Special Report: Light Rail

Photo Tour of Waterloo Region ION Light Rail Construction

A contingent of LRT supporters from Brampton and Hamilton visited Waterloo on Saturday to tour its LRT construction.

By Mark Rejhon
Published May 16, 2016

Last week, I accepted an invitation by the Brampton LRT advocacy to tour the Kitchener-Waterloo ION LRT construction on Saturday May 14. This tour was also covered in the Hamilton Spectator and Waterloo Record.

The co-founder of a Brampton LRT advocacy group, OneBrampton, contacted me to invite Hamiltonians to join the tour along with the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge transit advocacy group TriTAG. I brought along a contingent of Hamilton residents and LRT supporters, and we headed to Kitchener-Waterloo together.

Here are photos of our LRT construction tour in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Meet at Charles St. Transit Terminal in Downtown Kitchener (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Meet at Charles St. Transit Terminal in Downtown Kitchener (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Route map of ION LRT
Route map of ION LRT

Andrew deGroot discussing construction to the group (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Andrew deGroot discussing construction to the group (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Elected representatives greeted our group (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Elected representatives greeted our group (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Our LRT tour opened with a meet-and-greet with Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Waterloo mayor Dave Jaworsky, as well as Cambridge MPP Kathryn McGarry. Beaming at how successful the LRT construction has been in recruiting many new employers as well as office expansions (including Google Canada), they also explained the positive benefits in densification and real estate as well.

Pragmatically, they acknowledged that they have to bear construction towards the end, for the benefits and success. Jaworksy remarked how they are transitioning their downtowns into walkable urban cores, by around 2025.

Mark Rejhon of Hamilton LRT Citizen Advocacy, with mayor Berry and Dave (Image Credit: Andrew DeGroot)
Mark Rejhon of Hamilton LRT Citizen Advocacy, with mayor Berry and Dave (Image Credit: Andrew DeGroot)

After the meet-and-greet, we took an iXpress bus to University of Waterloo, and began walking the entire LRT construction all the way back towards downtown Kitchener, taking photos along the way.

Photo montage (Image Credit: Damin Starr)
Photo montage (Image Credit: Damin Starr)

The skies started out dreary and became brighter and bluer towards the end of the tour – suggestive of weathering through construction headaches gradually towards the blue skies of construction completion and LRT operation.

Due to Kitchener-Waterloo’s layout, their LRT is a mix. There are sections on-road, sections in railroad corridors, sections where tracks are together, and sections where tracks are (a short distance) apart. Here are several photos of railroad right-of-way sections:

Tracks at University of Waterloo (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Tracks at University of Waterloo (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Accessible LRT platform, designed for all-door level boarding (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Accessible LRT platform, designed for all-door level boarding (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Kate Daley discusses appropriate density along LRT route (Image Credit: Damin Starr)
Kate Daley discusses appropriate density along LRT route (Image Credit: Damin Starr)

With major LRT construction, several roads are closed throughout Kitchener and Waterloo, for various time periods. Wayfinding and construction signs were everywhere along the LRT route, as to be expected.

Construction information & wayfinding (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Construction information & wayfinding (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Business wayfinding attached to construction fences (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Business wayfinding attached to construction fences (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

With road closures making it more difficult to access businesses, one way Kitchener has coped to is install wayfinding on construction fences. These signs were provided for free to local businesses. We should strive to do the same in Hamilton, to help our local businesses survive construction.

We know there are many local Hamilton businesses that support LRT construction (obviously, with some trepidation), and many that are against the construction. TriTAG acknowledged to our group that some business owners do decide to retire early, and that is always a preferable outcome over a business going bankrupt. Over the long term, businesses will prosper on average, so construction is a short-term pain.

There are many LRT promotions and specials occurring, and some businesses have been creative such as installing a path of pink flamingos towards their door. Some businesses have provided a “construction wayfinding map” in the corner of all their print advertisements, to show their best parking spots of the current moment.

We must learn from Kitchener-Waterloo, and play our part to help businesses survive LRT construction.

Even scenic pedestrian paths include detour wayfinding (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Even scenic pedestrian paths include detour wayfinding (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

We took a pretty detour through Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
We took a pretty detour through Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Many new developments next to the LRT route (Image Credit: Damin Starr)
Many new developments next to the LRT route (Image Credit: Damin Starr)

Perimeter Institute, and new developments (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Perimeter Institute, and new developments (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Road closures are an expected part of major construction (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Road closures are an expected part of major construction (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Median LRT that has not had tracks installed yet (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Median LRT that has not had tracks installed yet (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Intersection with LRT crossing – which is likely very similar to parts of Hamilton LRT (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Intersection with LRT crossing – which is likely very similar to parts of Hamilton LRT (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

LRT station being built near the hospital (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)
LRT station being built near the hospital (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)

Median LRT tracks (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)
Median LRT tracks (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)

Median LRT track on 4-lane road being converted to 2 car lanes, 2 LRT lanes (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Median LRT track on 4-lane road being converted to 2 car lanes, 2 LRT lanes (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

LRT construction (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)
LRT construction (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)

There is impressive densification occurring in downtown Kitchener as we speak. The construction, understandably is a huge mess for important progress.

Just like Google expanding in Kitchener-Waterloo thanks in part to the LRT, we have companies such as IBM expanding in Hamilton also thanks in part to our LRT and more companies will be coming to Hamilton. Our beautiful city must not give up the pursuit of our LRT to help us economically succeed, as our LRT doubles as both transit and economic development.

New Google Headquarters expansion being built next to LRT route (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
New Google Headquarters expansion being built next to LRT route (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Existing Google Canada offices behind the new high tech building expansion (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Existing Google Canada offices behind the new high tech building expansion (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Convergence of LRT, GO, bus, and VIA (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Convergence of LRT, GO, bus, and VIA (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

Densification (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)
Densification (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)

Densification (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)
Densification (Image Credit: Andrae Griffith)

Major construction boom in downtown Kitchener (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)
Major construction boom in downtown Kitchener (Image Credit: Mark Rejhon)

We are very appreciative of the Brampton LRT advocacy inviting Hamiltonians to join their group, on a construction tour of the Kitchener-Waterloo ION LRT. It is quite apparent that while construction can be difficult, they are going in it for the long haul and long-term economic success.

We must support the Hamilton LRT and also help our businesses survive short-term pain for long-term gain. It is very clear that LRT is both transit and economic development, and Hamilton will benefit greatly.


Tell Hamilton City Council to take YES for an answer:

Mark Rejhon lives in Hamilton Ward 3. He works as an IT software developer and commutes daily on GO. A home-owner, car-owner, bike-owner, SoBi bike-share user, public transit user, and GO user, he is a big-time advocate for improved transit. Mark frequently tweets about #hamont and transportation at @MDRejhon. He also volunteers with a new Hamilton LRT Citizen Advocacy run by local residents.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 16, 2016 at 08:26:06

I will admit I have been looking at other operations lately so I ask this question. I know they said that the Ion LRT line will be open in 2017, have they given a more specific opening date yet?

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 16, 2016 at 08:33:48

Wow....amazing. I can't even imagine what it must be like to live in a city that would invest in itself like this. Great to see all the transit oriented development springing up before the line even opens. This is consistent with LRT projects world-wide despite the uneducated ramblings from Hamilton city hall. Great work K-W!!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 16, 2016 at 09:12:48

And K-W has to pay 1/3 of the cost itself, whereas Hamilton is extremely fortunate that the Province will cover 100% of the capital cost of our LRT.

It's nice to see the political support and leadership in K-W after their recent election where, as in Hamilton, the anti-LRT candidate was soundly defeated.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 16, 2016 at 10:49:44 in reply to Comment 118577

That's an important point, because here in Ottawa we to had to make some hard budget choices about the city funding close to 40% of the cost of Phase 1 of the Confederation LRT Line. As someone who lives in Ottawa, I and others looked with disgust and stunned shock when members of Brampton's council turned down free LRT money from the province. We are still here in Ottawa expecting that we will have to pay up to 35% of phase 2 LRT work ourselves. Sorry to be a little bitter but where the hell is our free LRT lines from the province! Phase 2 of the LRT program (30km of service and 19 new stations) is expected to cost $3 Billion we have budgeted that we will pay locally up to $1.1 Billion of it ourselves. That doesn't include an unfunded 2.1 km extension of the Trillium Line (the original O-train line) to the airport and a possible 4 km extension of the Confederation line east to Trim road from the current planned terminus at Place D'Orleans.

I played a small role in getting the original O-train line started in 2001. I understand fully, the hard work, high levels of angst that everyone in your organization is currently going through right now at this point! I commend everyone in Hamilton who fought so hard and so long to get the interest up to the point that you helped move your city government towards accepting rail transit. You managed to turn around the supertanker that is your city government and bureaucracy, 180 degrees to accept LRT as a policy direction, its big deal! A big achievement.

However, there is part of me that gets a little upset when I see local politicians whom have obviously not been read the "riot act" by your mayor. "Get in line, or we could loose the cash! "A sort of urban legend that prevails here in Ottawa that, the mayor had closed door meetings with all the councilors and said no one was to go against anything in the LRT file in public unless, it has been discussed here first!

I think a group of or certain individual conservative members of your council have made a "political deal" with the Conservative Party of Ontario, over this issue and maybe a few more. Its the only thing that makes sense to me. There is just too much development in K-W and here in Ottawa that, is linked directly with construction of the LRT lines. Not the operation of a complete LRT line, just the construction of the LRT lines has spawned development.

No civic politician in Ontario, no matter what ward he or she represents, no matter the political leaning, could with a straight face, turn down the development potential that both K-W's and Ottawa's LRT lines are currently spawning and say, "sorry no thanks, were just not ready yet".

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 16, 2016 at 10:55:00 in reply to Comment 118574

That should read open in Fall 2017!

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By JPDanko (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2016 at 12:29:17

As usual, a photo is worth a thousand words.

I have consistently had anti or undecided LRT opinions point to the "disaster going on in KW". Essentially your typical AM900 CHML listener (like my 70 year old father) suggesting LRT supporters should go see whats happening in KW with cost over runs and construction disruptions as an argument against Hamilton's LRT (the terms "boondoggle" "give your head a shake" and passive-aggressive insults about "Liberals" are also common).

Looking at those photos - the key element that should be obvious to anyone who cares to look with open eyes is: all the new tax $$$ coming from all those new high rise infill developments!!!

These photos should scare the shit our of Hamilton's established business community - if not our sitting council.

Hamilton is already so far behind competing Ontario municipalities when it comes to city building that supports modern business development - or in other words lifestyle - LRT has literally become a make or break project (while most of council is still talking about business parks at the airport as a legitimate modern business development strategy - because a city full of nondescript prefab boxes in the middle of a giant parking lot is exactly where my kids will choose to live sarcasm in case its not obvious).

Although in fairness to council - it is not easy to defy your voting base by taking a leadership role - trying to explain the benefits of a new Google office to a Stelco pensioner struggling to pay the taxes on their home is not going to go over well - you are speaking entirely different languages - and like it or not, its the pensioners who listen to CHML and read the Spec who vote.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2016 at 12:48:12 in reply to Comment 118590

I don't know about the Ottawa arrangement, but in Waterloo one of the compensations for having real skin in the game is that the Regional Government will own and operate the ION LRT system at the end of the day; whereas in Hamilton the LRT will be owned and operated by the Province.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2016 at 16:59:33 in reply to Comment 118608

JP, thank you for chiming in!

Hope you run for Ward 7 again in 2018. You almost won, and I really do think you would be a great ally, for the whole City of Hamilton,, to help keep LRT on track, keeping the HSR 10-year Rapid Ready plan on track, as welll as bring incremental LRT extensions up the mountain!

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2016 at 05:13:51 in reply to Comment 118608

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted May 17, 2016 at 10:55:18 in reply to Comment 118614

ION will be operated through GrandLinq. From the RideION.ca website:

In March 2014, GrandLinq was selected as the Region’s public-private partner for ION Stage 1 LRT. GrandLinq brings international experience to the design, build, finance, operations and maintenance of ION Stage 1 LRT. The organization is made up of key team members including Plenary Group, Meridiam Infrastructure, Aecon, Kiewit and Keolis. In the selection of GrandLinq, numerous Region staff and consultants including Infrastructure Ontario, Deloitte, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Norton Rose carefully evaluated each of the proposals submitted based on both their financial and technical specifications. Infrastructure Ontario and the Fairness Monitor (P1 Consulting) worked closely with the Region throughout the year long process to ensure each proposal was evaluated in a transparent, fair and consistent manner. ION remains on-time, on budget and the costs remain affordable based on the Region’s approved funding strategy. GrandLinq will focus on having the system in operation as early as possible, while minimizing traffic impacts during construction. The operating contract with GrandLinq is for 10 years with possible extensions. The maintenance contract is for 30 years. Public-Private Partnerships are a proven and widely used approach for large infrastructure projects in Canada. They engage the expertise and innovation of the private sector. They also transfer a major share of the risks to the private sector so taxpayers are not responsible for cost overruns, delays or performance issues over the life of the agreement.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2016 at 13:42:36 in reply to Comment 118664

Yes, the Regional government has a P3 with the Grandlinq consortium to finance, procure, build, operate and maintain the line, but the Region will own the asset at the end of the contract.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2016 at 15:19:19 in reply to Comment 118645

I observed he appeared to be honest in these elements during the election & STILL got 2nd most votes.

If I was living in Ward 7, he'd definitely be one of the few I would have voted for. John-Paul Danko is a car-owner as well but understands.

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