Hamilton LRT making progress

Written by John Thompson, Canadian Contributing Editor
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The City of Hamilton, Ontario is close to signing an agreement with Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, for the building of the city's first LRT line. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019, with opening by about 2024. Funding approval by the province of up to C$1 billion (Canadian) was announced by Premier Kathleen Wynne in May 2015.

The city, with funding from Metrolinx, has established an LRT office on the fourth floor of the former Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway station, now the downtown GO Transit Centre. The staff, which will be expanded in coming months, comprises management, technical, administrative and community relations personnel. The office functions as a liaison between the city and Metrolinx.

An engineering firm has been engaged to prepare plans for construction, in order that contracts may be awarded by early 2018. The selected route is relatively simple, mainly following streets in a reserved track alignment.

A preliminary alignment, chiefly situated in curb lanes, was developed by the same consultant several years ago. However, this will be reevaluated before tenders are called, to ascertain if a center of the road alignment might be preferable.

In addition, a final location for the terminal in West Hamilton remains to be determined. This will be close to McMaster University and a large hospital that will be major traffic generators for the LRT. It is, naturally, imperative that there be effective interface between Hamilton Street Railway and GO Transit buses at this location. At present, GO buses call at a small station on the west side of the university property. However, this location may not be available for LRT use, due to possible university expansion. Discussions with the university are ongoing.

The surrounding area is mostly built up, comprising low density commercial and residential development. Thus, significant property purchases could be needed for the West LRT terminal.

Another upcoming decision is the potential crossing of a Canadian Pacific industrial spur on King Street East. An at-grade crossing might not receive CP and/or Transport Canada approval, requiring the construction of an underpass. This depends, of course, on the near-term future of the spur track.

This year will see the selection of a site for the Maintenance and Storage Facility (MSF). Several locations are currently being considered. During 2012, the City Public Works Department studied about 12 possible sites, which were subsequently narrowed down to three. Of these, two were eliminated due to the possibility of future redevelopment. The favored location at that time was the former HSR Wentworth Street Bus Garage, a modern building opened in late 1989, owned by Hamilton. It was closed as an operating division and maintenance facility in mid-2000, due to slower than projected system growth. Since then, Wentworth has been used for Works Department truck maintenance, disabled transit vehicle servicing, and GO Transit bus cleaning and fueling. GO, however, is in the process of vacating Wentworth for its new garage in a Hamilton suburb.

The study concluded that the Wentworth facility could be repurposed for LRT storage and maintenance. It contains space for 160 40-foot buses in 20 bays, which would be more than adequate for the LRT’s 14 vehicles (likely Bombardier Flexity Freedom LRVs). There is an adjoining shop and office wing. The principle drawback to using Wentoworth would be the need to build a mile-long access track, with the resulting non-revenue operation. However, it has the advantages of cost, and location near the center of the LRT.

Another challenge facing the LRT staff is the design work for the one-mile spur on James Street North, linking the main LRT on King Street with GO’s new Harbour West station. This trackage was a last-minute requirement imposed by Metrolinx as a condition of funding, and was not in the original plans.

James Street, the city’s main north-south street, is at this point just four lanes wide. If two of these are given over to a reserved LRT alignment, a 24/7 ban on street parking will be needed. This could be highly unpopular with local business operators and motorists. A possible solution would be to have one LRT track on James and the other on a parallel, less-busy street; or even place both tracks on such a thoroughfare.

Apart from the possible construction of the MSF, and an underpass, the only other significant LRT civil works required will be a new bridge for the tracks across a valley in the west end. Consideration was given to using the existing King Street bridge, but this was rejected due to potential conflict for traffic using two on-ramps to Highway 403 beneath the bridge.

April 6, 2021 will be the 70th anniversary of the abandonment of Hamilton’s streetcar system. By that time, new steel rails will have returned to the same streets that the cars of the Hamilton Street Railway traversed, insuring that rail transit returns to The Ambitious City.

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