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Waterloo Region set to build its first light rapid transit

The rapidly growing region of Waterloo that lies southwest of Toronto is pressing ahead with building a light rapid transit system.


Artist's rendering of Waterloo-Kitchener ION LRT line.
Artist's rendering of Waterloo-Kitchener ION LRT line.

The rapidly growing region of Waterloo that lies southwest of Toronto is pressing ahead with building a light rapid transit system.

Last month the Ontario government joined the federal and regional governments in pledging funds for the first stage of the system, estimated to cost a total of $818 million. It consists of a 19-kilometre “ION” light rail transit line from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo south to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener, as well as 17 kilometres of adapted bus rapid transit from the Kitchener mall to Cambridge, which lies to the southeast.

At the end of March, Waterloo Region council approved GrandLinq as the consortium to design, build, finance operate and maintain the ION Stage 1 light rail portion for $532 million. The agreement is due to be finalized in early May. The GrandLinq consortium includes the Plenary Group Canada, AECOM, and Pieter Kiewit Infrastructure. The consortium will take the LRT to final design, build it, and operate and maintain the service, although the Region of Waterloo will receive the fare revenues.

Parsons Brinckerhoff and Norton Rose helped to devise the financial and technical specifications for the project and evaluated the three shortlisted proposals.

The LRT will be at street-level on existing roads or rail corridors, including along King Street West in downtown Kitchener. In total there will be 19 stations and three park n’ride facilities, at the Northfield, Fairview Park Mall, and Sportsworld stations, as well as a maintenance facility.

The daily ridership for the system is estimated at 27,000, increasing to 56,000 by the year 2031. The region is expecting 200,000 new residents in the next two decades, so is building the LRT to help shape the community’s development and discourage urban sprawl into the surrounding farmlands and environment.

Stage 2 of the region’s rapid transit plans are to convert the rapid bus component into light rail.

The two unsuccessful bidders for the ION Stage 1 LRT were Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge Transit Partners (which included Parsons, Graham Infrastructure and IBI Group), and Tricity Transit System (which included SNC-Lavalin, URS and Hatch Mott MacDonald).