LIKE most cities across the world, Canada's leading urban centres suffer from traffic congestion leaving many residents wasting time in their cars. In recent years light rail schemes have emerged as the preferred mode of rapid transit in long-term transport plans for cities across the country both to solve these problems and as a way of connecting new regions to existing transit networks.

These projects have on the whole drawn wide public support. Canadian Urban Transit Association president and CEO Mr Michael Roschlau says this is particularly true in cities that already have a rapid transit network where residents can view the benefits that it brings to a community and often lobby for the next new line to reach their region. However, in areas where light rail is new, residents need more convincing.

"In communities with no LRT experience, there can be significant debates and concerns, largely due to unfamiliarity and confusion with light rail or tram-type services," Roschlau says. "Bus rapid transit is often preferred due to lower capital costs, with future upgrades to light rail a consideration. Furthermore, there are concerns about net operating costs, which are typically covered by contributions from local property taxes."

Roschlau estimates that Canada requires $C 53bn ($US 54.29bn) of investment in transit over the next five years which includes improvements to existing infrastructure as well as new line construction. With around 25% of these projects currently unfunded, he says work is underway to encourage the federal government to help bridge this funding gap, and cover its share of the typical three-way cost-sharing with provincial and municipal governments for new infrastructure projects.

He also says that by providing greater flexibility in future five-year spending plans new projects will have a better chance of securing the dollars they need, particularly with many governments facing budget deficits.

Roschlau says that there is consequently significant debate in Canada's larger cities about how additional revenue for infrastructure projects might be secured. Public-private partnerships are considered an option, but Canada has limited experience in this area at present so early examples of this approach are being watched with interest.

Unlike the United States, local governments in Canada do not have the flexibility to generate additional revenue for transit projects by adjusting local sales taxes. As a result, alternative funding mechanisms are being studied such as parking levies and congestion charging, although the potential political ramifications mean that it's a debate that could run and run.

"In most instances this is a highly volatile issue and is being treated very cautiously by politicians because of the risk that it could backfire upon them," Roschlau says.


Roschlau says that Calgary's C-Train is often held up as the most successful LRT system in North America due to its high efficiency and status as the backbone of the city's transit system. It also has the highest per-capita ridership of any system on the continent carrying 300,000 passengers per day across two lines and 51.8km.

The network's impressive performance is matched by equally impressive expansion plans. A major milestone will be reached next month when the new West LRT opens following a $C 1.5bn construction programme which began in February 2010. Opening was seemingly delayed until March 2013, but following a prolonged period of good weather over the summer and intensive work by the contractor, led by SNC-Lavalin, the original deadline of December 10 looks likely to be met.

CalgaryThe West LRT is a six-station, 8km line that extends the existing Route 202 Saddletowne - City Centre line from the west end of 7th Avenue in central Calgary to 69 Street SW. Shuttle buses will run to two new park-and-ride facilities built to serve the new line which includes a 1.5km elevated section with one station between downtown Calgary City Centre and Bow Trail, and three underground stations, a first for Calgary. A further western extension to Aspen Woods station, around 17th Avenue and 85th Street SW is planned but not yet funded and it may be extended further to 101 Street SW.

A 2.9km extension of the north-south Route 201 northeast from McKnight-Westwinds to Saddletowne opened on August 27, five years after it was approved by the council and three years after construction began. The line cost $C 130m to build and is estimated to serve 8000-10,000 passengers per day at two new stations.

Construction is also currently underway on a $C 114m single-station extension of the Northwest LRT line from Crowfoot to Tuscany which is due to open in autumn 2014. The line will serve Rocky Ridge, Royal Oak, and Tuscany.

Further extensions to Route 201 from Saddletowne to Stoney Trail, which will add four new stations, and on Route 202 from Somerset-Bridlewood to Silverado and 210 Avenue South are planned. Two new lines are proposed: the 26km 18-station Southeast LRT from central Calgary to Seton via Douglas Glen and the proposed Health Campus in the south of the city, and the North Central line from the city centre to 150 Avenue N. Three corridors are currently being considered for this line, although no funding has yet been secured and work is not expected to begin until after 2023. The 26km Southeast LRT currently has an estimated completion date of 2039, which has been criticised by local politicians due to expected population growth in this area.

These two new lines are major elements of a 30-year, $C 8bn RouteAhead transport plan currently being compiled for the city government, with a final plan due in December. The plan also includes a branch from the proposed Northeast LRT extension to the airport which will utilise a $C 295m new airport tunnel that is currently under construction. The North Central line could also be connected to the airport, and the Northeast LRT.


A new LRT and bus project that will connect the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo in Ontario is moving ahead after a request for qualifications for a design, build, finance, operate, and maintain public-private partnership contract for the initial 19km light rail project was issued last month. The deadline for bids for the 30-year contract is November 23.

The 16-station line will run from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener. It is part of a 36km initial network of light rail and bus routes that will connect the three cities. Buses will be replaced by light rail from Fairview Park Mall to Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge as part of the project's second stage, planning for which will begin in 2014. A fleet of 14 LRVs will be required for operations on the initial line which has a projected ridership of 27,000 during the first year of operation in 2017, rising to 56,000 by 2031.

The cost of the light rail/bus project is $C 818m, with the Province of Ontario and Canadian government agreeing in 2010 to provide $C 300m and $C 265m respectively towards the capital cost of constructing the rapid transit system. The regional government agreed to meet $C 253m of the initial phase's capital costs in September 2011.


The City of Ottawa and Infrastructure Ontario are currently considering bids from ACS Infrastructure Canada, Bouygues Travaux Publics and Vinci Concessions for the contract to design, build, finance, and maintain a 12.5km east-west light rail line with 13 stations from Blair through the city centre to Tunney's Pasture. The line is described as the city's largest ever infrastructure project and is estimated to cost $C 2.1bn, $C 600m of which has been provided by the Canadian government, and $C 600m from the Province of Ontario. The City of Ottawa will pick up the remaining $C 900m. The council is expected to vote on the proposal in December, with construction due to start in autumn 2013 and commissioning scheduled for 2018.

A feasibility study has also been conducted on a southern extension of the existing diesel O-Train line from its terminus at Greenboro to Leitrim Park & Ride and Riverside South. The line would adopt the corridor for a proposed north-south LRT project which was scrapped by the City Council in November 2006, with the study estimating the cost of the expansion to be $C 75m. However,

the report recommends that no improvements are conducted until after the east-west light rail line is complete, and that the plans are included in an updated transport masterplan which is scheduled for 2014.

The existing O-Train is also going through a major expansion programme, with six new diesel Alstom Coradia Lint dmus set for delivery next year. New passing loops will be added to the 8km, five-station line to reduce headways from 15 minutes to 8 minutes by 2014.


Vancouver's successful experiment with light rail during the 2010 Winter Olympics has spawned a plan to reintroduce trams in the city.

The proposed line would use the 1.8km Olympic Line between Granville Island and Olympic Village, extending it east by 1.2km to Science World. A second phase would add 2km to take the line to Waterfront station. In the long term a further extension through the city to Stanley Park is envisaged along with a branch from Main Street to Drake Street.


Political wrangling has severely hindered progress on Toronto's largest-ever transit expansion following the approval in 2008 of a $C 8.4bn investment by the province of Ontario in four light rail lines totalling 52km. The projects were developed as part of the Transit City plan issued in 2007 and are now key components of the Big Move transit programme adopted in 2008 by city transport agency Metrolinx which outlines projects worth over $C 50bn to improve infrastructure in Toronto and Greater Hamilton over the next 25 years.

Construction of the Sheppard East light rail line that will run 12km and include 14 stations from Don Mills in North York to Morningside Avenue in Scarborough began in 2009 with the aim of opening the line on September 1 2013. However, work was halted in April 2011 when newly-elected mayor Mr Rob Ford cancelled all of the light rail projects in favour of building the Eglinton - Scarborough light rail line entirely underground.

Citing the lower cost of building light rail, Ford's proposals were thrown out by the city council in February. However, construction has yet to restart and is not due to resume until 2017 due to a ruling by the government of Ontario which cited the price of other infrastructure projects in the region and a potential strain on resources which could drive up costs. The line is now not scheduled to open until 2021.

Work though is underway on the 19km Eglinton - Scarborough cross-town line from Jane Street/Black Creek Drive to Kennedy station, which is scheduled to open on time in 2020 and retains its original Transit City design. Described by Metrolinx as the cornerstone of the LRT network, the line has will link with 54 local bus routes, three TTC interchange subway stations and GO Transit services and includes a 10km tunnel from Keele Street to Laird Drive. Metrolinx approved a $C 320m tunnelling contract with Crosstown Transit Constructors consortium for the line on September 11 with work due to start by the end of the year on the 6.2km tunnel under Eglinton Avenue.

By adopting an underground scheme for the Eglinton cross-town line it would have been possible to connect the new light rail network with the existing Scarborough rapid transit service which uses standard-gauge infrastructure unlike Toronto's metro and streetcar lines. However, the council rejected a proposal by Ontario premier Mr Dalton McGuinty to combine the line with an underground version of the cross-town line, allowing it to remain a closed system but to adopt the LRT infrastructure. The upgrade, which includes an extension to Malvern Town Centre when funds become available, will start in 2015 and is scheduled to be completed by 2020.

Construction of the $C 1.2bn, 23.4km Etobicoke - Finch West LRT was also due to be well underway by now, but Ford's cancellation pushed the start of work back until 2015 with a new expected opening date of 2019. The line will have 30 stations running west-east from Humber College in Etobicoke to Finch Station where it will connect with the Yonge University - Spadina subway line.


Construction is underway on an initial 3.3km section of a new North light rail line from the existing station at Churchill Square in the city centre north to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). The $C 755m project is being funded by municipal, provincial and federal governments and when it opens in 2014 will add three new stations and an estimated 13,200 passengers per day to the network. The line includes a 700m underground section between Churchill and MacEwan stations and runs at grade from 105th Street to NAIT.

The new line is part of The Way We Move, the City of Edmonton's Transportation Master Plan to expand LRT service to all sectors of the city by 2040.

Next on the agenda is the Southeast to West LRT, a low-floor urban line that will run from Mill Woods through the city centre to Lewis Farms. Public input helped identify station locations and alignment for the 27km line during the concept planning phase, with the project now in the preliminary design phase. By the end of 2013 the city will conduct a more detailed analysis of how the LRT will operate, as well as how the system will integrate into the existing and planned transport network and neighbouring communities.

A concept planning study is currently taking place for a $C 1.1bn extension of the North line beyond NAIT by 11km and eight stations to a park-and-ride facility on 153rd Avenue which may also be extended to St. Albert. The line is expected to carry 42,000-45,000 passengers per day. A concept plan will be presented to the city council by the end of the year.

Extensions to the existing south - northeast LRT line are also part of the overall plan. Preliminary engineering for a one-station, 2.9km extension north of Clareview was completed in 2010, with the project estimated to cost $C 210m. An extension south to Desrochers/Allard has also been proposed with the preliminary engineering study for the Century Park - Ellerslie Road section completed in 2010. Work has not yet progressed beyond this stage on the four-station extension which has an estimated cost of $C 425m at 2008 prices.

Other cities

BC Transit concluded a 25-year transit study for the city of Victoria in 2011. The plan calls for the inclusion of a light rail element in the city's transit options and identifies a line from the city centre along Douglas Street to Langford via Uptown and Six Mile, then along the Old Island Highway through Colwood to Langford. The entire line is projected to cost $C 950m to build with funding options now being sought. Other potential corridors identified include two from Uptown, north to the Saanich Peninsula and Sidney, and east to the University of Victoria.

A 21km, 31-station light rail line that will link Mississauga with Brampton west of Toronto is the centrepiece of a masterplan for transit in the region that was completed in 2010. Preliminary design for the project is now underway.

In Hamilton the city is looking to secure funding from the provincial government of Ontario for a 14km east-west line with 18 stations running from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. An environmental assessment for the project was completed in June 2011 and the province is expected to make a decision on whether to fund the line by mid-2013, with optimistic estimates placing a construction start date of 2015. Ultimately the city has a plan for construction of five lines and is currently working on feasibility study for the A-Line which will run from the city centre to Hamilton International Airport.