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Light Rail Transit

LRT

Kitchener-Waterloo has a longstanding, well-earned reputation as a centre of innovation. With some of the largest companies in Canada, offices of tech giants like Google, and a new slew of ambitious startups every year, Kitchener-Waterloo is a hotspot for creative solutions and progressive ideas.
 
So it’s only fitting that such a forward-thinking place should have similarly forward-thinking public transit (or perhaps forward-moving?). The long-awaited LRT will be up and running soon, so WRX Property Group is proud and pleased to unveil its very own article on the subject.

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The What

What is an LRT? LRT stands for Light Rail Transit, and it’s an efficient type of rapid transit for urban areas. The electrically-powered LRV’s (Light Rail Vehicles) will run along light rail lines from Waterloo down to Kitchener; they are elegantly designed, and not very loud – much quieter than a bus, for example.
 
The initial fleet will consist of 14 LRV’s, and each will have 56 seats and room for 144 standing passengers. The frequency at each stop is projected to be around 7.5 minutes on average – twice as fast as the most frequent current offering by the GRT.
 
The Waterloo Region’s LRT network is called ION – this name comes from the Greek Ión, which means ‘going.’ The ION system is similar in some ways to streetcar networks like that found in Toronto.
 
Particularly in the downtown segments of the network, the ION will share the road with traffic – though the ION has its own dedicated lanes. Large sections of the route are on dedicated railway corridors.
 
Edmonton is the first Canadian city to operate an LRT system, and since opening in 1978, it’s been expanded numerous times. Edmonton is often one of the top cities in Canada in terms of economic and population growth, and their LRT has served them well.
 
Kitchener-Waterloo, another city (cities?) on the rise, is in good company.
 

 

The Why

Why does the Waterloo Region need it? In short: because the TriCities are growing rapidly, and they need transportation networks capable of serving large volumes of people quickly, within a large area. Without effective public transportation, the Region would need to invest heavily in new roads to accommodate more vehicles; the cost of these roads would exceed the cost of the LRT itself.
 
The TriCities have shown a tendency to sprawl outwards – new neighbourhoods are great, but it becomes less great when rural parts of the Region, and the farmland that supplies the beloved Kitchener Farmers’ Market, are sacrificed.
 
Furthermore, part of what makes Kitchener-Waterloo great is the contrast between its bustling urban centres, and the distinct beauty of the surrounding countryside. The ION protects both. Additionally, an effective transit corridor is great for investment in real-estate and businesses; homes and businesses near an ION station are likely to see an increase in value.
 
If you’re looking for a property, check out how close it is to an LRT stop (links to maps are near the bottom of this article).
 

 

The Where

For Phase 1, the ION will travel from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo down to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener. Along the way, it passes many of Kitchener-Waterloo’s most popular locations. In Waterloo, the ION has stops by the David Johnston Research and Technology Park; stations for both University of Waterloo (this station also has connections for city buses, Greyhound, and GO) and Wilfrid Laurier University (this station is inside the lovely Waterloo Park); several stops around Uptown (including one by the Shops at Waterloo Square); and several others.
 
In Kitchener, the ION will stop by Grand River Hospital; three secondary schools (Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational Institute, Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute, and St. Mary’s Catholic High School); City Hall, Victoria Park, THEMUSEUM, and the Kitchener Farmers’ Market (and all the other great places in downtown Kitchener); and of course, Fairview Park Mall (the new Fairway Station will serve as both the current terminus of the ION route, and a bus terminal for quite a few GRT bus routes).
 
Also in Kitchener is the King-Victoria Transit Hub (or ‘Central Station-Innovation District’), which has connections to VIA Rail and GO trains, Greyhound, many GRT buses, and more – this will essentially take on part of the Charles Street Terminal’s role as the key location for public transit in Kitchener-Waterloo.
 
In total, this route encompasses 19 kilometers and 19 stations.
 

 
For Phase 2, the current plan is to continue from Fairway Station over to the bustling Sportsworld Crossing (already a major transit hub), and from there into Cambridge. The LRT will run from Preston along Eagle Street North over to Hespeler Road (near the Cambridge SmartCentre); it will then travel down Hespeler Road, past the Cambridge Centre Mall, all the way to the Ainslie Street Transit Terminal (the second of the GRT’s primary terminals) in downtown Galt.
 
That’s the plan, and though there is no concrete date for when construction will be completed (and when it will be running) – an optimistic view would be to suggest the mid- to late-2020’s (ask us again in 2030; as they say, hindsight is 20/20).
 
For the time being, ION-branded BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) will serve this route – this will ensure that, although Cambridge doesn’t yet have the fancy ION electric vehicles, it still has a quick connection to Kitchener.
 
And you can board a bus at the Ainslie Street Transit Terminal (or anywhere else in Cambridge), get a transfer, and just hop onto the ION once you arrive in Kitchener (that’s one of the great things about the one-fare system serving the whole Waterloo Region).
 

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Fare

The LRT (and the BRT) will cost the same as the GRT’s existing services. So as of December 2017, the fare for an adult is $3.25. A cheaper option is buying sets of 5 tickets for $13.80; another convenient option is loading money onto your reusable EasyGO fare card.
 
You can read more about fares (including information on passes) in WRX’s article on the GRT. And to reiterate, you can get a transfer from a standard GRT bus (either regular or iXpress service), and use it within 90 minutes to continue your journey on the ION for no extra charge.
 

 

Maps

There are several maps related to the ION project, and two specific ones that it would be helpful to know. This map shows the ION network on an actual map of the TriCities. The thick blue line represents the Phase 1 route from Waterloo to Kitchener – individual stops are labelled.
 
The thick red line represents both the Phase 2 route (once it’s running) and the interim BRT route – again, individual stops are labelled. The green lines represent planned iXpress bus routes for 2018 (The LRT will improve upon and replace parts of the existing iXpress bus service), and the orange lines represent projected local bus routes.
 
This map, while less geographically accurate, is much easier to read (it’s a ‘schematic map,’ following in the tradition of London’s famous Tube map). Like the other map, the thick blue line represents the Phase 1 route, and the thick red line represents the Phase 2 route (and the BRT).
 

Conclusion

The ION is an exciting new prospect for Kitchener-Waterloo, and a sign that the Region is truly on the rise. It’s the first electrically-powered LRT in Ontario, meaning that the Waterloo Region is doing its part for the environment, while also providing its populace with excellent public transportation.
 
The bustling, accessible urban corridor, and the numerous jobs connected with running and maintaining the ION, will stimulate the economy, and Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge will continue to be great places to live. Hopefully in mid-2018, we’ll all be able to enjoy a smooth ride on the ION.
 
Written by Will Kummer

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