Ontario, Canada, is undergoing unprecedented growth in all forms of passenger rail. GO Transit is undertaking long-term expansion plans, and in Ottawa, the city’s first LRT is under construction.
GO Transit regional/commuter rail service will be extended east of Hamilton to the town of Grimsby, about 15 miles eastward, by 2021, and to the city of St. Catherines, a further 18 miles, by 2023. An announcement to this effect was made on June 28, 2016 by Ontario Minister of Transportation Steve Del Duca in St. Catherines. The Ministry of Transportation has responsibility for Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency that oversees GO Transit.
The trains would operate from Toronto Union Station, over the former CN Oakville Subdivision (now owned by Metrolinx), to the new GO Transit West Harbour Station, located on the north side of downtown Hamilton. This station was opened in 2015 but remained in an unfinished state as of early July. It is scheduled for completion by the end of 2016. At present, two weekday GO trains operate to and from Toronto to this facility.
From Hamilton, trains would proceed eastward on CN’s Grimsby Subdivision, stopping at a new station at Centennial Parkway, Stoney Creek (the eastern suburb of Hamilton); another new station to be built at Casablanca Boulevard on the western edge of Grimsby; at the existing VIA station near downtown Grimsby; and on to St. Catherines, using the existing VIA/ex-CN station at the western edge of the city.
Design work for the extensions will begin in 2017, as will construction of the Stoney Creek station. A new storage and maintenance yard for GO trains is currently being built in the adjacent suburb of Winona, at Lewis Road.
The area to be served has long been known as Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, reflecting its function as an employment and residential location for millions of people. In recent decades, the region has become the locale for construction of thousands of houses and condominiums, particularly east of Hamilton.
The Golden Horseshoe is served by the Toronto-Fort Erie (Buffalo gateway) QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) superhighway, which is basically at the saturation point much of the time.
Significant widening of this road, or construction of a new highway, is constricted by funding and land availability, as well as environmental concerns. The Grimsby Subdivision extends from Hamilton to Niagara Falls, Ontario; a branch line from Niagara Falls extends to Fort Erie. The only daily passenger service is provided by Amtrak’s New York City-Toronto Maple Leaf, which crosses the border at Niagara Falls. Two VIA runs were dropped about 10 years ago between Toronto and the falls. GO Transit has, for about 10 years, operated a summertime weekend and holiday service between Toronto and Niagara Falls. The trains use the VIA (former CN) station on Bridge Street, located about a mile from the falls themselves.
The City of Niagara Falls, about 70 miles from Toronto, has requested additional GO train service. This will likely come to pass by 2023, although schedule adherence is impeded by the railway lift bridge over the Welland Canal near St. Catherines, with marine traffic receiving priority.
CN freight train operation over the line has been affected by the decline in heavy manufacturing in both Fort Erie and Niagara Falls in recent decades. Metrolinx is negotiating with CN regarding service levels, scheduling and the track and signaling improvements that the railway will require to accommodate the expanded GO train service.
Meanwhile, Ottawa’s first LRT, the 7.75-mile, 13-station Confederation Line, is on schedule, overall, toward a Spring 2018 opening. The name “Confederation” was chosen to honor the 150th anniversary of Canada’s nationhood, which occurs on July 1, 2017. Opening was originally planned by that date, but this proved to be impossible.
On June 8, 2016, a city water main ruptured on Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa, causing flooding of the Rideau Station excavation and adjoining tunnel. Removal of the accumulated water and filling in the sinkhole in the street with concrete, as well as repairing other utilities, consumed several weeks; however the contractor felt that the time lost could be made up. No injuries occurred as a result of the cave-in.
The line extends across Ottawa in an approximately east-west alignment, from the eastern suburbs at Blair Road Terminal to Tunney’s Pasture Terminal, serving a federal government complex several miles west of the downtown area.
The operation will be entirely grade-separated, with relatively elaborate stations, making the Confederation Line, in effect, a light metro service. However, the cars are of a low-floor design, thus allowing possible future on-street operation.
The route is partly on the alignment of the Transitway, a busway that was opened in sections beginning in 1983. The Transitway was designed with LRT conversion in mind. Thus, clearances, grades and bridges are suitable for rail operations. The rather basic Transitway stations, though, are being replaced. The Transitway was created by excavating cuts through rock to build a new right-of-way in some locations, while using an abandoned railway alignment elsewhere.
It was necessary to rebuild just one transit way bridge, across the former Canadian Pacific Prescott Subdivision, to provide overhead clearance for possible future catenary installation. This line is served by OC Transpo’s DMU O Train. OC Transpo is the local transit provider in the Ottawa area.
The LRT was originally planned to operate on city streets through the downtown area. However, strong objections to this proposal by local retailers resulted in the decision to build a 1.5-mile tunnel. The tunnel is being partly excavated through limestone, and partly through various soils. It will be at an average depth of 28 feet. Some of the tunnel work has required blasting, in the rock sections.
The LRVs will operate through a single large, cavern-like tunnel, rather than separate bores, as will be the case with Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown LRT, due for a 2021 opening.
The tunnel section is planned to be completed by the end of 2016, with track installation in progress. Main line trackage will be 115-pound rail, similar to that on the Kitchener-Waterloo LRT.
The majority of the line’s stations will be structurally complete by Dec. 31, 2016, and entirely finished by October 2017. Blair Road is planned to be the first fully complete station, in January, 2017.
The LRT storage and maintenance is located on Bedlfast Road, adjacent to OC Transpo’s 1960s-vintage Saint Laurent Garage and Shop. It is situated in an industrial area east of the downtown. Interior storage is provided, due to Ottawa’s periodically severe winters. The tracks in the carhouse are laid on ties and ballast, as an economy measure.
The Belfast shop is currently being used for the final assembly of the Confederation Line’s vehicle fleet, which comprises 34 Alstom Citadis Spirit LRVs, North America’s first. The carshells are built in Alstom’s Hornell, N.Y., plant. This is at the former site of the Erie Railroad’s locomotive shop.
It has been necessary to build a tunnel beneath VIA Rail’s Alexandria Subdivision (part of the Ottawa-Montreal route) for the spur, one-third of a mile long, from the LRT main line to the shop complex.
About 3.4 miles of track has been installed on the eastern section of the line, and the catenary is being strung as well. By Fall 2016, it will be ready to accommodate LRV and systems testing. This section of track is located beside a major highway.
The City of Ottawa has approved, subject to funding availability, both east and west extensions to the Confederation Line.
(Railway Age thanks the City of Ottawa for its assistance in the preparation of this article)