Kitchener-Waterloo Opts For Light Rail & Gets Instant Funding

Kitchener-Waterloo  has been working away at a Rapid Transit plan since 2004, almost entirely out of the Toronto media spotlight, including mine.  (A large amount of background detail can be found in the “Reports” section.)

Earlier this week, on June 24, Waterloo Regional Council approved the line which will be built initially with LRT in the north (KW) end, and BRT to the south in Cambridge.  The first big surprise came Friday in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record who reported that both Ottawa and Queen’s Park were planning to fund the project.  News of this reached me while Toronto Council was wrangling over funding for the purchase of new streetcars.

No sooner had Waterloo approved the LRT line, but local Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear announced that Ottawa would contribute $160-million to the project whose total estimated cost is $790-million.  This took Regional Chair Ken Seiling completely by surprise.  Support also came from Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth who pointed out that this money will come from the “Build Canada Fund”, not the “Stimulus Fund” and therefore the project is not constrained by the latter’s March 2011 cutoff.

Meanwhile, the Liberal MPP for Kitchener, John Milloy, announced that Queen’s Park will provide two-thirds funding for this project.  If you do the math, this leaves Waterloo Region with a comparatively small cost, roughly 1/6 of the total.  The project also has support from local Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer.  Bipartisan enthusiasm for transit is a refreshing change from Toronto where transit projects are used to score political points by the right wing of Council.

I received notes about this project from various readers before writing this article.

Tony Turrittin of Transport 2000 wrote:

Tonight the Waterloo Regional Council overwhelmingly approved the proposed rapid transit plan with a first stage LRT in Waterloo and Kitchener. This basically completes a six year process and its accompanying EA.

Cambridge will get BRT for now, LRT later. Many many Cambridge people are upset about not getting the LRT from the beginning. One councillor from Cambridge stated on June 10 that without LRT, ridership would never build to the level that would justify LRT being extended to Cambridge.

The powers that be in Cambridge were so upset that LRT for them was in the second stage, that they formally opposed LRT even for KW, and they hired Delcan to deliver a report available on the City’s website that argued that BRT was superior to LRT and that the case for LRT made by the EA had not been substantiated! Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. I thought such things only happened in Ottawa.

I am pleased that I was able to help get a group going in KW that helped to push the plan over the top. It was done through a Facebook campaign that resulted in a large majority of deputations at the Region’s June 10 council meeting making the case in favour of LRT, and also getting written support to the Regional Chair by way of letters and e-mails.

This became important because starting about mid-May the KW Record seemed to be grinding out all sorts of anti-LRT content. The next step is for the Region to get funding from the Province and the Feds and to tweak the route plan of the light rail line.

I have not been able to locate the Cambridge BRT study, and if anyone has the URL for it, please leave it in a comment.

John F. Mackay wrote both to me and to spacing magazine:

Dear Steve Munro & the Spacing gang,

I enjoy both of your blogs on transit and (in Spacing’s case) various other Toronto issues. I just wanted to draw your attention to an article in this morning’s Kitchener/Waterloo Record which suggests that a mere two days after the Waterloo Region council approved an LRT line, the federal Conservatives are offering to fund a part of it, with the Council having yet made no applications for funding in the stimulus program or otherwise. Granted, it’s only the local MP’s and not John Baird, but one of them is a cabinet minister making a prepared statement of a kind that this government doesn’t just fire off randomly without central approval.

The article also quotes a Liberal cabinet minister suggesting that Queen’s Park might even pay two thirds even though the usual for them is one third.

I haven’t seen this noted on any Toronto media, mainstream or otherwise, but it seems relevant, given that it casts some doubt on the feds’ claims that they’re refusing to fund our new vehicles not because of any dislike for transit or Toronto but only out of pure love for the integrity of the stimulus application process.

I also wonder whether any of you know whether our vehicles would be eligible for the Building Canada fund mentioned in the article, which seems to have less stringent criteria than the stimulus fund.

Best regards,
John Mackay

P.S. I note, without comment, the following results from the 2008 federal election:

Kitchener Centre
Stephen Woodworth (CON) 36.68%
Karen Redman (LIB) 35.92%
Oz Cole-Arnal (NDP) 18.14%
John Bithell (GRN) 8.50%
Amanda Lamka (IND) 0.48%

Peter Braid (CON) 36.06%
Andrew Telegdi (LIB) 36.03%
Cindy Jacobsen (NDP) 14.73%
Cathy MacLellan (GRN) 12.10%
Jason Cousineau (LTN) 0.55%

As far as I know, BCF money can be used to pay for vehicles which are an integral part of any transit project.

The election results above show clearly that the Tories are vulnerable in KW, and they seem much more responsive to transit projects there (without even a letter of application) than in Toronto.

At this point, there is no word on a vehicle selection for KW.  It will be intriguing to see whether Queen’s Park dictates that the work will go to Thunder Bay as an add-on to Toronto’s Transit City order, or if KW will proceed through its own procurement.

45 thoughts on “Kitchener-Waterloo Opts For Light Rail & Gets Instant Funding

  1. If I am reading this article from the KW Record correctly, the Federal government has *surprised* the KW regional government with a promise of 160 million for public transit.

    It seems the Federal Government has decided to come to the table with funding just a few days after the region had decided on expansion – in political terms this seems to be happening at lightning-fast speed.

    It seems that even the Provincial government has no numbers ready yet and is not sure how much money they will offer.

    So transit funding can be approved in the blink of an eye (in political terms) … elsewhere.

    Cheers, Moaz


  2. Though it is probably too early to know, I wonder if there will be a movement towards defining an “Ontario Standard” LRT car and will each City/system select a different gauge?


  3. Speaking from Ottawa, where it takes City Council 40 years to have an idea and act on it, all I can say is: I. Am. Jealous.


  4. No one except the Cambridge council was surprised that phase 1 runs only from Kitchener to Waterloo. If you look at the geography of the line, the Cambridge portion is going to be much trickier, with multiple new bridges in confined areas, complicated interaction with existing railways service the Toyota plant, and narrow streets climbing steep hills. The Kitchener-Waterloo line is simple by comparison: both central areas have parallel commercial streets that can carry one direction each way, and a substantial portion will be running along an existing lightly used railway that the government already own.

    The project is already ambitious enough without taking on challenges of this sort to serve an area of lower ridership. The Region’s plans for dramatically increased bus service feeding the tramway will be more than adequate for Cambridge’s immediate needs.

    As for the fleet, it isn’t likely to be more than twelve trams, so it would definitely be a good idea for them to be built as an add-on to someone else’s order. Whether that means they’ll come from Thunder Bay, or be built in Europe along with one of the new projects there (Stockholm’s new line, perhaps?) will depend on timing, funding commitments, and the exact features Waterloo authorities consider necessary.


  5. Steve, isn’t this funding for Kitchener-Waterloo LRT almost the exact equivalent of the funding received by Toronto for the Sheppard East LRT? Looks to me like both are 2/3rds provincial; Sheppard got 1/3rd federal from the Build Canada Fund, while KW got 20% federal cash. Both were for the total project cost including vehicles.


  6. The “surprise” federal funding that KW received for this project shows that it pays to be in swing ridings.

    While there will always be people who complain that Toronto gets nothing from a Tory government because they don’t elect Tory MPs, the flip-side is also true: Toronto gets nothing from Liberal governments because they will elect Liberal MPs almost as sure as the sun will rise in the morning.

    When you look at the results (Kitchener Centre 36.68%/35.92% federal and , Kitchener-Waterloo 36.06%36.03%), it is no wonder whoever is in power are so willing to make them happy.


  7. The provincial funding for the KW LRT was already offered during the 2007 Move Ontario announcement. The province was offering 2/3rds coverage, once the region of Waterloo decided what it was they were going to build (LRT or BRT).

    What’s amusing is the speed with which local MP Gary Goodyear announced $160 million in federal funding. How fast was it, you ask? It was _so_ fast that regional chair Ken Seiling basically looked befuddled and said, “but we haven’t even sent you guys a letter, yet!” It had every appearance of Goodyear speaking out of turn.

    Since then, Goodyear has clarified. The $160 million number was based on a 1/3rd payment of an earlier project budget quote (note that the initial LRT price, for a different alignment, was $256 million). The money was already set aside, they claimed. Now that the region has finalized its proposal and has new numbers, the difference will be covered by the Ottawa budget process.

    Much better treatment than Toronto’s streetcars have received (although the Feds still stepped forward for the Sheppard East LRT, didn’t they?). But as Steve notes, two of the four ridings in Waterloo Region were among the closest contested in the last election and have, for the longest time, been held by Liberals (Karen Redman for Kitchener-Centre and Andrew Telegdi for Kitchener-Waterloo). I do suspect the Conservatives are hearing footsteps here.


  8. DavidC: In Toronto it would be counterproductive to build new lines to a different gauge than what already exists (Scarborough RT, indeed…) and there might be some benefits for Mississauga or even York to use TTC gauge for the sake of interoperability, but I don’t think anyone would even consider constructing something other than standard gauge for a new-built system operating in a vacuum.

    I’m not sure an Ontario standard tram is a good idea either – the French version was a success, but the U.S. one much less so. The problem is that not everyone’s requirements are the same; why should Waterloo pay extra for vehicles that can negotiate Toronto’s tight curves?

    Steve: The “standard” car would be based on the Transit City car, not the Toronto car for the “legacy” system. This would not have provision for tight curves, etc.


  9. Steve et. al:

    I don’t have the PDF handy on my current computer, but I’m 99.9% positive that waaaaay back when the very first MoveOntario 2020 announcement came out of the McGuinty government, there was a special “footnote” referencing K-W’s transit amidst the list of 51(?) total projects throughout the GTHA.

    The gist of it was that although K-W didn’t fall into the region and wasn’t going to appear in Metrolinx’s RTP, it was going to qualify for the same “deal” on capital costs that all the other MoveOntario projects were getting, namely the “traditional” 1/3-muni 1/3-prov 1/3-fed cost split would be replaced by a 2/3-prov 1/3-fed structure.


  10. The provincial funding was originally announced as part of Move Ontario 2020 for the “Waterloo Rapid Transit” line. The funding there isn’t really a surprise.

    As someone who lived transit dependent in Cambridge last year, I can tell you that LRT in that city would be complete overkill. Outside of the Hespeler Road route (51), and the iXpress (the express route the LRT line is more/less replacing) there is no heavily traveled route in the city. Add on the fact that there is no bus service after 6pm on a Sunday, and there’s no case at all for LRT, let alone BRT.


  11. Now if only Toronto would get federal funding for its (legacy) streetcars…

    Oh, I know why: Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge all voted Conservative in the 2008 election. The Conservatives didn’t get a single seat in the City of Toronto.

    I guess we will have to wait for the Liberals to take power to get our streetcars…


  12. David Arthur wrote: In Toronto it would be counterproductive to build new lines to a different gauge than what already exists (Scarborough RT, indeed…) and there might be some benefits for Mississauga or even York to use TTC gauge for the sake of interoperability, but I don’t think anyone would even consider constructing something other than standard gauge for a new-built system operating in a vacuum.

    Ok, one more time, and then I will try to avoid boring everybody disproportionately.

    Fast forward 50 or 100 years. Ontario will have numerous LRT systems all over the place, in any place that can reasonably be called a “city” and probably in some towns as well. Many will connect with each other (e.g, Elmira to KW to Cambridge to Hamilton to Burlington to Mississauga to Toronto). All of them will be built to standard gauge, except for a region centred on downtown Toronto which will be at TTC gauge. Somewhere there will be a line around downtown Toronto with TTC gauge inside and standard gauge outside.

    Right now, 2009, is when the following choice will be made: will this line be a small loop around Toronto’s existing legacy streetcar system (probably minus St. Clair, Lakeshore, and Kingston Road), or will it be a huge loop around all of the City of Toronto plus portions of adjacent municipalities? Will the interface across which vehicles cannot travel or be interlined be a quirk of downtown Toronto, or a major factor in route design across much of the GTA?

    It pains me to say this, but the best thing that could happen (long-term) for transit right now would be for Transit City to get mired down in politics for 5 years while MIssissauga, Pickering, and York Region somehow build LRT lines, at standard gauge, connecting to the TTC subway (no, I don’t know how Toronto could get mired while those three jurisdictions make huge progress in the next couple of years—this is a thought experiment). Then when Toronto’s process picked up again, it would be obvious to everybody that interconnection with every surrounding city is more important than interconnection with the comparatively minuscule existing network.

    Steve: In 100 years, there will be nothing but swan boats, and gauge will be immaterial. Meanwhile, building in Toronto is not going to be mired in politics, and we will actually get something done while the 905 agonizes over the need to give up road space to transit.


  13. Isaac: I agree that gauge incompatibilities are annoying, and we certainly don’t want a situation like Australia, where passengers used to have to change trains every time they crossed a state border. (This was resolved only by running cumbersome dual-gauge tracks into most of the country’s major cities, so that standard-gauge intercity trains could co-exist with broad gauge in Melbourne and Adelaide, and narrow in Brisbane and Perth.)

    However, I’m not sure the issue would be that great in Ontario. Yes, interlining between Toronto and Mississauga/York/Durham would probably make sense, but if people are travelling from Waterloo to Toronto – or even to Hamilton – I doubt they’ll want to do it on a local tram: that’s GO’s job.


  14. My take on it is that the real interurban connections in Ontario will be rare enough that we might as well make everything connecting directly to the TTC use TTC gauge. That would leave Waterloo and Hamilton in standard gauge, and possibly create an eventual gauge conflict in Hamilton or Burlington, but I really don’t see that happening anywhere else in the next 100 years.


  15. You asked for a link to the Cambridge study. Here it is:

    Many of its criticisms were debunked at the June 24 council meeting by a fellow from the firm that put together the MAE. As far as I know, that presentation isn’t available online.

    Steve: Many thanks for this link. It’s always good to know what the “other side” is doing. The same arguments come back again and again.


  16. Good for K-W! It’s a great city, but it’s suffering it’s from sprawl (although it’s nothing compared to the GTA). The LRT is a good step in changing it’s development pattern to up instead of out.


  17. Steve said: “Steve: In 100 years, there will be nothing but swan boats, and gauge will be immaterial.”
    Oh yeah? How wide a canal? Left wing or right wing operation? Salt-water or fresh-water?
    If something can be politicized, it will.


  18. W. K. Lis said:

    What species of swan?

    Mute, Black, Black-necked, Whooper, Trumpeter, Tundra?

    but selective induction assures me that black swans do not exist…

    Steve: As you may recall, the Black or “Stealth” Swans have military applications. Have you heard of the War on Cars?


  19. Having worked for the province, I can say that meetings were taking place between Waterloo and the province since 2004. The region has a really good growth management plan that the province liked and now that both senior governments are throwing billions around like candy, this is a good project to fund. That being said, I recall that the ridership numbers to Cambridge did not justify LRT on any rational level, so I think the current plan is a good one. Also, the dollars numbers are more than double what I recall so, they must be getting a rather posh system, since I can’t believe that construction dollars would have doubled now that we are in the Great Recession (unless thay are like Toronto real estate prices…).


  20. I wondered about the increase as well. The initial price tag, if I recall correctly, was pegged at $256 million, but I think that was for a pretty bare-bones system that, among other things, hugged the Waterloo railway corridor and terminated at the St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market rather than the more sensible Conestoga Mall

    There have been a number of changes since then, including

    The addition of BRT to Cambridge ($80 million)
    A realignment at the southern end. Although this might have ended up saving money. Initially, they were going to head down King Street and Highway 8 (somehow) to Fairway, possibly by closing the Kingsway (a 2-lane road) to traffic and putting the tracks there. Instead, the tracks turn at Ottawa, head to Mill Street, and use a railway right-of-way to head down to Fairway Mall.
    A tunnel beneath the railroad tracks from Breithaupt to past Victoria (on Charles Street), likely with an underground station at Victoria, and combined with a railway underpass for King Street. Now, this area was always going to be tricky. The initial proposal also called for a hop over to Charles Street, and an underground station to get beneath the railway tracks, possibly connected with a convention centre. The convention centre is gone. In its place is a transit terminal linked up with a new railway station for VIA service and future GO service. But I suspect the proposal is getting more ambitious here. Also, the Region is planning to widen a bottleneck section of Weber Street a few blocks over, to accept traffic that’s likely to be diverted by the LRT. Could this project (which includes property expropriations) be included in the costs?
    A route from the Waterloo railroad right-of-way to Conestoga Mall instead of the Farmers’ Market, likely via Northfield Drive instead of a more direct (but possibly developed) Hydro right-of-way.
    More cars. Service is expected to be every 7.5 minutes. I’m not sure if this is the rush-hour maximum or base service, but my impression is that planners note that the RT is useless if people end up waiting around at stops too long.

    Also noted was the initial operating cost of the LRT is expected to be $11 million per year (not covered by provincial or federal subsidy), which suggests that they know they will be operating a lot of surplus capacity so that the service is _there_, enabling the region to grow into it, so to speak.


  21. Matt G, selective induction may *tell* you that Black Swans don’t exist, but a google search will show you differently.

    The public at large aren’t supposed to know too much but I can tell you that I’ve personally seen black swans on black ops in Pakistan during the 1980s…They were responsible for some very extraordinary activities.

    By the way, Steve, according to an unnamed source, TSBC (Toronto Swan Boat Co.) will use black swans for security operations and intelligence gathering, especially in the ongoing war against pellet fraud.

    Cheers, Moaz


  22. Matt G,
    black swans are native to Australia.

    great website! I’m a regular reader but being Downunder have little to contribute.



  23. Dave Lee,

    Ah, but [not] having seen Australia either, how do I know it exists?

    Steve: I have personally seen black swans in Stratford, but they may be halucinations brought on through too much theatre.


  24. I wonder if it would make sense to consider using the same gauge as standard train tracks so that LRTs can be run into the hinterland (pending resolution fo FRA compliance issues and/or time separation or outright purchase of tracks). Tram-trains are common in Europe, especially to link smaller cities to their hinterland.


  25. NCarlson suggested not using TTC gauge because there will not be conflicts, in his opinion, in 100 years. IMHO that is short sighted.

    Frankly, I’d like to see Transit City built using standard gauge. If that cannot be done, then build all LRT that might one day, ever, hook up to the TTC, as TTC gauge.

    Also, does anyone know how this one-lane BRT is supposed to work in downtown Cambridge? Seems like a recipe for disaster to me.


  26. Ottawa has a couple of black swans. Along with the white swans, they are descendants of the original swans gifted to the City by Queen Elisabeth II. They are only placed into service along the Rideau River during the Summer, though, and as such are more reliable than the O-Train!!!


  27. Enjoyed Steve’s article and the posts. Compare Toronto’s bungling of the Stimulus Fund request-ineligible and then a Miller led reversal to fund eligible projects at the last minute with the K-W approach. It’s funfair to say the Feds are mistreating Toronto but given the idealogical ineptitiude of the present majority on Toronto City Council why shouldn’t they be held to account? It’s easy to blame other levels of government but Toronto’s current rulers are the source of the problem.

    Steve: When Toronto proposed that the streetcar order be its stimulus “ask” from Ottawa, there was no indication that this would be refused. Then Ottawa started playing politics and apparently changed their mind. This point has been repeatedly made by Mayor Miller and others, but seems to be lost in the shuffle, especially by those who prefer to paint the current Council is incompetent. If there is an ideological ineptitude, it lies at least as much in Ottawa as Toronto.


  28. Nick: The plan calls for the eventual tramway to Cambridge (when it’s built) to have a short single-track section in the central area of Galt, where space is tight; signals would keep multiple vehicles from running in opposite directions, as they do for the O-Train and on single-track railways around the world. I believe the interim bus system, however, is more about signal priority, special platforms, and queue-jumping provisions rather than lengthy bus lanes.


  29. Matt G,

    does Toronto exist if I can’t see it? I was there when I last looked – a regrettably long time ago. So was K-W and I hope to visit again in a couple of years. Hopefully the LRT will be running there, if not on Eglinton…



  30. I wonder how many Ontario cities would end up with tramlines if we adopted the policies of French cities? I note Tours is the latest, which has a population of 142,000 (city) 298,000 metro, and some of that will be catenary-free for heritage reasons, which means it won’t be cheap.


  31. The parsimonious Tories fail to understand that many a TTC rider resides in a Conservative-held riding. Whether those riders are of a mindset to vote federally based on transit is unknown. With hindsight, one might suggest Toronto could have attempted to present a unified front with surrounding municipalities on this. The case should still be made to outlying commuters that they have an interest in federal-Toronto transit policy/funding and may wish to bear that in mind when the next election rolls around.


  32. Mark: France, of course, has the benefit of density (so that it’s a lot easier to serve a city of 142,000 there than here), but what distinguishes it even from other European countries is that some years ago, the government instituted a dedicated local payroll tax that councils can introduce to pay for public transport schemes. That’s how all these relatively small cities are able to afford tramways and in some cases even full metros without having to beg for special support from the national government.


  33. Ancillary factors in the French drive to trams and high speed trains are the abundant supply of nuclear energy and Alstom as a “national champion”. We’ll have to see if Bombardier’s expansion in TB and Hydro-Quebec’s interest in rail electrification will kick off a similar drive in Eastern Canada.


  34. David, you hit the nail on the head. The fundamental problem facing Canadian cities relative to their European (and even American) counterparts is their constrained revenue base. Almost every major city has access to a share of sales tax, income tax, payroll tax or a long term, reliable, revenue stream from higher orders of government. With our system, so much energy is wasted begging and bickering.


  35. Just like the sales of fighter jets to the US Air Force being subsidized by sales to foreign counties, the unit cost of the Bombardier cars built in T-Bay would be reduced by sales to other users. I hope that both levels of governments are pushing that option. I don’t know how complex in an engineering sense building 2 different gauges would be but I bet it would be expensive enough to lobby K-W and others to adopt the TTC gauge so there is only one.

    Steve: Actually, different gauges, provided that they are close (as TTC and standard gauge are), do not present too much of a problem. Don’t forget that the Flexity cars are already produced for standard gauge systems elsewhere and this does not have to be reinvented. It’s the TTC cars that are “special”.

    As to Mr. Miller’s handling of the contract and funding – I think he managed to finesse both the City Council and the Feds. Some of the projects being cancelled to finance the rolling stock might end up being financed by the Stimulus. Wouldn’t that be the same thing as the Feds using stimulus money for the rolling stock?

    Steve: Some of those “cancellations” are projects far enough in the future that budgets, by then, will be unrecognizable from today’s viewpoint. A few of the projects (notably Eglinton terminal) are suspect anyhow because the Eglinton LRT eliminates the need for a big terminal. This is mainly an accounting exercise to let both governments claim that they have held to their positions.


  36. Bully for KW. Interested to see how this ends up — an electric system that links cities like Bayonne/Jersey City/Hoboken/Weekhawken perhaps? A sometimes-single-track, more-rural diesel set like the RiverLINE in Camden-Trenton? Something more continuously dense like a big-city LRT (Phoenix, Charlotte, Houston, Minneapolis starter segments)?

    Very exciting, especially as a model for other cities (Hamilton, London).


  37. uSkyscraper: The initial phase that we’re talking about here will run entirely through Kitchener and Waterloo, which form a continuous urban area. Some of it will go through low-density industrial space (which the Region hopes to re-develop in future), but never anything you could call rural. If the Cambridge phase goes ahead, it will run through a brief gap that feels somewhat country-ish, but not enough to turn this into an ‘intercity’ service.

    As for technology, the plan is definitely electric, and I don’t believe single-track is intended except on the final approach to the eventual Cambridge terminus, where the problem is limited space rather than low density. If you want U.S. comparisons, the planners seem to enjoy talking about Portland – for me, Nottingham seems a bit more relevant.


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