I just spent a couple of days in Edmonton attending a workshop at NAIT. In this time I used the ETS LRT a few times, and wanted to share my thoughts on the experience and how it compares to Calgary's system.
What Edmonton Does Better
There has obviously been a lot of care and attention to detail in how the ETS LRT operates. From 3-car trains that stop in the middle of the platforms to door tones and announcements that are carefully planned, to consistent seating layouts between the SD-160 and U2 fleets, kudos to the operations management of Edmonton's system. Calgary's polyglot of models has clearly caused some operational inefficiencies to crop up.
Edmonton's U2 fleet is of course fantastic. Aside from a few visible places such as the interior door buttons, you'd never know those cars are older than Calgary's. Despite the questionable wallpaper, it's almost easy to forget if you're riding a U2 or an SD-160.
The underground stations also obviously had some architectual love given to them, though they are clearly aging.
Security guards present on the platforms is a welcome sight.
And I now have a full appreciation for the educational infrastructure in Edmonton. Being able to access South Campus, Health Sciences, University, and NAIT stations all from a single LRT line is pretty fantastic.
And while the Ctrain crosses the Bow much like ETS crosses the North Saskatchewan, I gotta give better style points for the Edmonton experience! 😁
Obviously both cities operate very similar rolling stock. I think the overall experience inside the trains themselves is a wash. A U2 is a U2, though Edmonton's are obviously nicer. But the shared seating layout across both generations of train is not optimal for accessibility. People grouse about Calgary's Series 8 and 9 seating, but they offer clearly superior mobility/stroller accessibility and better overall passenger flow.
Both systems sorely need to be extended to serve their respective airports, though that's coming!
Cleanliness and repair across the infrastructure is pretty comparable. With similar weather I'm sure it's hard keeping everything maintained and clean in these winters. Edmonton's underground stations have a lot of expensive escalators to maintain.
What Calgary Does Better
I'm probably going to get a fair amount of disagreement here, but I don't like all the underground stations. While clearly safer overall, they are more difficult to access and can take a significant amount of time, especially if you're considering a short trip. In particular, University station is quite a journey (I got off here and walked around a bit), and cellular reception suffers. I think Calgary's open-air 7th Avenue corridor and hop-on, hop-off free-fare zone offers some significant advantages over Edmonton's subway, and its largely at-grade system is better overall in terms of passenger comfort - a ride with a view is much better than one without. Spending 4 days commuting on the DC Metro before this trip only reinforces this belief.
The new northbound Metro line leaving downtown... well it's almost hard to justify using it, particularly during off-peak times. The distance between stations is so short, the average speed is so low, and the frequency is so... well... infrequent, that it genuinely feels like you can get downtown faster on a bus, or even biking on a nice day. All of Calgary's lines keep a decent speed and extend virtually to the edge of city limits.
The overall reach of the system seems more limited than Calgary, but I chalk that up to Edmonton simply being a smaller city overall, and there are a lot of big plans for the future, including the Valley Line.
In spite of all their operational issues, I think Calgary's Series 9 trains are a step above the 160s. Minus points for overall seating comfort, but big pluses for universal accessibility, interior space, HVAC, and plain old cool factor.
Finally, my first experience was soured a bit as I finished my first day at NAIT and approached the platform, only to realize I had no way of paying for a fare. Having arrived from Calgary that morning on the Red Arrow and an Uber, and not being a habitual cash-carrier, I was simply stuck there standing on the platform in a bit of disbelief, and a $3.50 LRT ride turned into a $13 Uber fare to my hotel. I understand that there are cost savings to consider here, and Edmontonians are used to this, but as a business traveler I was a little put off.
I'm happy to see more money coming from various levels of government for transit projects, and hopeful that some will be invested in both our great cities LRT systems. We both have growth aspirations and operational challenges to face. I'm happy where I live, and I see the potential in Edmonton as well.
Thanks for reading!