a lengthy detour. A third, larger bus loop was later constructed, close to the accessible tunnel entrance to the train platforms. It was this configuration that I wrote about in 2016.

To meet ever-growing demand for parking, but also and to improve bus connections, in 2019, Metrolinx started work on a 1,300-spot garage, along with a new station building and a completely new bus terminal with 18 platforms for GO and Brampton Transit buses. Upgraded signalized intersections on Bramalea Road and Steeles Avenue would allow buses to enter and exit the station on a dedicated roadway, loops at both ends of the station allow for maximum flexibility.

New station configuration as of December 2022

In late December 2022, Metrolinx announced the completion of the new bus driveway and loop at Bramalea GO Station. For the first time, Brampton Transit buses on Steeles Avenue could easily enter and exit the station, improving transfers between buses and trains, eliminating the unpleasant and dangerous transfer to westbound Brampton Transit 11 and 511 Steeles buses. The western loop allows buses on Steeles Avenue to quickly enter and exit the property, minimizing the diversion for through passengers.

A Brampton Transit Züm bus on the 511 Steeles route loops at Bramalea Station, January 2023

The new station configuration minimizes the distance travelled between bus and train, with two fully accessible tunnels connecting the platforms. Unlike older GO stations, the new Bramalea Station truly prioritizes transit riders.

A Toronto-bound train arrives, with many passengers changing between modes

The station building is also a major improvement over the old, cramped facility. Next to the ticket/information counter is a spacious, heated waiting area. The new barrier-free washrooms are a major improvement over the small, single-use washrooms at the old station. A separate area, shown in the photograph below, provides space for a future convenience or food vendor.

Regular visitors to this site know that I am critical of GO Transit’s provision of free parking at its stations, especially when parking garages, like the one at Bramalea, are so expensive to construct and maintain. On a Tuesday morning, when I visited, only one level of the parking garage was full, with over 1200 spaces empty. Of course, GO Transit continues to experience lower ridership on weekdays, especially as its core market, downtown office workers, have yet to return to their workplaces full time. However, weekend ridership has rebounded, surpassing pre-pandemic passenger numbers, and students continue to make good use of the transit system.

However, as I have argued before, it is better to build lots of parking here than at Downtown Brampton or Mount Pleasant, given Bramalea’s more industrial surroundings.

Bramalea GO parking garage, with electronic sign showing the number of spots available by parking level

Despite the completion of the station facilities, garage, and bus platforms, work is far from complete. Construction continues on a new platform on the south end of the station that will allow more local trains to terminate at Bramalea. This is key to the planned 15-minute local service planned between Bramalea and Union Stations, supplemented by less frequent express trains serving Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Brampton.

Construction of a fourth track and platform at Bramalea GO

I came away with only minor criticisms, that could be fixed quickly. For one, bus information screens only show GO Transit bus departures, even in areas served by Brampton Transit. For an agency whose mission is to create an integrated transit network for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, this seems like an obvious oversight. Displays that show Brampton Transit information, like at Platform 18, do not provide real-time bus arrivals, even though Brampton Transit is able to provide this information at Züm stops and its terminals.

Platform 14, serviced by Brampton Transit, shows only GO Transit bus departures on the above information screen
Additional screens show Brampton Transit bus information, but without real-time bus arrival data, despite Brampton Transit’s use of it elsewhere

The driveway exit to Steeles Avenue is especially wide because of the separate bus and general traffic exits (which are separately signaled). It is not a pleasant place to cross, though at least a pedestrian entrance to the bus platforms and station is provided in the middle. I noticed several motorists turning into the bus area by mistake, so it could be better marked, despite the signage provided.

Traffic entrance to Bramalea GO Station from Steeles Avenue

Untapped potential

Key bus and rail connections from Bramalea Station

With the various bus and rail connections, Bramalea is an increasingly important, if overlooked, transit hub. Along with the GO train, with weekday service to Toronto Union Station, Downtown Brampton, Georgetown, Guelph, and Kitchener-Waterloo, there are frequent GO buses along the Highway 407 corridor to Highway 407 Subway Station, Richmond Hill Terminal, Scarborough, Markham, Pickering in the east, and Square One/Mississauga City Centre, Oakville, Hamilton, Guelph, and Kitchener-Waterloo in the west.

Brampton Transit operates frequent service on Steeles Avenue, connecting to the Gateway Terminal, Sheridan College’s largest campus, and Humber College. There’s a half-hourly express bus to Pearson Airport, and frequent service to Bramalea City Centre and points northward. (There are also local buses serving residential neighbourhoods to the north and industrial areas to the west.)

From Bramalea, it is possible to get to six university campuses, six college campuses all without transferring, or get to York University or the three Downtown Toronto universities with a short subway connection. It is already a busy transfer point for GO Transit.

Unfortunately, on weekends, those GO Transit connections mostly disappear. There is limited Highway 407 bus service to Richmond Hill, Mississauga and Hamilton, and there are buses to Union Station (if they aren’t forced to Port Credit because of downtown traffic congestion). But there are no direct buses to Guelph (it requires changing at Shoppers World or Downtown Brampton), and no buses to Kitchener-Waterloo.

To better make use of Bramalea’s potential, it’s beyond time for weekend train service, ideally to Mount Pleasant GO, along with weekend Route 30 service to Kitchener-Waterloo. This will better service Waterloo Region residents looking to go to Toronto and elsewhere in the GTHA along with all other communities along the corridor.

Bramalea Station is finally looking pretty good. It now needs to be used to its full potential.

2 replies on “A better Bramalea Station, finally”

Excellent article with many points worthy of further discussion, but this stands out to me:

[…bus information screens only show GO Transit bus departures, even in areas served by Brampton Transit. For an agency whose mission is to create an integrated transit network for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, this seems like an obvious oversight. Displays that show Brampton Transit information, like at Platform 18, do not provide real-time bus arrivals, even though Brampton Transit is able to provide this information at Züm stops and its terminals.]

And this massive shortcoming doesn’t just apply in this instance, it does at many hubs.

If GO wasn’t a wholly owned government agency, an argument could be made to ‘hold things close’ on displaying connective information, but even in the private world, it would make no sense save for direct competition with no connecting-on value.

As author Marshall has written about extensively in the past, Ontario is subsidizing (at a substantial rate in many/most cases) county/regional based transit that extends the reach of GO Transit. Guelph immediately comes to mind for me with GOST to/from Owen Sound, and many valuable cycling/hiking destinations in between. GOST is one of many connectors to GO.

Where is the provincial vision on tying all these disparate provincially owned/highly subsidised systems together on a real-time bulletin board/digital display, let alone co-coordinating arrival/departure times?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s