Commuter chaos: We are alarmed that a total shut down of Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT has now entered its fifth consecutive week with no end in sight, after a derailment that caused significant track damage triggered an investigation by the city’s Auditor General.
But, could Ottawa have avoided all of these issues if it went in a different direction and chose to build a SkyTrain-style system instead???
Transit riders in Ottawa are agitated and angry: we have heard extensively from contacts and friends in Ottawa about the protests at City Hall, the severe overcrowding on alternative bus services, and the LRT system’s long history of operational and reliability issues. Many of these riders might be surprised to know that in 2009, a SkyTrain-style driverless light metro using high-floor vehicles was being seriously considered by their City Council.
Furthermore, if Ottawa had proceeded with such a system, it would have likely incorporated technologies we use in our SkyTrain system (such as linear induction motors). In an “LRT Technology Forum” which the City of Ottawa held in June 2009, Vancouver was among several cities that had sent a delegation to present to Ottawans, and Bombardier (the majority supplier of our SkyTrain vehicles) was also a presenter.
Unfortunately, Ottawa’s City Council ultimately decided to reject this type of system, and mandate in a November 2009 motion that only light rail transit (LRT) be considered for the city’s rail rapid transit network. While City Council cited a number of practical considerations and a high-level study in reaching this decision, it effectively barred the consideration of anything other than LRT technology for future rail rapid transit in the City of Ottawa—even in cases where a light metro (SkyTrain-style) system would have been more practical, such as in the inner city.
Today, Ottawans are paying the price for this shortsighted decision.
Ottawa’s 2009 motion was very similar to the motions and decisions made by previous City Councils in Surrey to reject all SkyTrain extension proposals, and only consider surface-running LRT in our city’s rapid transit network. If Surrey City Council had proceeded with a street-running surface LRT on King George Boulevard and 104 Avenue, this system—crossing roads and paths at-grade—would have been prone to accidents and blockages, and potentially see a lot of time either disrupted or out of service, just as the Ottawa Confederation Line does due to its operational issues.
Now that rapid transit is being considered by TransLink on these corridors again and SkyTrain is an option on King George Boulevard, it’s important that we see the lessons learned by Canada’s capital city as we plan for our own future rapid transit system.
FUN FACT: Alstom recommended, during the June 2009 forum, that the city pursue a light metro system and not an LRT system.
The LRT system that has been adopted for use in the city’s Confederation Line LRT, using Alstom-built low-floor vehicles, has faced a number of technical issues that would have been avoided if the city had chosen to build a SkyTrain-style system using SkyTrain’s technologies.
As an example, the doors on Alstom’s light rail vehicles are not designed to be held open (as is commonly done on our SkyTrain system when someone wants to board a train last-minute). As a result, door jams have become a significant cause for delay on Ottawa’s LRT system.
Using SkyTrain propulsion technologies (such as linear induction motors) would have also significantly lowered the chance of derailments. In more than 35 years of service, SkyTrain’s Expo and Millennium Lines have never had a derailment occur on a train while doing revenue service.
SkyTrain for Surrey is the community organization that advocated for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension (SLS). From our beginnings as a petition calling for the scrapping of a street-level LRT proposal, we grew into a community of like-minded folk, taking on various projects such as making SkyTrain an election issue in 2018 as a registered advocacy group. Today we are pushing for the construction of the SLS as well as the King George SkyTrain extension (KGS).
Daryl Dela Cruz – Founder, SkyTrain for Surrey
Phone: +1 604 329 3529, [email protected]