Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canada’s Urban Rapid Transit Systems – Where We’re At

January 18, 2010
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Across Canada, cities are in the throes of expanding their public transit systems. The transit boom is driven ...

Across Canada, cities are in the throes of expanding their public transit systems. The transit boom is driven both by government stimulus funding and also by the need to do what’s best for the environment by getting commuters to leave their cars at home.  Of course, these massive transportation projects also provide a great deal of work for consulting engineering firms.

Many are creating dedicated bus and tram corridors. The large cities are also expanding their train networks, mostly building light rapid transit lines.

Moving east to west, focusing on some of the most recent projects and plans in Canada’s largest cities:

Halifax – has built a new Ragged Lake Transit Centre on a 16-acre site on the Dartmouth side of Halifax harbour. Due to open this year, the centre includes a 10,400-sq.m operations building and a 520-sq.m. bus maintenance depot for 150 more buses. There are also plans for a fast ferry service across the harbour, and transit advocates are proposing adding commuter trains on existing CN/VIA tracks.


Quebec City – last year the regional transit agency — RTC — opened an 18,000-sq.m new Centre Metrobus for articulated buses in Armand-Viau industrial park. The city has extensive dedicated bus lanes to the suburbs at rush hour, while Eco-minibuses shuttle people around the narrow streets of the historic downtown core, a UNESCO world heritage site, Place Jacques Cartier station is being completely refurbished and made more spacious.

Montreal – studies were launched in September to extend three of the four lines of Canada’s oldest urban transit system into the nearby municipalities off the Island of Montreal. The $12 million studies are to investigate station locations, costs and technologies for extending the yellow line farther east into Longueil, and the blue line into the east end of Montreal. The studies are also looking to extend the orange line, which in 2007 reached Laval in the northwest.  That $748-million project led by SNC-Lavalin involved tunnelling under Riviere des Prairies (CCE January-February 2008).

Ottawa – in January, city council approved “functional plans” for a new downtown light rail transit system running east-west through the downtown core and beyond. The line, which has an estimated $2.1-billion price tag, runs from Blair Road to Tunney’s Pasture, and includes a 3-kilometre tunnel. The city already has an extensive Transitway system of roads reserved for buses and emergency vehicles, which extends from downtown and into the suburbs. As well, the O-Train is a diesel-powered light rail that runs 8 kilometres south towards the airport. Last September, the city paid $37 million in settlement to Siemens and St. Lawrence Cement for a cancelled north-south light rail transit system.

Toronto – under the auspices of the Metrolinx government agency, Canada’s largest city and surrounding regions have plans for a 1,200-kilometre rapid transit system — the largest expansion in half a century. There are to be a total of eight new rail lines, with construction costing $2 billion annually over the next 25 years. When realized the Greater Toronto and Hamilton network will be three times the extent of the existing system. The goal is that  80% of the burgeoning population will live within 2 kilometres of rapid transit..

First off are the “Big 5” projects. Two that have already started construction are the  14-kilometre Sheppard East Light Rail Transit line, extending from the existing subway into Scarborough. To the north of the city in the Region of York a dedicated rapid bus lane with stations is being constructed along Highway 7 from Markham to Richmond Hill. It is due to be completed in 2011.

The other three priority projects in the works are: the Finch LRT in the city’s northwest, which will run from Yonge Street to Etobicoke; a major upgrading and extension of the existing Scarborough LRT;  and — perhaps most needed — the Eglinton Crosstown LRT which will take riders right across the centre of the metropolis and link to a line to Pearson International Airport.

Winnipeg – has embarked on the first phase of a rapid transit system with the construction of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor. The busway links the downtown with the University of Manitoba and other commercial and residential areas in the city’s southwest. The grade-separated right-of-way travels adjacent to existing streets in some places, but runs primarily through former rail yards and rail rights-or-way. It also links to existing reserved bus lanes on the Graham Transit Mall. The project is projected to cost $138 million and is scheduled to be completed in 2011. Dillon Consulting is the prime consultant.

Calgary – extended its C-Train network northwest to Crowfoot Station last summer, and NE line extensions are scheduled for next two years. The immediate priority is about to start construction —  a new West LRT line that was awarded to SNC-Lavalin. The line starts downtown on 7th Avenue, follows the Bow Trail and then bends to the south for a total of 8 kilometres and six stations.  The line will have Calgary’s first elevated and underground stations.

Edmonton – the city is building and planning extensions to its LRT in all directions. In April, for example, a new 7.8-kilometre South LRT extension will open that starts at the Health Science Station south of the Saskatchewan River at the University of Alberta and ends at an expanding residential cluster at Century Park. For the future, the city has decided the LRT will start using low-floor vehicles which will travel at street level.

Vancouver – after the city’s third LRT line – the Canada Line – opened in August 2009, linking the Waterfront Station to Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport, Translink has no immediate plans for more construction. However, the transit agency has launched studies into a new 12-kilometre rapid transit line out to the University of British Columbia west of downtown, and an expansion of the Expo Line along 104th Avenue and the Fraser Highway southeast into Surrey.



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