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History Intercity Rail Ontario

The world’s smallest Union Station

Just south of St. Thomas — Ontario’s Railway City — sits a small stucco-clad shelter, just below the Sparta Road bridge. Until 1957, electric trains of the London & Port Stanley Railway would regularly pass this little, unstaffed station serving the nearby community of Union.

There are dozens of union stations across North America, several of which are still in regular passenger service. Toronto’s Union Station is the continent’s second-busiest railway station, surpassed only by New York’s Penn Station. Union Stations in Chicago, Washington, and Los Angeles are among the top fifteen in Canada and the United States, while other grand union station buildings still greet rail passengers in Winnipeg, Kansas City, and Denver.

Union Station, with Kansas City's skyline behind
Kansas City’s Union Station, with downtown skyline backdrop

Union stations, by definition, are passenger facilities used by two or more railways. They allowed for shared services and passenger convenience, though they required ample access to each railway’s tracks. Toronto’s Union Station, for example, was built for the Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific Railways, which both had rail corridors following the waterfront into Downtown Toronto. Ottawa, too had a Union Station that was used by CN and CP until 1966 (and in earlier years, New York Central trains called at Ottawa’s Union Station).

In some cases, a union station might be a small depot at the junction of two railways. The small Inglewood Station in Caledon was technically a union station as it was used by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Great Hall, Chicago’s Union Station

Of course, the little Union Station in rural Elgin County was never a true union station. It was merely a flag stop for the L&PS, where awaiting passengers would signal their intention to board by lowering a wooden board affixed to a pole next to the station shelter.

The L&PS Railway opened in 1856 to connect London to nearby St. Thomas and to Port Stanley, giving the growing city access to Lake Erie. In 1913, the City of London, which owned the line, upgraded and electrified the railway under the direction of then-mayor Adam Beck, who championed public hydro electricity and a proposed network of electric railways across the province.

Though bulk freight was the railway’s bread-and-butter — it connected with a train ferry service to Ohio — the L&PS operated regular local passenger service connecting two cities, four separate railways (CN at London and the Wabash, Michigan Central, and Pere Marquette Railroads at St. Thomas), and the popular summer resorts and cottages at Port Stanley.

With improved highways and increased auto ownership, the L&PS ceased passenger service in 1957, though there was regular bus service until the 1990s. Today, it is impossible to get between London, St. Thomas, and Port Stanley without a car. The railway was sold to CN in the early 1960s. CN used the railway to access a new Ford assembly plant as well as local industry in London and St. Thomas, but eventually ceased freight service south of St. Thomas.

The abandoned track south of St. Thomas was acquired by the Port Stanley Terminal Railway, which today operates family-friendly excursions from the former L&PS station in Port Stanley. Though you can no longer board a train at Union, you can still watch trains go by. A restored LP&S interurban passenger car can be found at the Halton County Radial Railway museum near Rockwood.

Passing by Union Station, riding the PTSR excursion train