Canada: The urban railway systems are booming

Sistemas ferroviarios urbanos en Canada
Sistemas ferroviarios urbanos en Canada

The railway infrastructure associated with urban transport projects, especially light rail, will grow at a rate of 5.1% until 2025. a firm commitment to the sustainable mobility supported by the greatest investments of the history.

The public railway transport has become an increasing mobility option in many countries, including Canada. One of the most extensive territories in the world, ranked 2nd regarding the number of kilometers, it deals with its own peculiarities of climate and concentration of residents in very specific areas. Aspects that have made it essential to find a solution for the continuously growing demand for communication means in the main cities and their surrounding areas. All this, with infrastructures adapted to the particular features, such as the low temperatures registered. This is the reason for which the maintenance issue has so much weight.

Light rail boom

At present, Canada has a population of 36.2 million inhabitants, but, despite its enormous expansion, it is condensed into large urban centers. Almost 90% is located at the border with the United States. Here is where, in the future years, a real “boom” of sustainable mobility systems will be experienced, with the regional and local administrations’ clear commitment to the light rail, which benefit from federal support. In particular, the most important projects will be developed in the provinces of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. British Columbia and Manitoba joins them. The objective is to stop road congestions, to reduce the number of private vehicles and provide a fast, efficient and environmentally friendly urban transport system. A new mobility model that also transforms lifestyle while travelling to big cities and their surrounding areas.

In search of sustainable mobility

The federal administration, being aware of the growing need to strengthen the urban public transport, has responded with a strong investment for the future years. This is the “New Building Canada Plan” (NBCP) program in force until 2025. This plan has an investment of 53,000 million Canadian dollars (36.9 M€) for infrastructures at provincial, territorial and municipal levels. This plan carries on with the investment path of the previous “Building Canada Plan”, which was in force during 2007-2014; therefore, the total sum allocated for infrastructures amounts to 60,000 million Canadian dollars (41,800 M€), for the period 2014-2025.

Investment stages

In 2016, the federal government approved an investment of 120,000 million Canadian dollars (83,600 million Euros) in 10 years, besides an additional amount of another 60,000 million Canadian dollars (41,800 million Euros), which will be distributed in two stages. In the first stage, 3,400 million Canadian dollars (2,300 M€) is allocated for a period of five years for water treatment and “green infrastructures”, with the aim of achieving more efficient transport.

 Structure of the urban transport sector

More than 95% of the public infrastructures belong to the provinces and municipalities. However, since 2006, the federal government has allocated certain amounts for the construction and modernization of light and heavy rails, as well as commuter lines, participating in improving the citizens’ quality of life and the progress of the country.

As regards the railway commuter lines, there are currently 13 major lines that are managed by the respective regional transport agencies. The most important are the “Agence Métropolitaine de Transport”, which manages and coordinates the five lines operating in Montreal or “Translink” in Vancouver, in charge of the network linking the city to Mision through the “West Coast Express” service. “Toronto Go Transit”, which has seven commuter lines covering this urban area, is also operating.

The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructures, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs, ensures the financing and support in order to implement the many existing projects, especially the light rail. An activity that is carried out by several public entities such as “Infrastructure Canada”, “PPP Canada” or “Transport Canada”.

The major amounts are concentrated in the areas with the largest population in the country, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. There, the respective Transport Departments of each Government and its organisms are responsible for the impetus given to infrastructures. It should be noted that many of these projects outstand with Public Private Participation (PPP) formulas.

History of urban systems

Until recently, the network’s great weight has always been represented by the freight transport, followed by the passenger transport on long distances. Therefore, the urban systems have a short existence when compared to other European countries where they have been rooted longer as mobility means in large cities. The first steps were taken in Toronto in 1954 and in Montreal in 1966. Since then, lines and routes have been added. The first light rail branch from Edmonton (Edmonton Light Rail Transit) was completed in 1978. A few years later, in 1981, Calgary also added to its network a line of these features. It is followed by the Vancouver Sky Train, which enters in commercial operation in 1986 and the O-Train, in Ottawa in 2001.

New lines under construction 

The construction associated with the development of railway transport is so important that the public works associated with this subsector will have an annual average growth of 5.1% between 2014 and 2025. In particular, the major players are the urban railway projects, such as the “Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit” in Toronto. This ambitious initiative benefits from one of the largest public-private partnerships in the world.

Canada follows the path of its commitment to the railway regarding the development of cities. In fact, the five largest urban transport projects in North America, all of them involving the light rail, are in this country: Valley Line (Edmonton-Alberta), Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail, Transit and Finch West (Toronto-Ontario), Hurontario-Main Street LRT (Mississagua / Brampton-Ontario) and Confederation Line (Ottawa-Ontario). New lines under construction in these provinces and others are added. For example, in Ontario, the Kitchener-Waterloo light rail (K-W Light Rail); and in Quebec, the “Quebec City LRT” network. In British Columbia, there are two outstanding projects. On one hand, in Vancouver, the “Dowtown Streetcar”; on the other hand, in Victoria, the “Douglas Street Light Rail”. In the Province of Manitoba, in the capital, another network of these features called “Winnipeg Rapid Transit” is also in place. As regards the heavy rail, Toronto is working on the expansion of the current network. This is the well-known project “Toronto-York Spadina” Subway Extension Projects (TYSSE), which exceeds the investment of more than 3,100 million Canadian dollars (2,096 M€).

Together with the main infrastructure projects, they will promote urban railway transport systems with amounts allocated for the rolling stock modernization, procurement of new trains and rehabilitation of lines.

Main “Infrastructure Canada” projects:

Valley Line (Edmonton)

Edmonton’s new light rail line in the Province of Alberta will be the so-called “Valley Line”. It will be built between 2016 and 2020. The route has 27 kilometers. Its complete development has been scheduled in several stages. The first of them, of 13 kilometers, partly South-East from the center at Mill Woods. It will have 11 surface stations and an exchanger in Churchill Square to access the rail lines and the light rail network “Capital LRT”, running from North-West to the South of the city. This first stage benefits from an investment of 1,800 million dollars (1,257 M€) and is entrusted to a public-private partnership (P3).

 Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (Toronto)

In 2008, the provincial transportation company, Metrolinx, approved the regional transportation plan “The Big Move”, for the next 25 years, with projects amounting to 50,000 Canadian dollars in Toronto and Hamilton (GTHA). One of the priority initiatives is “Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit”, with an investment of 5,300 million Canadian dollars (3,700 M€) to improve mobility in Toronto. It is a 19-kilometer light rail network that will run from Eglinton Avenue to Kennedy Station and will include a 10-kilometer underground section. These works benefit from the Spanish experience of companies such as ACS and Dragados, through its Iridium and Dragados Canada subsidiaries with Aecon. The construction is currently ongoing and will enter into commercial operation in 2021, according to the planned calendar.

Finch West light rail (Toronto)

Among the first five light rail projects in North America, there is also the “Finch West LRT”. It is an 11-kilometer line that will cross 13 neighborhoods in the Northwestern side of the City of Toronto. It is estimated that in 2031, due to its high capacity, it could serve about 2,800 passengers per hour in the sections of greater demand. In March 2016, ACS, in consortium with Aecon and CRH, was invited in the bid regarding the design, construction, financing and maintenance contract for this line, amounting to about 870 million Euros. A summons performed by the Department of Infrastructures of Ontario and the transport agency of the city. The network will have 18 stops and will include an underground exchange station on Keele Street. In addition, there will be links to the “Finch West Station” and to the new Toronto-York rail extension.

 Hurontario-Main Street light rail (Mississauga and Brampton)

The Ontario Government has allocated an amount of 1,600 million Canadian dollars for the “Hurontario-Main Street” light rail. The network will have 23 kilometers, running between Mississauga and Brampton. The route will include up to 26 links to many of the region’s transit lines, such as the Kitchener West, Milton and Lakeshore or Brampton Zum train lines. It is expected to reach 35 million passengers per year by 2031.

Confederation Line (Ottawa)

In Ottawa (Ontario) the light rail branch “Confederation Line” is under construction. The line will be part of the “O-Train” network managed by the OC Transpo Company. According to the action plan, it will be commissioned in 2018 and it will replace part of the city’s bus service. The contract was awarded in 2012, with a budget exceeding 2,100 million Canadian dollars, which has made this initiative the largest in terms of infrastructures approved by the City Hall. The second stage amounts to 3,000 million for the line’s expansion with four or five stations to the East and another ten to the Western section. The rolling stock is from Alstom, 34 units of the Citadis Spirit model.

 Toronto rail network extension

With the “Toronto-York-Spadina Subway Extension” project, 8.6 kilometers of network will be added so as to link the Toronto rail from Downsview Station to the Municipality of York, also running by its University. It will have six new stations and its commissioning is expected to be later this year.

Réseau Électrique Métropolitain (REM) (Montreal)

REM, Réseau Électrique Métropolitain is a light rail project (LRT) that will have 67 kilometers. It will be the third largest automatic railway network of these features in the world. It stems from the proposal of the CDPQ Infra Body, belonging to the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec. The objective is to provide a modern, fast and environmentally friendly urban transportation system to the major metropolitan areas of Montreal. The system will link the urban center with the South Coast, West Island (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue), North Shore (Deux-Montagnes) and Pierre-Elliott Trudeau International Airport. This light rail will help reducing the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 16,800 tons per year. This initiative was announced last year and its commissioning is expected by the end of 2020. Montreal has chosen to include a light rail network considering it as a comprehensive, efficient and reliable public transportation system.

 Surrey-Newton-Guildford (Vancouver) light rail 

The “Surrey-Newton-Guildford” light rail is the first of the two stages of the regional transport network for South Fraser.

Kitchener-Waterloo light rail (K-Wlight rail) (Ontario)

This transportation system, which is built in the Waterloo region, will link the three major urban centers of the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. In a first stage will be performed a section of 19 kilometers.

The idea is to provide new mobility means, as the Ontario region is expected to increase population by an additional 200,000 inhabitants in the next 20 years.

Hamilton light rail

The City of Hamilton, Ontario, is close to signing an agreement with Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency, to build the first light rail line. The works are scheduled to start in 2019, while the inauguration is scheduled for 2024. For this project, provincial funds of 1,000 million Canadian dollars (790 M€) were approved in May 2015. In February 2017, Infrastructure Ontario tendered the design, construction, operation and maintenance of this Light Rail Transit (LRT). This tender includes 11 new kilometers between McMaster University and Queenston Circle and 14 stops, as well as a first batch of rolling stock. The construction of the first phase will be completed this year and it will be inaugurated in 2018.