The Ion (Stylized ION) is a light rail rapid transit system along a designated transit corridor in Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, Ontario.
Waterloo Regional Council adopted the Regional Growth Management Strategy (RGMS) in June 2003, which discussed future residential and employment growth and how it would be accommodated. Studies recognized the need for the expansion of public transit through land use and transportation policies in addition to road expansion. Rapid transit was seen as a way to support downtown revitalization and control urban sprawl. Funding from the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario provided up to $2.5 million for an environmental assessment (EA). The EA began in January 2006, and phase two of the EA began in August with public consultations the following month.
Light Rail Transit was approved 15-1 by Regional Council on June 24, 2009 as the preferred technology for the region’s rapid transit system, however it would be done in phases since Cambridge does not yet have the demand to support a light rail system.
Phase 1 of the approved route would have LRT between Conestoga Mall Terminal in Waterloo and Fairview Park Terminal in Kitchener. Adapted bus rapid transit would operate between Fairview Park Terminal and the Ainslie Street Transit Terminal in Cambridge. Phase 2 would extend the LRT to the Ainslie Street Transit Terminal.
In September 2010, the federal and provincial government announced up to $265 million and $300 million in funding, respectively. The remaining $235 million will be funded by the region.
Council voted on January 19, 2011 to revisit the rapid transit options. They agreed that residents should be more informed of the options, the positives and negatives of each, and the eventual short-term and long-term cost of implementing each option.
A list of 11 rapid transit proposals was put forth on February 15, 2011. These included full LRT across the region, full BRT across the region, status quo (do nothing), and different combinations of LRT and BRT across the region. Public consultations were held in March, where residents were able to voice their opinions and comments on the rapid transit options.
Results from the consultation showed most residents supported either the initial proposal or full LRT across the region. This was presented to council on April 12, 2011, and in addition to more public consultations later that month, a final vote by council in June resulted in a 9-2 approval of the initial phase-in approach.
In 2012, the Region of Waterloo issued a request for proposals to Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Maintain (DBFOM) Stage 1 of the Ion LRT. Three consortiums were shortlisted by March 2013: Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge Transit Partners (composed of 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 (composed of SNC-Lavalin, EllisDon, Fengate Capital Management, URS Canadian Operations, and Hatch Mott MacDonald), and GrandLinq (composed of Plenary, Meridiam, Aecon, Kiewit, and Keolis). In February 2014, GrandLinq was selected as the preferred consortium.
The ground-breaking ceremony, originally scheduled for June 27, 2014, took place on August 21. The event was held at the site of the Operations, Maintenance and Storage Facility (OMSF) on Dutton Drive in Waterloo. Construction soon began on various parts of the line with completion and service scheduled for late 2017.
Due to production delays of the LRVs, the date for the start of service was pushed to early 2018. As that deadline passed and delays with vehicle delivery and commissioning occurred, it was announced that service would not begin until December 2018. The Region expected the final LRV to be delivered in June 2018. Towards the end of the year, the Region announced the start date for Ion service would now be in the spring of 2019. Delays with LRV delivery and commissioning were still occurring. At the time of the announcement, no vehicles had yet achieved Preliminary Acceptance Certificate (PAC). In addition, three vehicles still needed to be delivered. As of Jan 2019 all vehicles are delivered and one vehicle has achieved PAC.
On May 8, 2019 it was announced that service will launch on June 21, 2019 at 10:30 am from Fairway station. There will be a period of free transit on GRT and ION from launch day to Canada Day.
|Station name||Date opened||Connections||Notes|
|Conestoga||June 21, 2019||GRT: 6, 7, 9, 14, 21, 29, 31, 201, 202|
|Northfield||June 21, 2019||GRT: 9, 19B, 73|
|Research and Technology||June 21, 2019||GRT: 9|
|University of Waterloo||June 21, 2019||GO Transit
GRT: 9, 13, 19, 31, 201, 202
|Laurier-Waterloo Park||June 21, 2019|
|Willis Way||June 21, 2019||GRT: 5, 7|
|Waterloo Public Square||June 21, 2019||GRT: 5, 7|
|Allen||June 21, 2019||GRT: 7|
|Grand River Hospital||June 21, 2019||GRT: 3, 4, 7, 16|
|Central||June 21, 2019||GO Transit
GRT: 6, 7, 18, 20, 34, 204
VIA Rail Canada
|Kitchener City Hall||June 21, 2019||GRT: 8, 20, 34, 204|
|Victoria Park||June 21, 2019||Coach Canada
GRT: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 22, 91, 200, 204
|Frederick||June 21, 2019||GRT: 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 18 , 20, 204|
|Queen||June 21, 2019||GRT: 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 204|
|Kitchener Market||June 21, 2019||GRT: 3|
|Borden||June 21, 2019||GRT: 2, 7, 205|
|Mill||June 21, 2019||GRT: 3, 205||June 21, 2019|
|Block Line||June 21, 2019||GRT: 8, 22, 26, 33, 201||June 21, 2019|
|Fairway||June 21, 2019||GRT: 1, 7, 8, 10, 18, 23, 27, 28, 52, 110|
Under an agreement with the Region, Metrolinx has assigned them an option to purchase up to 28 light rail vehicles (LRVs) under their existing LRV contract with Bombardier for Toronto's LRT network. This lowered procurement costs and reduced the chance of delays. The region approved an order for 14 LRVs with an option to purchase 14 more in the future. Production was expected to start in 2014, with the first vehicle delivered between May and August 2016. Bombardier later advised the Region that the first LRV would not be delivered until December 2016 due to production delays. The first LRV was finally delivered on February 24, 2017 and final LRV delivered Dec 6, 2018. System testing and driver training is currently ongoing.
|501-514||2017-2018||Bombardier||Flexity Freedom||VEM DKCBZ 0211-4TA|
Support and criticism
The Light Rail Transit phasing approval had mixed reactions amongst the residents of Waterloo Region, and was one of the top subjects of debate in the 2010 Municipal Elections.
Support from residents claim that Light Rail Transit would help revitalize the downtown cores of Kitchener and Cambridge, which are currently suffering from decentralization and urban decay, by attracting more businesses to move in. It would also make an already vibrant Uptown Waterloo an even more attractive place to invest. They also say that the current Grand River Transit system is reaching capacity, especially along routes serving major key corridors. Tim Mollison, founder of the group Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG), stated as well Light Rail has greater capacity than buses, is better for the environment since no air pollution will be emitted, is quieter than buses, and is actually lower in cost in the long term, as road expansions would be kept to a minimum. A rally was held on December 5, 2010 in Waterloo Town Square, called Rally For Rails, as a proponent that there is support for Light Rail Transit in the Region of Waterloo. It was organized jointly by TriTAG, Waterloo Students Planning Advisory (WSPA), and Wonderful Waterloo (W2).
Criticism from residents claim that property taxes would rise uncontrollably in order to fund the project due to a shortfall of $235 million, and that it is simply "too big" for a region that has barely 500,000 in population. Ruth Howarth, founder of the group Taxpayers For Sensible Transit (T4ST), claimed that the general public simply does not support such project, and the only people who support it are either students living in the region for 8 months a year, or people living in apartments. John Shortreed, a former professor at the University of Waterloo, said that the forecast employment increase in 2031 is only 25,000, which is less than what is needed to support LRT. Doug Craig, current Mayor of Cambridge, also condemned the project for the fact that Cambridge does not get the benefits of LRT immediately compared to Kitchener-Waterloo, and it would hurt the economy more than help it.
- Grand River Transit, the current transit system serving the Region of Waterloo
- Rapid buses are back on the table, retrieved on 2011-01-19
- Rapid transit options expand to 10, therecord.com, retrieved on 2011-02-15
- Support for light-rail trains gets boost, retrieved on 2011-04-08
- The LRT decision: What regional councillors said, therecord.com, retrieved on 2011-06-16
- Regional Municipality of Waterloo. (10 July 2013). Council Agenda). Kitchener, ON. Retrieved on 31 August 2013.
- Rally For Rails - CTV News December 5, 2010 6PM.wmv, retrieved on 2010-12-06