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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

VIA Rail's modernized Panorama Lounge opens at Toronto's Union Station

TORONTO — The Government of Canada, VIA Rail Canada and the City of Toronto has celebrated the completion of VIA Rail’s new Panorama Lounge, a major project to modernize VIA’s passenger facilities and a significant milestone in the revitalization of Toronto’s historic Union Station.

“Union Station is an important commercial and economic hub for business travellers, tourists and daily commuters,” said the Honourable Steven Fletcher, Minister of State (Transport). “VIA’s new Panorama Lounge is a valuable addition to the many projects our government is supporting to revitalize Union Station, creating jobs and economic growth.” 

“This new Panorama Lounge is another step toward a renewed and modernized passenger rail service,” said Paul G. Smith, VIA’s chairman. “Thanks to the support of the Government of Canada, VIA is bringing important capital projects to completion over the coming year that will improve passenger rail services in key areas of our network.”

 As the first piece of heritage restoration and improved infrastructure at the station, the 630 square-metre Panorama Lounge has over twice the capacity of the previous lounge. VIA customers began using the newly renovated and improved space at the end of January.

“Trains have played a pivotal role in uniting Canadians throughout our history, and they continue to keep us connected,” said VIA’s president and CEO Marc Laliberté. “This new lounge is a clear signal of VIA’s drive to further strengthen this vital link.  It will allow for a more comfortable travel experience for the close to 170,000 Business Class and Sleeper Touring Class passengers that leave Union Station on VIA trains every year.”

The new Panorama Lounge is one of many projects underway at VIA to increase the safety, efficiency and reliability of passenger rail service.  The Government of Canada has announced investments totalling 923 million in VIA for capital improvements since 2007, as well as funding of $105 million in Budget 2012 to support VIA operations and capital investment for 2012.  The Government of Canada and VIA Rail recently announced schedule improvements on the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor to meet passenger demand, including new daily Toronto-Ottawa express trains – one in each direction - and more frequent service between Ottawa and Montreal.

Located near the Great Hall with views over Front Street, the new Panorama Lounge provides modern amenities while retaining original architectural and design elements such as marble-covered walls and plaster ceilings that tie in with other work to renovate and improve the station.

 "Union Station's revitalization is an important investment in Toronto's transportation infrastructure and economic future, and the high calibre of architectural design is a bold statement about this historic building as a gateway into a vibrant city," said Toronto City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), and Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, who represented Mayor Rob Ford at today's event.

The $4.2 million improvement to the Panorama Lounge is the first major completed element of the overall work that is underway to revitalize Union Station, a $640 million project managed by the City of Toronto. The Government of Canada is contributing a total of $164 million to this project. The Government of Ontario is contributing $172 million and the City of Toronto is contributing the remaining $304 million.
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VIA Panorama Lounge
General features

• Designed for VIA Rail customers, the Panorama Lounge is VIA's largest and most heritage-significant passenger lounge in Canada. 
• Located near the Great Hall on the ground floor in the west wing of Toronto's Union Station, the new Panorama Lounge has views over Front Street and offers amenities such as WiFi, a business centre, a beverage service area and men's and women's washrooms.
• At a spacious 630 sq. metres, the Panorama Lounge can seat over 200 people, more than double the amount of customers accommodated by the previous passenger lounge in the departures concourse. The increase in capacity achieves one of the revitalization's goals to improve the quality of customers’ experience at the station.
•  The lounge's construction was funded as part of a $25 million federal contribution to  improve the parts of Union Station used by VIA Rail.

Heritage features

• During demolition, construction workers uncovered hidden heritage materials, such as plaster ceilings, cornice detailing and vast amounts of marble, underneath layers of paint, wallpaper and other wall and floor coverings and fixtures.
• Many of the lounge's original architectural and design elements were kept because of their heritage value. These elements showcase a level of craftsmanship rarely seen in contemporary work and impart a sense of old-world charm, grandeur and monumentality to the space.
• One of the lounge's most striking features is its expanse of marble, a mottled grey Missisquoi stone used throughout the walls and floor. The marble is the same kind found in the Manitoba Legislature and Canada’s Parliament Buildings.
• Years of wear and tear necessitated the meticulous cleaning and restoration of the marble to its original beauty. In some instances where the original marble could not be restored, it was replaced with new marble brought from the same quarry that produced the original in northern Quebec.
• In the era when the station was built marble was considered a generic finish and was widely used because of its ease of cleaning and low maintenance.

Energy-saving features

• Designed to replicate the original wood windows, the new wood-frame windows are energy efficient and thermally glazed.
• All mechanical and electrical systems, including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, sprinklers and plumbing, are being brought up to 21st century standards. 

Lounge's history

• When Union Station opened in 1927, the lounge area was a public lunchroom, equipped with a long serving counter that was typical of that period. The room's original shape, marble-covered walls and plaster ceiling were all kept in the new design.
• After several iterations, the lunchroom was turned into the Front Street Bar ’n Grill, which closed in 2006.

Union Station Revitalization
Union Station is the busiest, most important multimodal passenger-transportation hub in Canada.  As an integral part of Toronto's history and identity, it is a symbol of civic and national pride.
Construction began in 1913 amidst a materials shortage during the First World War. The station was officially opened by the Prince of Wales in 1927 and has since welcomed waves of immigrants to the city, survived a major fire, and endured more than 80 years of wear and tear.
In 1975, Parks Canada designated Union Station a National Historic Site because it was the country's finest example of classical beaux-arts architecture and the largest of the great urban railway stations built in the early 20th century.
Since acquiring Union Station in 2000, the City of Toronto continues to own, maintain and improve the station. Union Station's revitalization will ensure that this culturally significant facility lasts another 100 years. Key aspects of the project include:
• Restoration of many of the station’s heritage elements, including the Great Hall, west wing, façade and VIA concourse.
• Creation of a new, lower-level, pedestrian retail concourse, which is expected to generate revenue for the City and contribute towards the revitalization’s financing.
• Expansion of the GO concourse by threefold to accommodate the expected doubling of passengers at Union Station by 2030 (GO carries nearly 44 million passengers annually in an extensive network of train and bus services that spans over 10,000 square kilometres).
• Creation of a new  PATH tunnel connecting the northwest corner of Union Station to Wellington Street. (PATH is Toronto's underground walkway system)
• Expansion and increase in the number of station entrances, including the addition of a new PATH connection and tunnel to Union Plaza, Air Canada Centre and Maple Leaf Square.
• Incorporation of advanced environmental designs, such as deep-lake water cooling, district heating and energy-efficient technology.

The City of Toronto is leading the revitalization with three objectives: to improve the quality and capacity of pedestrian movement in and around the station, to restore and preserve its heritage elements, and to transform the station into a destination for shopping, dining and visiting.
The project is expected to be completed in 2015/2016.

For more information, visit www.toronto.ca/getonboard, find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter: @unionstationTO.

About VIA Rail Canada
As Canada’s national rail passenger service, VIA Rail Canada's (www.viarail.ca) mandate is to provide efficient and cost-effective passenger transportation, in the country’s two official languages. Every week, VIA operates 503 intercity, transcontinental and regional trains linking 450 communities across its 12,500 kilometres route network. Winner of the 2011 RAC Safety Award, VIA transports over four million passengers annually. Find out more about the capital investment program at viarail.ca/transformingvia.

About the City of Toronto
Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth-largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.7 million people. Toronto's government is dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city. For information on non-emergency City services and programs, Toronto residents, businesses and visitors can dial 311, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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