Engineering Hamilton’s new LRT

Written by John Thompson, Canadian Contributing Editor
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The basic design work for Hamilton, Ontario’s LRT system has been finalized, including the selection of a site for the Maintenance and Storage Facility (MSF). The eight-mile (13–km) line is being financed at an estimate C$1 billion cost by Metrolinx, the provincial agency that oversees Ontario rail transit activity.

“There may be some additional tweaking in the coming months,” said Paul Johnson, Director, LRT Project Coordination, City of Hamilton.

Cannon Visualization FinalA significant change has been the addition of a station at Catherine Street on King Street in downtown Hamilton, at the request of local business operators in the five-block International Village shopping district. In this section, there will be two segregated tracks flush with the north curb, and one lane for eastbound road traffic. This approach was necessary due to the narrowing of the four-lane thoroughfare for beautification purposes some years ago.

A decision has been made to build an LRT-only underpass on King east of Gage Avenue, passing beneath Canadian Pacific’s North Hamilton industrial spur. It serves freight car manufacturer National Steel Car, among other industries.

Metrolinx had asked CP if there was any possibility of the trackage being abandoned in the near future. The railroad replied that it anticipated operation to continue indefinitely. CP also declined to accept a level crossing with the LRT, as suggested by Metrolinx, citing safety concerns. Transport Canada, the federal railway regulator, indicated that its approval of a diamond crossing would be withheld.

The LRT-only underpass was necessitated by the four-lane width of the street, to permit continued access to buildings abutting the ramps.

The location selected for the MSF involves 15-20 acres of mostly vacant former industrial land in West Hamilton, near the LRT’s western terminus. Some of the property was used by Canadian Westinghouse for manufacturing purposes. A portion of the land is owned by McMaster University, which has declared it surplus. Demolition of a derelict factory building will be required.

The MSF will be of sufficient size to accommodate all of the LRVs needed for the approved trackage, as well as the postponed Eastgate Square extension and harbor extension requested by Hamilton.

The previous front-runner for the MSF was the former Wentworth Street Garage, opened by the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) in 1989 and closed in 2000 as part of a consolidation process. The HSR, the local transit bus operator, has used the same name since the first horse cars operated circa 1874, and that must certainly be a record. Hamiltonians are very fond of the HSR, and have resisted any and all attempts to update the name, although the last streetcar ran in 1951. Their determination has paid off, as their city will soon have a street railway again.

Engineering studies had shown that the Wentworth Street property could be converted to a rail facility. However, it was ultimately rejected due to the need to lay about one mile of connecting track from King Street, partly on a former streetcar right-of-way. This is currently occupied by hydro (electric) towers, as it was in streetcar days; however, it was feared that the electric company would insist on Metrolinx removing the towers and burying the lines at considerable expense, as was required in Kitchener for that city’s LRT. In addition, strong objections to LRT tracks were anticipated from local homeowners. Finally, the choice of another site means that Metrolinx will have a purpose-built facility.

The west end location selected is beside an active CP (former Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway) line, which would permit delivery of LRVs by rail. An intriguing irony is that the MSF will be in close proximity to the vanished Chatham Street roundhouse and shop of the TH&B, where Canada’s only Berkshire-type steam locomotives were serviced.

At the McMaster terminal station in West Hamilton, discussions have progressed favorably with McMaster University for the use of an adjoining parking lot as a bus interchange facility. This would be used by HSR, GO Transit and Coach Canada vehicles. The university has of late been pursuing a policy of downsizing its inventory of on-campus parking lots, for environmental reasons.

Metrolinx estimates that about 243 parcels of land will be bought for LRT purposes. This total includes 70-80 purchases of full properties, such as stores, for substation sites and other requirements; the LRT will require between 12 and 15 substations. The balance will be comparatively minor takings, for sidewalk widening, curb cuts, etc.

The LRT will be constructed using the P3 process (design-build-operate). Requests for quotations for a consortium are to be issued by mid-2017, with preparation of final engineering drawings to follow. Construction is to commence in mid-2018, working toward a 2023 or 2024 opening date.

Selection of an LRV design is still pending, the city’s Paul Johnson explained. “We’re examining several different possibilities.” There is disenchantment with Bombardier, whose late delivery of the Toronto Transit Commission’s 204-unit Flexity LRVs is well-known. The Kitchener-Waterloo LRT’s first LRV, a Bombardier Flexity Freedom car for testing and training, is also behind schedule.

Apart from the MSF and the CP underpass, the other major civil works undertaking will be the LRT-only bridge across the Chedoke Valley and provincial Highway 403. This will be a complex undertaking, as the supporting piers must be installed between the expressway lanes and the on-off ramps.

An addendum to the LRT’s existing environmental approval covering the James Street North add-on trackage and the MSF is expected to receive approval by April 30, 2017.

Hamilton has, to date, signed two LRT agreements with Metrolinx. An upcoming document will cover operations and maintenance. This is of particular significance to the city, as the HSR has expressed concerns about potential revenue losses from redundant bus routes after the LRT opens. There is also the question of whether HSR employees will operate the LRVs. Metrolinx has agreed to such an arrangement for TTC staff when the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, a Metrolinx project, opens in 2021.


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