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JOURNALISM: Major Canadian Transit Projects [Download .doc version]

Update: Major Canadian Transit Projects
by Jeffrey Reed, As Published By Inside Track Magazine

The North American map is heavily dotted with planned and under-construction railroad and rapid transit projects, and it's no wonder. After all, with an increasing population putting pressure on aging infrastructures, and increased attention paid to environmental concerns, transit for the masses is gaining steam.

Concurrently, a growing demand for supplies and services necessary for the implementation of new transit infrastructure is good news for the railway supply industry. For more than a century, Canadian railway manufacturing and supply industries have served customers not only in the design and manufacture of rolling stock, maintenance of way equipment, signals and communications equipment plus related goods and services, but also with offerings from Canadian consulting engineers, construction companies and other skilled workers.

In Canada from coast to coast, major transit projects are changing the way we commute to and from our largest metropolitan areas. As Canada's largest city, Toronto is undergoing a long-awaited transit metamorphosis which includes the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, and the Finch West LRT project.

Eglinton Crosstown LRT is a 19-kilometre line with 25 new stations and stops that will run along Eglinton Avenue, from Black Creek Drive in the west to Kennedy Station in the east. More than 10 kilometres will run underground and will provide service that is up to 60-per-cent faster than existing bus service. Target in-service date is late-2021, with a capital cost investment of $5.3 billion.

"The Crosstown is Ontario's first large-scale public infrastructure project that requires the developer to ensure local communities and historically disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups directly benefit from the investment," said Metrolinx chief communication and public affairs officer James Robinson. "The project vendor is providing employment, training and apprenticeship opportunities to these groups, as well as purchasing goods and services from local suppliers and social enterprises whenever possible."

Finch West, meanwhile, is a $1-billion, 11-kilometre LRT project running along Finch Avenue from the planned Finch West subway station at Keele Street, to Humber College. With a 2021 completion date targeted, up to 18 surface stops along the rapid transit connections – Finch West Station to the new Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension – will boast ridership of 2,800 people per hour in the peak direction by 2031.

In nearby Hamilton, another Metrolinx project – Hamilton LRT – carries expected completion by 2024. It will feature 17 stops on 14 kilometres of light rail running from the west end of the city to the east, from McMaster University through downtown Hamilton and to Eastgate. Hamilton LRT will connect commuters to Hamilton Street Railway bus service, GO bus routes and the Hamilton GO Centre Station which, by 2025, will feature new all-day GO service on the Lakeshore West GO train line, taking Hamiltonians to Toronto's Union Station.

There are always enabling works construction projects attached to LRT projects, and in Calgary 20 such projects are in place in preparation for the city's new Green Line LRT. In January, a funding agreement officially gave the green light to this massive endeavour. Phase One includes: 14 stations; 20 kilometres of track; eight bridges; one kilometre of elevated track; three park and ride facilities; three tunnels; a 4-kilometre Centre City tunnel; and up to 45 low-floor vehicles.

It total, the Green Line will add 46 kilometres of track to Calgary's existing 59-kilometre LRT. Currently, the enabling works projects (program budget $360 million), including utility relocation and land preparation, are offering communities new water, sanitary sewer and telecommunications infrastructure, as well as upgraded roads, sidewalks and pathways. Funding was provided by the Government of Alberta and Government of Canada, in addition to their investment of $1.53 billion each for main Green Line construction.

"The Green line is a multi-billion-dollar investment in Calgary's future that will provide more options for Calgarians to move around the city," said Renee Summers, Green Line government and community relations lead. "The first stage of construction … is recommended to extend from 16 Avenue North (Crescent Heights) to 126 Avenue South East (Shepard). This will be the longest segment of LRT ever constructed at one time in Calgary's history. The project team will deliver Stage One of Green Line, with a $5-billion capital budget, by 2026 (and) prioritizing safety, quality and cost."

West of Calgary, the new Surrey Skytrain Expo Line Extension within the Greater Vancouver Regional District is a $2.9-billion project running 16 kilometres from King George Station to Langley and including eight new stations. In January, an $81-million upgrade to the existing Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station was completed, marking the largest such upgrade in Vancouver's history.

In early-February, TransLink released its first renderings of the project. In 2017, a preliminary cost estimate totalled $2.9 billion. According to TransLink, "Current approved funding for this project is limited to what remains of the amount that was originally approved in TransLink's Phase 2 Investment Plan for the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT Project – approximately $1.6 billion. Part of our work includes updating the cost estimate and determining how far along Fraser Highway the line could be constructed with the already approved funding."

While the project still requires business case approval by both the federal and provincial governments, plus the Mayors' Council as well as TransLink's board of directors, TransLink said project development will take approximately 15 months until spring 2020. Following this, a procurement process would take another 15 months, and construction would take approximately four years.

In Montreal, a project that has already seen numerous changes during its early planning finally saw an April 2018 ground-breaking ceremony involving all three levels of government. The newly-named Réseau express métropolitain (REM) officially launched Montreal's $6.3-billion light-rail project, a 67-kilometre network which will connect the city's West Island to the South Shore via downtown. The first of four branches will see passengers board in summer 2021.

REM, using a driverless electric train system running between three and 12 minutes apart, will use the new Champlain Bridge to Central Station. What's also unique about this project is CDPA Infra, the Caisse subsidiary created to operate the REM. CDPQ Infra will contribute $2.95 billion to REM.

The CDPQ Infra business model "aims to foster effective execution of major public infrastructure projects," according to CDPQ Infra. "It allows CDPQ Infra to generate commercial returns while the government continues to be responsible for identifying proposed projects, determining the public interest to address, and approving the solution to implement on the basis of the options proposed by CDPQ Infra. The model gives Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec the opportunity to use its expertise to benefit Québec, to invest in tangible assets, and to implement global best practices to execute work on time and on budget."

Another project drawing much debate has been London's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a planned system that uses buses to move thousands of people in dedicated bus lanes on some of the city's busiest routes. The $500-million plans are one part of a city-wide strategy designed to offer convenient, safe, accessible transportation. In the plans, BRT bus lanes are mostly separate from general traffic, enabling the buses to maintain reliable schedules without adding to congestion in regular traffic lanes. BRT will work with existing local buses for an overall 35% increase in transit service.

The BRT project is now in a consultation phase (part of the provincially-legislated Transportation Project Assessment Process) which began May 8, 2018 when London's then-sitting City Council approved the BRT design. With a newly-elected council on board, City staff have been directed to provide a list of methods for investing millions for transit via senior government funding.

Other major Canadian rail and rapid transit projects recently completed, ongoing or in the works include: Edmonton's $2.6-billion, 14-kilometre Valley Line West LRT, Stage 2; Saskatoon's $120-million BRT; Winnipeg's Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor (Stage 2 opening 2020); Ottawa's $2.1-billion Confederation LRT; and $1.7-billion single-rail Newfoundland-Labrador Tunnel.

Without a doubt, as demands continue to be put on Canadian transit, more projects loom. But with billions invested in railroad and rapid transit systems, Canadians coast to coast will be moved in a much more efficient manner.


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