MoveOntario 2020 : The Hamilton Section

This is a new thread set up to hold discussions about the proposed Hamilton rapid transit lines.  Here are a few comments that came in recently.

Matt G writes:

Re: Hamilton Mountain LRT

How will contemporary LR vehicles handle the grades on (I’m assuming) Claremont Access?

Dennis Rankin sends in a recent article:

Hi Steve:-

If you subscribe already, then sorry I’ve sent this item to you again, but if you don’t you may have a mild interest in this article from the MassTransit magazine’s e-mailed June 19th Newsletter.

Dennis Rankin

Titled:- Better Access ‘boon’ to Hamilton,

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger says the provincial government’s promise to create new rapid-transit bus routes across Hamilton and bring more, faster and cleaner GO train service from Toronto has the potential to transform the city, both economically and environmentally.

The sweeping proposal for a $17.5-billion, 12-year provincial-federal transit investment across the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton has yet to be approved by the federal government, which would pay one-third of the cost.

But if it comes to fruition, it could make Hamilton a more attractive place to live and work, while also making it more sustainable, the mayor said.

The greatest benefits could be to the central lower city, which is home to the GO terminal, and is also where new east-west and north-south rapid transit city bus lines would meet, likely near King and James streets.

Better access to transit would attract more commuters and be a shot in the arm for major local projects now in various stages of development in or near downtown, the mayor said. These include the McMaster Innovation Park, the David Braley Cardiac, Vascular and Stroke Research Institute and the Lister Block.

“It’s a critical thing for Hamilton right now,” Eisenberger said. “It’s going to make downtown a livable alternative for people who are working in other places. It’s going to be a great boon for us.”

The plan also offers a fresh alternative to previous thinking that saw building more roads as the best way to move more people, Eisenberger said.

“I think it signals that public transit is on top of the priority list in terms of how we grow our communities,” he said. “This is a fundamental shift in how our communities are going to develop and grow in a very positive way.”

But the plan comes with a catch: there is no guarantee any of it will happen if the McGuinty Liberals aren’t re-elected in October.

And even if they are returned to office, there’s no way to be sure they will even keep their promise, warns Hamilton East New Democrat Andrea Horwath.

“From my perspective, it’s a big, huge election promise that people can’t really trust,” she said. “We’ve seen what happens to McGuinty election promises over the last four years. They go the way of the dodo bird.”

Horwath, like others, wondered why transit has become such a priority so late in the government’s term.

“I think the proposal has merit in terms of goals and what needs to happen, generally speaking,” she said. “But what people need to do is measure that against the timing, in terms of the government having done basically nothing on the transit file in the past four years.”

Eisenberger said he learned of the announcement only yesterday morning, though he said it wasn’t surprising that the Greater Toronto Transit Authority — which includes Hamilton — would finally end up with the money to fulfil its mandate. Eisenberger sits on the board of the GTTA, which is led by former Burlington mayor Rob MacIsaac.

Though the transit proposal is vulnerable to a Liberal defeat in the Oct. 10 election, the mayor said no matter what happens, the announcement alone makes transit a top election issue for all parties.

McMaster University political scientist Henry Jacek said the Liberals are vulnerable to claims that they have been too slow to embrace transit, but that voters might simply say it’s better late than never.

“Sometimes good policy planning and good politics come together,” Jacek said . “This may be one of those times.”

The provincial plan could give Hamilton the chance to make transit more attractive than driving — the critical step in getting people out of cars — said Thom Oommen, sustainable transportation co-ordinator for the nonprofit environmental group Green Venture.

“People in governments are getting it now — that transit really needs to be a strong part of future directions,” he said. “It’s nice to see that Hamilton is going to be getting some attention from the province.”

Hamilton’s manager of public works Scott Stewart said the proposals fall in line with Hamilton’s existing plans to develop rapid bus-transit corridors, and could allow the city to do more and do it sooner.

“It’s all in the right direction in terms of a sustainable city and a prosperous city as well,” Stewart said. “It allows you to dream a little.”

Stewart said the city is expecting details next week on how much money would be available. He anticipates it would go to dedicated bus lanes or more buses.

Marcel Plug wrote:

Is there a website link that anyone can point me to about information on the Hamilton LRT projects. I used to live there and I am very curious to learn more about it.

Thanks in advance


(Great site Steve, been lurking here for about 6 months now)

Thanks, Marcel.

From the comments in the long article above, it looks like “rapid transit” in Hamilton means more buses for now, not LRT.  That answers the question about getting up Hamilton Mountain.

(A funicular with Swan Boats would have been nice, but that’s too much to hope for.)

19 thoughts on “MoveOntario 2020 : The Hamilton Section

  1. The most recent document regarding rapid transit in Hamilton is the Hamilton Transportation Master Plan, the final report was released in May.

    The section of most interest to this discussion is the Higher Order Transit Network Strategy

    Click to access 2HigherOrderTransitStrategy.pdf

    The recommendations can be summed up in three letters: BRT.


  2. Hi Steve and Matt G;-

    Not sure what the gradient is climbing Hamilton Mountain, (Anyone actually know Hamilton’s rate of rise for their mountain accesses?) but Pittsburg Railways had a suburban route (read paved in the street as in regular streetcars, but in a residential community outside of the main Burg) that was on a 14% grade. That line was serviced by PCCs in the latter years and I’m unsure if it was assigned high floors or Jones lightweights before the PCC (None would likely have had greater than 160 hp combined in their 4 motors). Surely contemporary, electronically controlled modern cars can perform on similar hills and most certainly if all trucks have motors.

    If memory serves, one of the present day LRT/streetcar manufacturers has noted in their technical specs, 8% capable and I believe this is without all trucks powered. Hamilton’s civil engineers may even be able to shoehorn in some spiral loops on their own rights of way to take the track up a more shallow gradient ala the Darjeeling Himalayan’s still active engineering marvels built over 100 years ago ‘to climb to the heavens’!

    But, since Hamilton seems to be contemplating buses vs. LRT, then hope above hope, could they actually be considering trolley coaches, for San Francisco and Seattle by example, have continued to embrace this technology because of the vehicles inherent ability to climb steep grades due to the efficiency of their power plants. For a line like this where you would have a number of captive vehicles anyways, I’m thinkin’ that this could make buckets of sense for Hamilton’s needs.

    Too, modern dual mode (straight electric/diesel electric), with off wire service capabilities could give the opportunity to access the barns without the myriad of costly special work over the ladders. Also diverting from the trunk BRT r.o.w. out along suburban branches could be done extremely effectively. Even antique hybrids as Newark, NJ’s once large fleet had been, would fill this technological bill more than adequately. Those vehicles didn’t require the motorman to leave the bus to hook down or wire the poles at interchage points for the off wire to wire or vice versa portions of the trip, for there was the ability to do this procedure from the comfort of the operator’s seat.

    Dennis Rankin

    Steve: Should I mention that Hamilton lost its trolleybus system to the same Natural Gas Bus scheme that doomed the Toronto system?

    In Pittsburgh, the cars running on the very steep grades of 21 Fineview had special heavy-duty motors.


  3. I am going make a counter-proposal to Steve Munro’s Swan Boat proposal.

    At one point, I was puzzled as to why Hamilton’s trolley bus routes never climbed the escarpment, where the ETBs have a significant advantage over conventional diesel buses in hill climbing, though I understood that the curves were tight, which would lead to dangerous dewirements. Also, of course, the 4 original trolley bus routes (4-Burlington was dieselized early) represented the last of the HSR streetcar routes to be abandoned.

    The Hamilton Electric Bus Way will revive electric trolley bus service to the City of Hamilton and solve the dewirement issue presented by utilizing overhead electric power for faster climbs. For a short section, the buses will run in a guided busway, while recieving electic power to quickly run up the hill. The guided trolleybusway will keep buses from dewirements and provide a safety measure if they do. At the top of the mountain, where the various mountain routes diverge, these latest-generation buses could switch to diesel mode.

    I’d call it Canada’s first guided electric busway, but Montreal’s Metro might challenge this claim.

    Steve: Vancouver trolley buses manage to climb hills with curves without benefit of a guided busway. The problem with tight curves in the old days was the way the overhead was designed. Modern overhead handles full speed operation through curves without problems.

    But the Swan Boats would make a nicer post card.


  4. I wonder if the old ICTS plan to dig a new tunnel through the escarpment might come back. It’s expensive, but it did make sense then, and more so now. Even if it was done with guided busses, this gets a transit only route up the mountain at less cost and disruption than a new road. It is worth pointing out that for all the criticism that plan got, this is pretty much the same thing (although I do admit elevating it downtown probably was the wrong way to go).


  5. Sean M.: I could be wrong, but I could swear there used to be trolly buses that went up the Jolly Cut (Trolly Jolly?). I was pretty young when all of that disappeared though.


  6. I don’t know how the grades compare but I do believe St. Catharines had a streetcar that went up the escarpment to Thorold. They did this in the early 1900’s so I don’t think it would be that big of an engineering hurdle to construct one with today’s technology in Hamilton.


  7. BRT in Hamilton — phooey. When they said rapid transit, I thought they were getting a subway … or at least some kind of rail line.


  8. After spending some time analyzing the MoveOntario 2020 plans, and the weekend media coverage of the event, it is clear to me there are two major omissions from MoveOntario 2020. MoveOntario proposes billions in transit improvements, wether Commuter (Go transit), light rail (intra-city transit), Subway, or dedicated busways (York Region’s VIVA for example) and HOV.

    The two major omissions:

    * Of course, the lack of Waterloo Region/Guelph/Acton (Halton Hills) GO transit expansion. While the Waterloo region LRT will be funded 2/3 by Ontario, and possibly 1/3 by Federal (leaving the Waterloo region taxpayers off the hook in a sense) there is an incredible disconnect here. How do you expect Waterloo region residents to give up one or two cars in order to switch to what SHOULD be a viable public transit system, when the only way to get in and out of the region is by car or bus? There is an incredible lack of vision on this part that no one seems to have picked up on, at least in Government. Are you listening?

    Give people reliable methods to get in and out of the Region and you will see more give up their vehicle, and reduce emissions as is apparently the reason behind these transit investments.

    * Number two: Niagara region. the Niagara region is also a fast growing part of Ontario, and is frequently being seen as one of the last unspoiled parts of Ontario that have not been levelled with urban sprawl. Having said that, there are plenty of persons finding their homestead in that region only to join the throngs of commuters on the QEW into Toronto. Fast becoming a commuter area, with very little public transit to speak of. Adding more VIA Rail service to Niagara, HOV lanes, or GO service to East Hamilton (Stoney Creek) would be a great start.

    The largest suprise in my opinion is annoucements of a rapid transit system for Hamilton. I grew up in Hamilton and it is a city that loves their cars. In 1988-1991 Canadian National Railway gave up a railway corridor that snakes through the heart of the city, passing really close to the Hunter Street (Downtown) GO Train station, running up the escarpment to Hamilton Mountain. This is a perfect opportunity to consider redeveloping this corridor into a LRT rapid transit solution for Hamilton, which would connect to the existing GO service, Hamilton Street Railway (bus service) and possibly the above-mentioned future East end Hamilton GO service. I will be following this closely.

    My opinion on MoveOntario 2020 is very positive — it illustrates most of the public transit ‘wishlists’ that surround and include Toronto, many of which have been discussed by the likes of us over the last 20 to 40 years. However, I am still mystified by the lack of inclusion of Waterloo Region/Guelph and Niagara. you’d think after the North Municipal Mainline Alliance has been lobbying goverment for support it would be on their radar.

    Steve: The line up Hamilton Mountain is now a rather narrow pedestrian trail. I remember riding steam train excursions up that track, and I’m not sure you could fit a decent two-track LRT in the right-of-way.


  9. Steve, more importantly, the path (that’s what it is now) up the Mountain doesn’t go where people would want to go, ie., doesn’t provide a direct link up and down the hill connecting the downtown to the Upper James Street / Upper Wentworth Street corridors on the mountain. It climbs the Mountain in a long and leisurely way, finally reaching the top somewhere around the boondocks of Mohawk and Upper Kenilworth (no offense to those living there). Some of it has been incorporated into the Bruce Trail.

    I am pretty sure there was never any trolley service up the Jolley Cut. It’s always been diesel buses. Some form of electrically-powered trolley would appear to be quite feasible, however. It could either proceed up the Jolley Cut, or (as appears to be shown on the “2020” map) proceed from James Street in the lower city, up the hill to West 5th Street (serving Mohawk College) and then cutting east a few blocks at some point (Fennell Avenue?) to Upper James, before turning south again.


  10. Does anyone know if this LRT route is going to serve the Hamilton International Airport? It would be interesting if Hamilton got rapid transit to their airport before Pearson airport got a line.

    Steve: The map that is part of the announcement doesn’t appear to serve the airport, and there is no mention of this in the text.


  11. Hi Steve and George S:-

    Somewhere I read that the intended initial line end on the mountain would be around Stone Church Road.

    Dennis Rankin


  12. The Rapid Transit Plan endorsed a routing up James Mountain Road from James street to West 5th Street in order to serve Mohawk College. Then it will travel west on Fennel 1 Block to Upper James where it will travel south to Rymal Avenue near the Old City Limits.

    However there is hope that at least the East West Link will be LRT. The Mayor is part of a Facebook (yes our mayor has a facebook account that he started during the election) group LRT for Hamilton NOW.

    The Local newspaper (The Spectator) also called for LRT in it’s editorial.


  13. In a belated response to Steve Host, I would like to say the following: If you work in Toronto, please do not live in Niagara or Waterloo. Or vice-versa.

    Do these growing cities deserve to be bedroom towns for Toronto? I don’t think so. They should strive to have their own centres and be self sufficient.

    And if you must make the 100 km + daily commute, do it on your own dime. The government shouldn’t be on the hook to subsidize such an unsustainable lifestyle.


  14. In response to Luke – what about those of us who live and work in one centre – but have to travel frequently on business to another? Posted at 6:30 AM from Toronto where I live and work while I prepare to start my weekly drive to Kitchener on business … where I will meet with people who have driven from Guelph, Barrie, and Buffalo.

    It would be nice to have options other than driving.


  15. Nicholas, I am in the same position but that is a case for increasing VIA service to K-W for interurban transit (and improving the line west of Georgetown). The cost of the VIA service should be commensurate with occasional rather than commuter fares.

    There is the bus of course – but then we get into the disgrace that is the Toronto Bus Terminal, a throughly depressing way to arrive at the Great City of Toronto.


  16. Cost should indeed be commensurate. At the the standard mileage rate of 44 ¢/km, most employers would already be paying out over $50 for each one-way trip! By comparison the current advance purchase VIA fare of $17 is peanuts. The closest comparable GO fare is Guelph to Toronto which is $11.05 full fare (which compares favourably to the $15 discounted VIA fare for the same distance).

    But we really need a regional system for more than just KW. London, Hamilton, Brantford, Barrie, St. Catharines, etc. Frequent hourly or better trains in each direction. The number of people on the 400-series highways certainly calls for it. And 44 ¢/km may be above marginal costs, but I’ve ran my own car expenses for the last 3 years when I was having to pay my own mileage and claim expenses – and I averaged about 22 ¢/km to 26 ¢/km which still makes the Toronto-Kitchener trip about $50 return.

    I’d love to be able to take a train – similiar to how you see people travelling on business in Europe. Even if it took an half-hour longer, it would be so much less stressful, no weather, no traffic – and I could sit and work, read, or sleep.

    Sigh, 1 AM now and about to take the drive home to Toronto (had there been a train, I’d have caught the 10 pm late train, and got 3 hours extra work done on the train, and ended up in the same place, but with more sleep, and less gas burned.)


  17. Well yes, we would all love to have a train going where we want, when we want. Do you honestly think there are enough people commuting from Toronto to Kitchener at 6:30 AM to run a train with an affordable ticket price?

    While I sympathize with you, sending an empty locomotive is no better than having those 5 cars on the highway. This is a business expense, and the taxpayers have no obligation to subsidize it.

    As mentioned earlier, this is a job for Via rail, not commuter rail.


  18. Luke said: “As mentioned earlier, this is a job for Via rail, not commuter rail.”

    Right, which is why we should not lose sight of VIA in the ongoing battle to get commitment to public transit funding from Ottawa. They leave VIA to scrape by on a shoestring (at least not they’re not cutting it), and don’t grant it the autonomy to improve or add service significantly, unlike other Crown Corporations. Anything VIA wants to do has to be approved by the government, so without the ability to implement any improvements, we can’t expect much change here. VIA needs to be made part of the overall integrated transportation strategy for southern Ontario for intermediate distance travel, and yes, commuting. Not every VIA train has to have a big P42 and four or five coaches. In the past, some trains were operated with a single or two-car train of Budd RDCs, which were more suited to the demand level. If VIA were not hampered in making autonomous business decisions, we might actually see some improvements using this type of flexible equipment. Budd RDCs may not be the best choice (and there aren’t too many to be bought these days), but modern equivalents could be found.


  19. Simply adding such a train with the current system would certainly lead to an empty train. You also need decent transportation networks on each side, and road pricing that reflects reality rather than the current system.

    Looking at the 401, there is certainly enough traffic in both directions to support these type of routes. You certainly see services like this in European cities with similiar populations and discances.

    However, it’s not, and shouldn’t be, a priority. Start with the TTC, existing GO, and GRT issues.


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