Ion rapid transit
Artist's image of the future Ion trainset
|Owner||Grand River Transit|
|Locale||Region of Waterloo, Ontario|
|Transit type||Light rail
Bus rapid transit
|Number of stations||22 (proposed)|
|Operation will start||late 2017 (expected)|
|Number of vehicles||Bombardier Flexity Freedom|
|System length||36 km (22 mi)|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||750V DC overhead|
In 2009, an Environmental Assessment (EA) began to create a proposal of light rail though Kitchener and Waterloo, and adapted bus rapid transit through Cambridge. On June 24, 2009, Regional Council voted to approve the project, subject to funding from higher levels of government.
On June 15, 2011, council approved funding for the first phase, consisting of light rail and adapted bus rapid transit, with the eventual goal of extending light rail to Cambridge. Construction on the project began in August 2014, with service expected to begin in late 2017.
In 2004, the Regional Municipality began an Individual Environmental Assessment to study the feasibility of constructing a rapid transit line to provide higher-order public transit service to the Region and to encourage more compact urban growth along the corridor.
The EA took a broader approach to studying possible routes and stations for the rapid transit line, examining several options such as utilizing existing tracks/roads and constructing new facilities. In keeping with legislation, the Environmental Assessment also examined ten possible transport technologies, including monorails and subways.
The EA originally consisted of three phases:
Phase 1: Determine a preferred transportation strategy from options such as road expansion, improved conventional transit, and rapid transit. Phase 1 was completed in July 2006.
- Step 1: Determine a preferred route design (grade separated, dedicated on-road, dedicated off-road, etc.) and technology. The EA examined ten different technologies including light rail, bus rapid transit, monorail, and subway. Step 1, completed in February 2007, determined that light rail transit and bus rapid transit were best suited to meet the needs of the Regional Growth Management Strategy.
- Step 2: Determined a short list of preferred routes and technologies for seven segments of a rapid transit system (completed in 2008).
- Step 3: Proposed an overall preferred rapid transit system (completed June 2009)
Phase 3: Design an implementation plan for the rapid transit system.
In June 2008, the Province of Ontario announced a new expedited Transit Project Assessment Process (Ontario Regulation 231/08). In August 2008, the Region notified the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to advise that the it would transition from the Individual EA to the expedited process. For that reason, Phase 3 of the Individual EA will not be completed. The Region expects to transition to the new Assessment Process in the Fall of 2009.
On June 24, 2009 Regional council approved the initiative and the Region is in discussions with Provincial and Federal governments to obtain funding for the $790 million project. Light Rail Transit (LRT) has been short-listed as the technology for the new rapid transit system. The Region has decided upon a staged approach for building light rail from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Park Mall, passing through Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener on the way. Adapted Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) is to be built initially from Fairview Park Mall to Ainslie Street terminal in Cambridge utilizing shoulder bypass lanes along Highways 8 and 401 during heavy traffic where speeds are 40 km/h or less.
In summer of 2010, funding from higher levels of government was announced: $300 million from the province of Ontario, and $265 million (or up to 1/3 of the full cost) from the federal government. The provincial figure was disappointing to supporters, as they had previously promised 2/3 of the cost. The Region must now look into funding the remaining $200–300 million if the project is to go ahead as planned.
Approved light rail system
On June 24, 2009, Regional Council approved LRT as the technology for rapid transit in Waterloo Region. Regional Council also approved a recommendation to implement the system in stages because ridership, development potential and capital and operating costs vary along the route.
The light rail system was approved by Regional Council with a vote of 15-1. The dissenting vote was from Cambridge mayor Doug Craig. Other Cambridge-area representatives joined Craig in voting against subsequent motions on the service's staging, feeling that initially running only buses to that city does them a disservice.
The Province of Ontario has promised it will fund up to two thirds of the cost of the construction of a light rail or bus rapid transit system in Waterloo Region.
During public consultation for the project, concerns related to the light rail proposal focused on its relative service infrequency when compared with rapid transit systems in other cities (though it would still outperform the Region’s best bus services in its overall service capacity, and the frequency of many routes); the projected service frequency will be approximately 7.5 minutes. In addition, a light rail line would be limited by the narrow main streets of key downtown areas. A feasible proposal raised by the Region for dealing with this challenge would be to have light rail vehicles share space with traffic within core areas, somewhat resembling the traditional streetcar networks of many European cities, and of nearby Toronto. A bus rapid transit line would also face the challenge of the cramped core areas, and thus would also likely share space with traffic in core areas.
In late 2011, planning was well underway and preparations were being made. In October, a property on Dutton Drive in Waterloo, bordering the rail-line corridor where the LRT is planned to be installed, was purchased to serve as a maintenance and storage yard for the system's trains.
On July 10, 2013, it was reported that a deal was finalized with Metrolinx to join its contract with Bombardier Transportation for the purchase of 14 Flexity Freedom trainsets to form the system's initial fleet, with an option to purchase up to 14 more as the need arises. Another report on July 12, 2013, indicated that the region would be purchasing 14 trainsets, with an option to buy 16 more.
The 14 vehicles are estimated to cost $92.4 million, an average of $6.6 million per vehicle. The cost breakdown is: 
- vehicles - $61.1-million
- spare parts - $6.5-million
- tools and equipment, taxes, currency exchange - $7-million
- contingencies - $11-million in contingencies.
Each vehicle has 56 seats and capacity of over 280 passengers.
Production of the new vehicles will begin in 2015 with deliveries beginning in the summer of 2016.
The route approved by Regional Council travels in a mix of on-road and off-road (in various existing rights-of-way) configurations.
- On-road From Conestoga Mall stop in Waterloo, the route follows King Street to Northfield Drive and then Northfield Drive (using its existing bridge to cross the Conestoga Parkway) to the Region-owned rail spurline at Northfield stop.
- Off-road It then follows the Region-owned rail spurline (AKA the Waterloo Spur) from Northfield Drive, passing the R&T Park, University of Waterloo and Seagram stops to Uptown Waterloo, replacing the existing tracks. (This line - currently in use by the Waterloo Central Railway and Goderich-Exeter Railway - will remain open to freight traffic.)
- On-road In Uptown Waterloo, it would split into a one-way system going north on King Street (location of the Waterloo Town Square stop) and south on Caroline Street (Willis Way stop), and along Allen Street to rejoin as a two-way system along King Street past Allen and Grand River Hospital stops. In Downtown Kitchener, the route would split at Victoria stop into a one-way system going north on Duke and Frederick Streets (including Young and Frederick stops) and south on Charles Street (Gaukel and Benton), and back to a two-way system on Charles Street at Benton Street. From downtown Kitchener, the route would follow Charles Street past Cedar and Borden stops, then take a one-way system using Ottawa Street northbound and Borden Street southbound to Mill stop.
- Off-road It then travels two-way along the CN rail right-of-way (alongside existing tracks to allow full freight access), under the Conestoga Parkway in a dedicated tunnel, beside Hayward Avenue, beside Courtland Avenue (past Block Line stop) and through the hydro corridor adjacent to Fairway Road, to Fairview Park Mall stop.
- Off-road From Fairview Park Mall the route then parallels the CPR rail line under Highway 8, over the Grand River, past Sportsworld station, under Highway 401, over the Speed River, to Eagle Street in Preston at Preston station.
- On-road on Eagle Street to Hespeler/Eagle station, then along Hespeler Road past Cambridge Centre and Can-Amera stations to Delta station, and on Water Street into Downtown Cambridge to the Ainslie Terminal station.
Note that 'on-road' sections still keep the trains in dedicated lanes that do not mix with general traffic.
The Region approved a staged implementation plan for its Rapid Transit System:
Stage 1 – Implementation of LRT north of Fairview Park Mall and adapted Bus Rapid Transit south of Fairview Park Mall, including:
- LRT from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener;
- Adapted Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) from Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener to Ainslie Street Terminal in downtown Cambridge
- Re-aligned Grand River Transit (GRT) bus service to provide an expanded level of service to the rapid transit stations along primary feeder corridors;
- Express bus service, modelled after the current iXpress service, to high ridership centres throughout the Region (i.e., Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College etc.);
- Connections to intercity transit such as GO Bus, GO Train, Greyhound and VIA.
The stage 1 route will be 19 kilometres long.
Stage 2 – Completion of a light rail transit system from Fairview Park Mall to the Ainslie Street transit terminal in downtown Cambridge. Commencement of Stage 2 to follow completion of Stage 1 as closely as possible.
Out of the seven groups initially showing an interest in the project, by December 18, 2013, three different consortiums had submitted bids to build the system:
- GrandLinq which includes Plenary Group Canada; Meridiam Infrastructure Waterloo; Aecon; Kiewit; Mass Electric Construction Canada; Keolis; STV Canada Construction; AECOM and CIBC World Markets.
- Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge Transit Partners which included Gracorp Capital Advisors; Connor, Clark & Lunn GVest Traditional; Infrastructure Partnership; Parsons; Graham Infrastructure; IBI Group; E & E Seegmiller; Guild Electric; Alternate Concepts and Investec North America.
- Tricity Transit System which included SNC-Lavalin; EllisDon; Fengate Capital Management; URS Canadian Operations; and Hatch Mott MacDonald.
The winning bid was selected at a committee meeting on March 4, 2014. GrandLinq is the preferred bidder. The final approval of the GrandLinq bid came at a full council meeting on March 19, and financial close was made May 9.
Utility relocation and other associated work began in late 2013. Construction officially started with a groundbreaking event on August 21, 2014.
The first sections of the route scheduled for work are Borden Avenue in Kitchener, and Caroline Street in Waterloo. 
As the Rapid Transit proposal would be Waterloo Region's biggest infrastructure project in its history, the proposal has attracted vocal support and opposition.
In May 2009, a Facebook group named "I Support Light Rail Transit in the Region of Waterloo" was created, and boasted over 1,600 members. Shortly after its creation, the group creator and other LRT supporters formed the "Tri-Cities Transport Action Group" (TriTAG). According to its website, TriTAG supports LRT as a needed method of shaping development, meeting future capacity needs, protecting the environment, and providing the most economical solution for transportation in the Region. Six months after founding, TriTAG launched an email campaign to allow supporters of LRT to email their MPs, MPPs, and other government officials such as the federal and provincial Ministers of Transportation. Within a few days, thousands of emails had been sent. For the 2010 Regional Budget, TriTAG and its supporters presented to the Regional Budget Committee regarding various areas of transportation funding. While the focus was not on LRT, the delegates spoke about the importance of proper transportation infrastructure (pedestrian, cycling, transit) on a successful LRT system. TriTAG has continued their support of the project into the bid stage in 2014; a notable contribution is a video outlining the landmarks and amenities that the route will access.
In opposition to the Rapid Transit proposal is a group called "Taxpayers for Sensible Transit" (T4ST), which was formed in June 2009. According to its website, T4ST opposes LRT as being a proposal too big and too expensive for the region, which will hurt businesses and the local economy. Taxpayers for Sensible Transit did not present a position regarding transportation and transit funding for the 2010 Regional Budget.
In September 2013 Doug Craig, the mayor of Cambridge, Ontario, called for the examining the cost of cancelling the light rail line. He justified this examination due to doubts by Toronto politicians over its light rail line.
On November 19, 2013, it was reported that Craig was working to "extricate" Cambridge from any obligation to pay for the line connecting it to Kitchener, while, at the same time, trying to argue for connecting Cambridge to Toronto, via a GO Train.
The first candidate to announce his run for Mayor of the City of Waterloo in the 2014 election, local media personality Dave MacDonald, is running primarily on an anti-LRT platform.
In March 2014, just as the Region was preparing to give final approval to the construction contract, a group titled "Coalition Stop Waterloo LRT" filed a legal injunction against the project, claiming it did not meet planning guidelines and should be stopped. A court decision on March 18 dismissed the motion, but did not rule out further legal review. It later emerged that the only citizen directly associated with the filing coalition was local businessman Jay Aissa. Ann Tucker of the Ontario Superior Court dismissed the suit on March 19, 2014.
In July, Aissa announced that he was dropping further legal challenges, and instead would take a political option to oppose the project, running against incumbent Regional chairman Ken Seiling. Seiling was re-elected Chairman with 58.4% of the vote.
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- "Waterloo Region's Rapid Transit System to Shape Growth, Development". Metro Magazine. October 13, 2014. Retrieved 2014-10-25.
- Region of Waterloo report E-08-070
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- Barrick, Frances (June 25, 2009). "Region approves rail plan: Council votes 15-1 in favour of bringing electric trains to region". Waterloo Region Record. Archived from the original on 2009-06-27. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
- "Ontario Budget 2008: Chapter I, Section B". Retrieved 2009-07-02.
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- Desmond, Paige (July 11, 2013). "Region approves purchase of Bombardier LRT trains". Waterloo Region Record. Archived from the original on 2013-07-13. Retrieved 2014-10-25.
- Bowen, Douglas John (July 12, 2013). "Waterloo opts for Bombardier LRVs". International Railway Journal. Archived from the original on 2013-07-13. Retrieved 2013-07-13. "The first of the Flexity Freedom LRV are due to be delivered in mid-2016, and will be used on the 19km, 16-station line from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener. The $C 92.4m ($US 89.2m) contract will include an option for 16 additional vehicles."
- "Waterloo Regional Council approves purchase of Bombardier LRT vehicles". The Globe and Mail. July 10, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
- "Home/ION Information/Maps/System". Region of Waterloo Rapid Transit Division. Retrieved 2014-10-25.
- Kieth Barrow (December 18, 2013). "Three bidders vie for Waterloo LRT contract". International Railway Journal. Archived from the original on 2013-12-19. Retrieved 2013-12-18. "THREE consortia have submitted bids to the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario, for the $C 536m ($US 505m) PPP contract to design, build, operate, and maintain the city's first light rail line."
- Lynch, Pat (February 27, 2014). "Why Waterloo Must Embrace Light Rail Transit To Survive". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 2014-02-28. Retrieved 2014-02-28. "In an election year, anything goes: While Waterloo Region council convenes on March 4 to vote on a $550-million contract for the work and materials for the project (which has technically already started), the first candidate to file his nomination papers for October's Waterloo mayoral contest has decided to run on an anti-LRT platform...and he's finding supporters."
- Desmond, Paige (February 28, 2014). "Top LRT bid comes in under budget". Waterloo Region Record. Retrieved 2014-02-28.
- Desmond, Paige (March 20, 2014). "Cambridge won’t get break on share of LRT costs". Waterloo Region Record. Retrieved 2014-03-20.
- "Region finalizes agreement with GrandLinq for ION Stage 1 LRT". Region of Waterloo. Retrieved 2014-05-09.
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- Desmond, Paige. "Caroline, Borden first sites for LRT work". Waterloo Region Record. Retrieved 2014-08-07.
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- "TriTAG". Tri-Cities Transport Action Group.
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- "Tri-Cities Transport Action Group Counters T4ST Misinformation With New Website". Exchange (Waterloo Region): 1. November 6, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-30.
- "TriTAG’s presentation to the Regional budget committee". Tri-Cities Transport Action Group.
- "Budget Committee - November 25, 2009 Public Input Minutes". Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, 150 Frederick Street, Kitchener, Ontario: The Region of Waterloo. 25 November 2009.
- "VIDEO: Where will ION Light Rail Transit take you?". Tri-Cities Transport Action Group. Retrieved 2014-03-09.
- "Main Page - Wiki". Taxpayers for Sensible Transit.
- "Cambridge mayor wants to look at cost of cancelling LRT: Doug Craig favours bus rapid transit". CBC News. August 20, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-16. "While Craig called for examining the cost of the potential cancellation of the LRT, he stopped short of providing what would constitute a reasonable price tag, saying instead that he believed the region could easily opt out of its current plan in favour of something else, even though construction on light rail had already started."
- Martin, Ray (November 19, 2013). "Mayor wants Cambridge exempt from paying for Light Rail Transit in Kitchener, Waterloo". Waterloo Region Record. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
- "Broadcaster to run for Waterloo mayor on anti-LRT platform". CBC News. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
- "Judge dismisses motion to stop LRT construction". CBC News. Retrieved 2014-03-19.
- Grant, Amanda. "Twitter / amandamgrant". Twitter. Retrieved 2014-03-19. "Only Jay Aissa is listed."
- Bowen, Douglas John (March 19, 2014). "Judge dismisses challenge to Waterloo LRT". Railway Magazine. Archived from the original on 2014-03-19. "Ontario Superior Court Judge Ann Tucker rejected a challenge by a businessman to delay the project. Tucker's ruling on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in part noted the plaintiff "is not a ratepayer of this region"."
- Ken Seiling remains Waterloo Region chair, winning by comfortable margin
- Official construction website
- Region of Waterloo - Rapid Transit Home
- Region of Waterloo - Central Transit Corridor Project