Trillium blossoming

Written by John Thompson, Canadian Contributing Editor

Ottawa’s O-Train has grown from an experiment into an expanding system, with state-of-the-art equipment.

The Trillium commuter rail line in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s national capital, has recently been upgraded with new rolling stock, as well as track and station improvements.

The five-mile line, named for Ontario’s provincial flower, is located within the Ottawa city limits and uses six German-built Alstom Coradia Lint diesel multiple-unit trainsets. This equipment features high efficiency engines that emit lower greenhouse gases, as well as offer lower operating costs. The two-unit trainsets are fully accessible and accommodate 260 passengers.

The original equipment used on the line, which opened Oct. 15, 2001, comprised three DMU trainsets. They were Bombardier’s Talent BR643 units, built as part of a larger order for Germany’s Deutsche Bahn regional network. Access to the overhead luggage racks was blocked, and the washrooms were decommissioned as an economy move. Under the initial agreement, the vehicles could be sold back to Bombardier if they were replaced or retired. However, this agreement has expired, and the equipment has been placed in storage.

Upgrading began in April 2013. It required a service shutdown for construction of two passing sidings, a state-of-the-art signal system, and station upgrades.

One of the shortcomings of the original Bombardier trainsets was that they were built to the German loading gauge, which is generally narrower than the North American one. Thus, four of the on-line station platforms required retractable extenders to allow for off-hours freight train operation (which has since ceased). The demise of the freight trains permitted widening of the station platforms to standard width.

The trainsets are stored and maintained at Walkely Yard, situated northeast of the Greenboro terminus station. This yard, on which construction began in the late 1950s, was a joint Canadian National-Canadian Pacific project to replace inner city yards that were being taken over for urban renewal.

The total cost of the rehabilitation project was C$60.3 million, with C$34 million going toward the trainset purchase.

Initially, a test program

The Trillium Line had its beginnings in August 1998, when the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton launched a year-long study to assess the feasibility of an LRT line. The Trillium Line was regarded as a pilot project to test public response to rail transit, which had been absent from Ottawa since streetcar service ended in 1959. For this reason, costs were kept to a minimum by using diesel rather than electric propulsion; they totaled approximately C$21 million.

Service was implemented on an existing CPR single-track freight-only line that was purchased from the railway in 2005 after a lease period. OC Transpo paid for track upgrades, station construction and other requirements. One passing siding, at the Carleton station, was built. The line had originally extended southward from Ottawa to Prescott, on the north shore of Lake Ontario. CPR operated a railcar barge ferry service, since discontinued, across the lake to Ogdensburg, N.Y., for many years. The subdivision was gradually cut back to the vicinity of Ottawa’s southerly limits.

The subdivision also continued northward from Ottawa, crossing the Ottawa River on its own bridge to link up with several of the railway’s lines in the Province of Quebec. This connection was removed several years ago, although the bridge remains intact. The Trillium Line begins a short distance south of the bridge. There has been periodic discussion about extending service over to Quebec. However, funding from that province’s government has not been forthcoming.

Expansion continues

A southerly extension of several miles to the Ottawa municipal airport seems more likely. The right-of-way is still intact and in government ownership; a short section of new line into the airport would be needed.

The Trillium Line is entirely grade separated, and even features a short tunnel beneath a small lake. Its major traffic generator is Carleton University, located midway on the route. The five stations, proceeding southward, are Bayview, Carling, Carleton, Confederation and Greenboro, where a major parking lot is located.

At Bayview, trains connect with the east-west bus-operated Transitway, part of which is currently being converted to LRT (the Confederation Line). However, for the time being there is unlikely to be a track connection between the two operations; this would only be required if the Trillium were to become full LRT in the future. The LRT, opening in 2018, will pass over the Trillium, with a common, rebuilt Bayview station.

Consideration was given in 2006 to converting the Trillium to a full, electrified LRT operation, with an eastward extension through downtown to the University of Ottawa, and another southwestward to the suburb of Barrhaven. However, a subsequent change in the municipal government ended this proposal. The new LRT will serve the stillborn east-west extension, however.

During 2013, the Trillium route carried 2.4 million passengers, with a daily ridership of 10,300. A total of 678 parking spaces are provided, mainly at the southern terminus. The trains run on 12-minute headways on weekdays, requiring 16 minutes to travel the route. It is planned to increase frequency to 8 to 10 minutes, as the new trainsets and signals are brought up to speed. They are limited to an operating speed of 70 kph per hour, or about 45 mph.

Tickets are sold from on-platform vending machines; a proof of payment system is in force on the trains.

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