Report: Hamilton LRT Back on Track? (Updated)

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor

Hamilton, Ontario, city councilmembers on Sept. 8 agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Metrolinx and the Province to advance a light rail transit project that was axed in 2019, CBC News reported. UPDATE: On Sept. 15, the members ratified their decision to re-initiate the project, Metrolinx said.

The 14-kilometer (8.7-mile), 17-station line would connect the Eastgate Square shopping mall and downtown Hamilton with McMaster University (see map below), and be separated from regular traffic. It would integrate with local HSR bus service, and connect with local bike share, and GO bus and rail service at the Hamilton GO Center.

City councilmembers on Sept. 8 voted 11-3 to sign the MOU; the vote was ratified on Sept. 15. According to Metrolinx, the councilmembers “authorized the Mayor and City Manager to sign an agreement that will allow Metrolinx and its partner, the city of Hamilton, to re-initiate the transit project. Metrolinx will now work with the city of Hamilton to establish a project team and collaboratively progress into procurement and delivery of the project.”

The new MOU “will be ‘binding and enforceable,’ a staff report says, and essentially lock Hamilton into accepting LRT,” according to a Sept. 8 CBC News report, which noted that information on “issues such as operating costs, which Hamilton will have to cover, and fare box revenue, which Hamilton will keep” is still to come for the C$3.4 billion project.

Metrolinx reported on Sept. 15 that the project would also include “a significant investment in public infrastructure,” such as roads, sidewalks, bridges, water mains, sewers, electrical distribution (hydro), telecommunications, natural gas, traffic control signals and streetlights. The agency said early works construction, such as utility relocations, is expected to start in early 2022. 

“The B-Line LRT will be the spine of Hamilton’s future transit system, improving local transit options and modalities, and reducing congestion,” said Keanin Loomis, President and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, on Sept. 15. “Moreover, the transformative potential of this major infrastructure investment will provide 7,000 jobs for Hamilton and neighboring municipalities, that will in turn boost our post-pandemic economic recovery.”

Project Background

Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney in December 2019 announced the cancellation of Hamilton’s DBFOM (design, build, finance, operate, maintain) light rail project, claiming that the previous Liberal government’s C$1 billion budget figure low-balled the project’s cost.

In January 2020, the Province created the Hamilton Transportation Task Force to “help shape the future of high priority transit in Hamilton by providing new proposals,” according to the Ministry of Transportation. “Within two months, the Task Force submitted its report providing recommendations on future transportation infrastructure for the city of Hamilton. The Task force noted a higher-order transportation option, such as an LRT, to be their preferred option.” Metrolinx in November 2020 completed “a technical review of the Task Force’s recommendations to determine what options were possible, which has been received and reviewed by the Ministry of Transportation. The technical review indicates a C$1 billion LRT system funded solely with provincial capital would not be of sufficient length to be a viable project to benefit the people of Hamilton. The report suggests a longer LRT, for example running from McMaster and extending beyond Downtown Hamilton to Gage or further, could be a viable option pending federal funding. A feasible LRT project is therefore only possible if the federal government partners with the Province.”

On Feb. 9, 2021, the government of Ontario announced its continued commitment to investing C$1 billion in a LRT project in Hamilton. And on May 13, 2021, the governments of Ontario and Canada each committed C$1.7 billion to move the project forward.

“From our original $1 billion capital commitment for the project to our strong calls over the past two years for a federal funding commitment, we have remained focused on delivering rapid transit for the people of Hamilton,” Ontario Transportation Minister Mulroney said in May. “Ontario has increased our investment to C$1.7 billion to ensure that we can get Hamiltonians a 14-kilometer line that connects Eastgate Square through to McMaster University, and to ensure that we can get shovels in the ground as soon as possible for this critical transit project. The LRT will improve connectivity and create thousands of sustainable jobs for the future.”

“We are very excited the Hamilton LRT project is back and the people of Hamilton will get the project they need, all the way from McMaster to Eastgate,” Metrolinx President and CEO Phil Verster said in May. “The LRT will bring safe, accessible travel to help get Hamilton moving, both locally, and as part of a great regional transit network that connects right into GO Transit.”

Note: Hamilton Street Railway is the historic name of the city’s public transportation agency, even though streetcar service ended more than a half-century ago, replaced with buses.

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