Thursday, February 06, 2014

Kitchener to Waterloo, by LRT

Written by  John D. Thompson, Contributing Editor

After an absence of more than 67 years, rail transit is poised to return to Ontario's twin cities.

The last trolley bus between Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario—known as the province's twin cities—operated on March 26, 1973, while Dec. 27, 1946 wrote finis to the King Street streetcar line. The planned arrival of light rail transit is yet one more example of how electric rail transit, specifically the updated and improved urban streetcar, has returned to the scene.

Approval, including funding, is in place for a 12-mile, C$818 million LRT line being built under the auspices of the Waterloo Region Rapid Transit Division. It will extend from Fairview Park Mall in south Kitchener to Conestoga Mall in north Waterloo. In addition, a 10.5-mile BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line is being built from Fairview Park to Ainslie Terminal in downtown Cambridge, just south of Kitchener. This is expected to be carrying passengers this year, and is projected to ultimately be converted to LRT.

Some land clearing for the new intermodal station to be built at King Street and the CN main line to Toronto has taken place, but overall construction will commence this year. The intermodal terminal will provide connections between the LRT and GO Transit regional/commuter trains and VIA intercity trains, as well as city and intercity buses. The existing Charles Street bus terminal will continue in operation as well, for the time being. Opening of the LRT line is projected for 2017.

From Fairview Park Mall, the LRT alignment parallels the CN Huron Park Spur between Mill Street and Hayward Avenue. Between Mill Station and Borden/Ottawa Station, the line is on parallel streets, then proceeds along Charles Street in double track to Frederick Street. From here, the line splits again, along Charles and King, to the Transit Hub Station (intermodal station) at Victoria Street. It tunnels beneath the CN right-of-way, then remains as a double-track operation all the way to the terminal at Conestoga Mall. The line will be above ground except for the underpass beneath the CN main line downtown.

Between Uptown Waterloo Station and Northfield Station, the route follows the CN Elmira Spur, then swings eastward onto Northfield Drive to the terminal. The split-running downtown is necessitated by the narrow width of King Street, the Kitchener-Waterloo main thoroughfare. Along the CN right-of-way, the LRT will serve the University of Waterloo, and the Research and Technology Park. Part of the route follows that of former streetcar and trolley coach operations, along King Street.

The LRT tracks will be curbside along Ottawa and Borden Streets, in downtown Kitchener and uptown Waterloo. For the street-running portions of the line, they will be separated from traffic by a raised concrete lip or other form of delineation. In downtown Waterloo the tracks will also be split, between paralleling King and Caroline Streets, before turning onto the CN Elmira Spur right-of-way.

The maintenance shop and yard will be located at 518 Dutton Drive in Waterloo, near the terminal. The yard will accommodate about 30 LRVs. Fourteen LRVs are required for the initial operation, and have been ordered from Bombardier Transportation, piggybacking on Toronto's Transit City order, with an option for 14 more cars, seeking to benefit from a lower unit price. Bombardier's low-floor FLEXITY cars will be built in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The LRVs will draw traction power at 750 volts DC.

The population of Ontario's Waterloo Region is 543,000, which is greater than Calgary and Edmonton when they launched their LRT projects more 30 years ago. Daily ridership is projected at 27,000, increasing to 56,000 by 2031. Trains will operate on 7.5-minute headways during peak periods and at 15 minute intervals at other times.