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Light rail in Canada

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Light rail in Canada

Canada has three light rail systems in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa and one streetcar system in Toronto. In addition, the partially underground Eglinton Crosstown line is under construction on Eglinton Avenue in Toronto.[1]

List of Canadian light rail systems by ridership

The following table lists average weekday ridership figures for the four Canadian light rail systems, using Fourth Quarter 2013 figures (from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA),[2] wherever possible):

City System Transit mode Avg. weekday
Opened Stations System Length
Toronto Toronto streetcar system Streetcar 300,600 1861 708 stops[3] 82 km (51 mi)
Calgary C-Train Light rail 298,000 1981[4] 44[4] 56 km (35 mi)[4]
Edmonton Edmonton LRT Light rail 100,760[5] 1978[6] 15[6] 21 km (13 mi)[6]
Ottawa O-Train Diesel light rail 14,700 2001 5 8.0 km (5.0 mi)

Light rail systems by city


Despite Calgary, Alberta having a relatively low population density, the city's C-Train system has developed into one of the most successful and busiest light rail system in North America with an average of 297,500 boardings per weekday[7] in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared to 285,000 for Toronto, Ontario[7] (includes only the streetcar system, not the subway) and 229,200 for Boston, Massachusetts, the largest LRT system in the United States.[8]

The Calgary system was started in 1981 as the result of decisions to avoid building either downtown freeways or a heavy rail system. At that time, Calgary had less than half a million people and was considered too small for rail transit, but when it first opened the C-Train carried about 40,000 passengers per day. By 2007, Calgary was twice as big with 1 million people, but the C-Train system was over three times as long and carried over six times as many passengers.

As of 2007 45% of the people working in downtown Calgary took transit to work, and the city's objective was to increase that to 60%.[9] The reason is that Calgary's downtown core covers only 1.4 square miles (3.6 km2), is isolated from the rest of the city by two rivers and a railway line, and was built with relatively narrow streets by North American standards. In the 1960s planners proposed a comprehensive freeway system to improve access, but this was rejected due to intense public opposition. However, subsequent growth exceeded expectations and by 2006, Calgary had become the second largest head office center in Canada after Toronto, with 32,000,000 square feet (3,000,000 m2) of office space and 120,000 people working in the downtown core.[10] The downtown street system is at maximum capacity and has no room for traffic growth, but the city is confident it can add another 60,000 downtown workers in the next 20 years without making space for more cars.[9] Peak hour travel by LRT is equivalent to the capacity of about 16 free flow traffic lanes and allows the city to have fewer than 0.4 downtown parking places available per worker.[11]

Despite the downtown rush, 25% of the riders during rush hour are counterflow commuters - going out of downtown during the morning and into it during the afternoon. Many of these are students going to educational institutions, who receive deep discounts because they are filling seats that otherwise would be empty, and workers doing crosstown commutes to avoid the lack of freeways.[11] However, as of 2007, the C-Train is suffering growing pains. Because population growth has exceeded expectations and LRT ridership has outpaced population growth, Calgary has had trouble buying enough new LRT vehicles and hiring enough new drivers to meet the demand. As a result, many passengers experience lengthy train waits due to overcrowding.[12]

Despite funding problems resulting from lack of support from the provincial and federal governments, there are two extensions under construction. In November 2007, Calgary City Council approved another two further extensions on the two lines, to be completed by 2012.[13]

In addition, on November 20, 2007, Council gave final approval for the new West Leg of Calgary's LRT, which would be the system's fourth leg. Construction for the West leg will begin in 2009, with completion expected in 2012. When the new light rail vehicles ordered for the extension are finally delivered, the city will have a total of 223 LRVs.

Besides the ongoing program of extending all station platforms to 100 m to accommodate four-car trains, transportation planners have identified two additional lines to be constructed within the next 25 years. They are to the North-Central and South-East districts of the city. BRT service is in place along the future North-Central route, and is expected to begin on the South-East route within a year. Calgary will also one day have to place a tunnel in their downtown to accommodate one of these new lines, or a combination of lines, much like Edmonton has already done.


Edmonton LRT train

Edmonton was the first city in North America with a population of less than one million to build a modern light rail system. The route first started construction in 1974, and opened its first segment on April 22, 1978, in time for the 1978 Commonwealth Games. While groundbreaking at the time, in contrast with Calgary the Edmonton Transit System built much of its light rail system underground, which meant that it could not afford to lay as much track to the suburbs. In addition, Edmonton's central business district has less office space and the single line which was built did not reach areas which housed many commuters to downtown. The system is successful by North American standards, with a daily ridership of 93,600[14] passengers.

The City of Edmonton has focused on LRT expansion plans over the past couple of years, with one new line under construction, plans to extend current lines, and plans to add two additional lines.[14]


The O-Train, Ottawa's light rail train system

In the 1970s and 1980s Ottawa, Ontario opted for grade-separated busways (the Ottawa Transitway) over light rail on the theory that buses were cheaper. In practice, the capital costs escalated from the original estimate of C$97 million to a final value of C$440 million, a cost overrun of about 450%.[15] This is nearly as high as Calgary's C-Train system, which had a capital cost of C$548 million, is about the same length, and carries more passengers.[16] Unfortunately, the Ottawa Transitway has reached capacity, with over 175 buses per hour on the downtown section, and has no cost-effective way to increase the volume.[17]

In 2001, to supplement its BRT system, Ottawa opened a diesel light rail pilot project, (the O-Train), which was relatively inexpensive to construct (C$21 million), due to its single-track route along a neglected freight-rail right of way and use of diesel multiple units (DMUs) to avoid the cost of building overhead lines along the tracks. O-Train has had some success in attracting new ridership to the system (a few thousand more riders), due to its connection of a south end big box shopping mall (South Keys), through Carleton University to the east-west busway (Ottawa Transitway) near the downtown core of the city.

Ottawa produced plans to expand both the Transitway and to open additional rail routes. The intention of the light rail project was to add to the system, not to replace the existing Transitway. However, in mid-December 2006, the new Ottawa city council voted to cancel the LRT system despite the fact that funding was already in place and contracts were already signed. As of 2008, lawsuits against the city of Ottawa over its canceled light rail system totaled over $280 million.[18] The east-west Confederation Line was approved unanimously by Council on December 19, 2012 with the downtown portion of the project expected to be substantially complete by 2017.


A streetcar on Queen Street in Toronto

Toronto is the largest city in Canada and currently only operates a streetcar system, which is sometimes considered to be a subset of "light rail transit" (though, in other cases, streetcars are considered to be a distinct transit mode from light rail, with the difference between the two modes being streetcar systems' reliance on street running).

Toronto streetcar system

The Toronto streetcar system is a "legacy" first generation streetcar system still largely in place in the downtown area. Toronto's streetcars are extensive in terms of routes and service intervals. Some lines even tie into integrated subway stations without the need for a transfer, and some traffic signals give priority to streetcars. However, the system as a whole is not normally considered true light rail because the mixed running with surface traffic slows travel considerably. Because of the differences in technology and speed, Canadian transportation planners do not usually classify historic streetcar systems as LRT, although they may technically qualify as such.[19]

Some portions of the system operate in dedicated right of ways that come closer to meeting modern light rail standards. Dedicated rights of way have recently been built for the Spadina, Harbourfront and St. Clair streetcars,[20][21] while the Queen streetcar has operated in a dedicated right of way on The Queensway since 1957.[22] However, the largest vehicles used are articulated double streetcars which are much smaller than most LRT trains and these use trolley poles rather than pantographs to collect electricity. Streetcar fares must also be paid upon boarding as with a local bus.

Light rail: Eglinton Crosstown line

On March 16, 2007, the Toronto Transit Commission announced a 120-kilometre (75 mi) light rail transit network throughout Toronto's inner suburbs. It is planned to be built to modern LRT standards and be entirely separate from the legacy streetcar network. This will be a 15 year project predicted to have 175 million-users by 2021.[23]

Proposed light rail systems

Greater Victoria

A $950 million Douglas street light rail project has been proposed. It would connect West Shore to downtown Victoria, British Columbia.[24][25]


Hamilton, Ontario's B-Line route is proposed to run east-west along King and Main streets, with Eastgate Mall and McMaster University as its termini. Currently, as a precursor, Route 10 provides an express service along the future LRT route.[26]

Waterloo Region

The Waterloo Region, Ontario has approved plans for a light rail transit system from Waterloo to Cambridge, which will be constructed in phases.[27] The first phase of the LRT system is proposed to run from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener. Extension to Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge will be implemented in the second phase. During the first phase, the Kitchener to Cambridge segment will be operated as adapted BRT. The first phase of the project is to begin construction in 2014 and open in 2017. Currently, the iXpress route, a limited stop express bus service, is operating as a precursor to rapid transit. The Region of Waterloo received funding from the provincial government.[28]

Peel Region

The cities of Mississauga and Brampton in Ontario are jointly working on a light rail along Hurontario and Main Streets. In the original MoveOntario 2020 plan, only Mississauga is supposed to get the LRT, ending only at Highway 407 (which is the boundary), located in an industrial area and a hydro corridor. Meanwhile, the Brampton segment is originally getting BRT, also ending at Highway 407.

Mississauga Transit's ridership in 19 Hurontario is large enough to warrant decent LRT ridership. This route is also the fastest-growing bus route in Mississauga and the busiest bus route in the 905 region (suburban Toronto), carrying 28,000 passengers a day.[29] Currently, the combined frequency of Hurontario during peak hours, using Routes 19, 102, and 202, is every 3–4 minutes. Meanwhile, Brampton Transit's 2 Main is also frequent, running every 10 minutes. [30]

As a precursor, MiWay's Route 102 has been launched to run between Shoppers World and City Centre Transit Terminal. By September 2011, Brampton Transit's Main Street Züm will run from Sandalwood Parkway to Mississauga City Centre Transit Terminal, replacing and extending MiWay's Route 102. Meanwhile, MiWay's Route 202 is replaced by Route 103, a new express route which offers additional midday and evening services.

A similar line to "Connect 10" ("10" refers to Hurontario and Main Street's now-defunct highway number, which is commonly used in popular vernacular) was proposed in the 1970s by Hubert Wolf, a Regional Councillor representing Port Credit; it was largely ignored.

See also


  1. ^ "Commuting Patterns and Places of Work of Canadians, 2006 Census". Statistics Canada. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  2. ^ a b "APTA Ridership Report - Q4 2013 Report" (pdf).  
  3. ^ "2012 - TTC Operating Statistics". Toronto Transit Commission. 2013. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  4. ^ a b c "Calgary's Light Rail Transit Line". City of Calgary - Transportation Department - Calgary Transit. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  5. ^ "2013 LRT Passenger Count Report" (pdf). City of Edmonton. January 2014. pp. 2, 4. Retrieved 2014-08-04. The Transportation Planning, Strategic Monitoring and Analysis Section conducted the 2013 Fall LRT Passenger Count over a three week period in October 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c "LRT for Everyone" (pdf). Edmonton Transit System and City of Edmonton. p. 4. Retrieved 2014-08-05. 
  7. ^ a b "Public Transportation Ridership Report - Canada". American Public Transportation Association. Fourth Quarter 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-06. 
  8. ^ "APTA Ridership Report - Light Rail". American Public Transportation Association. Fourth Quarter 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-06. 
  9. ^ a b Kom, Joel (2 January 2008). "Residents forced to cope with growing traffic crunch - City confident it can handle growth". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2008-02-14. 
  10. ^ Hubbel, John; Colquhoun, Dave (8 May 2006). "Joint International Light Rail Conference". St. Louis, Missouri: Calgary Transit. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  11. ^ a b McKendrick, Neil; et al. (8 May 2006). "Joint International Light Rail Conference". St. Louis, Missouri: Calgary Transit. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  12. ^ Guttormson, Kim (20 January 2007). "Transit hit by 10% rise in riders - City struggles to provide service amid staff crunch". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  13. ^ "Minutes of Calgary City Council special meeting". Calgary City Council. 6 November 2007. 
  14. ^ a b "LRT is the Way We Move". City of Edmonton. 15 February 2011. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  15. ^ Gow, Harry (2001). "Ottawa's BRT "Transitway": Modern Miracle or Mega-Mirage?". Transport 2000 Canada. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  16. ^ "LRT Technical Data". Calgary Transit. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  17. ^ Nixon, Geoff (27 November 2007). "Downtown can't take more buses: Friends of O-Train". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  18. ^ Drake, Laura (28 January 2008). "City girds for massive fight over cancelled light-rail plan". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  19. ^ Andrey, Jean (2007). "Urban Transit in Canada". Hofstra University. Retrieved 2007-03-21. 
  20. ^ 510 Spadina
  21. ^ 512 St. Clair
  22. ^ 501 Queen
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Victoria Regional Rapid Transit Project" (pdf). Victoria Regional Transit Commission. 17 May 2011. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  25. ^ "Victoria Regional Rapid Transit Project: Latest Updates".  
  26. ^ "Rapid Transit". City of Hamilton. Retrieved 2010-06-30. 
  27. ^ Douglas John Bowen (12 July 2013). "Waterloo opts for Bombardier LRVs".  
  28. ^ "Province announces funding for rapid transit in Waterloo Region". City of Hamilton. 29 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-30. 
  29. ^ "Mississauga's better way".  
  30. ^ "Hurontario-Main Street Study". Cities of Mississauga and Brampton. Retrieved 2010-06-30. 

External links

  • List of Canadian urban rail systems
  • Table of Light Rail Transit Agencies in the United States
  • Commuter Rail, Light Rail & Rail Transit News
  • Light Rail Central photos & news
  • American Public Transit Association
  • Light Rail & Transit News Current news concerning light rail development and issues
  • Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the U.S. National Research Council
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