proposed rail transit for Gatineau west end including rail across Portage Bridge

Gatineau is in a multi-stage process to study a system for transit in the west end of the city, and ultimately recommend which system to implement.  I have written previously about the initial report in proposed Gatineau west-end rail project.

In French this project is called un système de transport collectif structurant dans l’ouest de la ville de Gatineau. This doesn’t translate exactly to English because of the concept of “structured transit”; basically it means something like an organised, primary system of transit for the west end of Gatineau.

Note that this system is nowhere near being funded and approved yet.

UPDATE 2020-06-27: The STO has launched a consultation on how the proposed tramway should arrive on the Ottawa side.  Should it go on the surface on Wellington or in a tunnel under Sparks?



They examine many options including all-bus and all-tramway but the summary is that the first option proposed is two connected rail lines, running trams (streetcars) presumably not separated from regular car traffic, from the west end of Gatineau across the Portage Bridge to Ottawa.

Gatineau T1 rail with PoW
above map cropped from Gatineau STO Scénario T1 – Scénario par tramway, Caractéristiques du scénario (PDF) but edited to show the Prince of Wales Bridge crossing the Ottawa River

UPDATE 2020-05-17: The STO released an update on January 30, 2020 saying that the study had narrowed down to three options, all of which included a tramway, and indicated that an additional study would be conducted on those three options.

The 3 scenarios still on the table all have a tram component: the “all-tram” scenario, and the two “hybrid” scenarios. It should be noted that a tram offers close to seven times the capacity of a regular bus, being able to accommodate large numbers of riders as soon as it becomes operational, as well as new ones in the future. …

The additional study now involves comparing the last 3 scenarios in order to identify the one that is to be recommended from a technical point of view.

The January 2020 press release is accompanied by an update page, and a presentation (in French only):

May 15, 2020 Presentation

On May 15, 2020 the STO presented a technical briefing to the City of Ottawa.  For more on this briefing see blog post proposed rail transit for Gatineau west end – May 2020 update to City of Ottawa.


UPDATE 2019-06-10: The Government of Quebec has pledged to fund 60% of this $2.1 billion project.

That being said, transit funding in Canada is highly political, so there may be many more twists and turns before a final project is approved and fully funded.


Portage Bridge instead of Prince of Wales

The part where the tramway would run across the Portage Bridge I think is a surprise to everyone.  Unlike the Alexandra, Chaudière and Prince of Wales bridges, Portage has never had trains crossing it. (You can read about the history of interprovincial rail in my blog post Ottawa – Gatineau interprovincial rail.)  It had long been expected that any renewed interprovincial rail connection would be across the currently disused Prince of Wales bridge.

CBC reports the analysis as

In a presentation Tuesday, the STO said the Portage Bridge would provide better service to downtown Gatineau, and would also allow the agency to drop off its users at Ottawa’s downtown Lyon or Parliament stations, which may have more capacity.

Le Droit says the issue is a lack of capacity at Bayview Station

Après avoir desservi sa propre clientèle ottavienne, la station Bayview ne pourrait pas accueillir plus de 1000 usagers supplémentaires par heure, en période de pointe, alors que le flot de passagers supplémentaires en provenance de Gatineau serait estimé à 6000.

UPDATE 2019-09-25: STO has done five videos about different aspects of the plan.  I will highlight just the one about the decision about where to cross the river, which discusses the pros and cons of each crossing.

The specific text about the Prince of Wales bridge is

If the Prince of Wales Bridge were chosen to be part of the structuring system, riders going to Ottawa would have to transfer to Ottawa’s light rail at Bayview station.

However, the light rail section between Tunney’s Pasture and Lyon stations will be the busiest along the Confederation Line. There would not be enough space to accommodate all riders coming from Gatineau.

From this aspect, the Prince of Wales Bridge does not meet the needs of the current study and has not been retained. However, its use is still relevant for a secondary link between Ottawa and Gatineau.

UPDATE 2020-05-17: I’ve also written a bit more about The future of the Prince of Wales Bridge, to cover the various proposals which either see rail never returning to the bridge, or don’t see rail on the bridge for a decade or more.  END UPDATE

You can see the rest of the videos on the STO site


Unfortunately, while bringing rail across Portage is a potentially bold transit move, it is fraught with challenges, particularly given the real geometry of the area, since Portage is not just a north-south river bridge, it also has a major east-west connection from the Sir John A. MacDonald “Parkway” (highway) on the Ottawa side.

Portage Bridge aerial from Google Maps
Imagery ©2019 Google, Map data ©2019 Google.

Streetcars are a pre-automobile technology.  They can work in the 21st Century when all modes of transportation and the street design combine to enable the uninterrupted movement of the high-capacity streetcars  In its comparison of modes, STO shows 45-metre-long tram cars with a capacity of 375 people.  To be blunt, that means the tram should have 375x the priority of a single-occupancy car.  But in reality in North America we have:

  • drivers landing in the city centre on high-speed highways (like the SJAM “Parkway”) and expecting to continue driving fast through the centre
  • decades of prioritizing car traffic and high-speed car traffic over all other modes
  • high-speed one-way “arterials” and actual highways within cities
  • decades of prioritizing car traffic so that drivers aren’t used to mixing well with other modes, whether that be pedestrians, cyclists, bus transit or even more rarely at-grade rail transit
  • street design and expectations that prioritize safety for inattentive drivers

This means streetcars have really struggled in mixed traffic in North America.  This is why Toronto had to do the King Street changes, in order to reduce the ability of a single-occupancy car to block a streetcar carrying many more people.

To somehow insert a streetcar into Wellington and Portage’s mix of north-south and east-west traffic would be a huge challenge.  Just look at that intersection.  And keep in mind the vehicle they’ve depicted is 45 metres long, much much longer than an 18 metre extended (bendy) bus.

Portage Bridge - SJAM - Wellington intersection from Google Maps
Imagery ©2019 Google, Map data ©2019 Google.

And then it’s not at all clear to me how you land the tramway in downtown Ottawa.  It’s supposed to deliver its hundreds of passengers per vehicle to Lyon Station and the sidewalk basically.  There’s no way geometrically (that I can see) that you can get the tram around 90 degrees to Lyon and Queen (and incidentally up a bit of a hill), so I guess that means it just stops at Lyon and Wellington?  (STO actually talks about serving both Lyon and Parliament Stations.)  STO just shows some magic dotted lines once the tramway arrives in Ottawa.

STO tramway across Portage
above map cropped from Gatineau STO Scénario T1 – Scénario par tramway, Caractéristiques du scénario (PDF)

I’m not saying this is a bad idea.  If we were in Europe it would be easy.  European trams cross multi-modal bridges all the time, here’s one in Rouen.


But doing this in North America with the real geometry of the proposed location and the real behaviours of North American drivers will be a big challenge.

SIDEBAR: The entire area is a museum of 1960s traffic engineering and urban planning.  To the west you have the “urban renewal” of LeBreton Flats, where housing was flattened and a highway was built, and to the north across the river you have the Place du Portage megastructure, where an urban street grid was erased in order that an inward-facing building complex could be dropped out of the sky, a building complex you’re supposed to arrive at by car and never leave until the work day is done.  For more on that era’s disastrous urban design see William H. Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center, in particular chapter 14, Megastructures.  END SIDEBAR


There’s way way too much information for me to expand out in detail so I’m mostly just going to point you to the STO web pages.

The area under study comprises Gatineau’s west end, downtown Gatineau, downtown Ottawa, the light rail stations and their surrounding areas as well as suitable routes for linking Gatineau and Ottawa.

There was a 2013-2017 Opportunity Study that you don’t really need to know much about.

Out of that, as far as I can tell, came the 2018 proposed Gatineau west-end rail project.

We are now in the next stage, the 2018-2019 Study.

And in June 2019 sub-step Public Consultation on the Structuring System in Gatineau’s West End.

In the June 2019 consultation they want you to consider 5 scenarios.

The scenarios are:

  • The reference scenario, in which the current bus system is improved.  All other scenarios can be compared against the reference scenario.  /  Le premier est le scénario de référence, qui inclut des mesures préférentielles telles que des voies réservées ou des priorités aux feux de circulation à plusieurs endroits sur le réseau actuel, mais pas de mesures structurantes. Il sert de base de comparaison aux autres scénarios.
  • The all-bus scenarioScénario B1 – Scénario par autobus.  Le scénario tout bus comprend des aménagements structurants pour autobus le long des axes Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché avec une antenne par le chemin Vanier, le boulevard du Plateau et le boulevard Saint-Raymond. Des variantes sont possibles par le chemin Eardley, via Allumettières plutôt que par le boulevard du Plateau ainsi qu’à l’arrière de l’UQO. Des connexions entre les deux axes sont possibles soit par le boulevard des Allumettières ou le chemin Vanier.
  • The all-tramway scenarioScénario T1 – Scénario par tramway.  Le scénario tout rail est un scénario opéré par des tramways sur les axes Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché, avec une branche qui part du boulevard du Plateau vers le boulevard Saint-Raymond.
  • Two hybrid scenarios, one of which (H1) has tramway on the north section and bus rapid transit on the south, and the other (H2) which has bus rapid transit on the north section, and tramway on the south.Dans le premier scénario hybride H1, l’axe Allumettières/Plateau est desservi par des tramways. Une variante est possible via McConnell et Allumettières.L’axe Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché est desservi par un système rapide par bus opéré par autobus articulés. Des variantes sont possibles par le chemin Eardley ainsi qu’à l’arrière de l’UQO.Dans le deuxième scénario hybride H2, l’axe Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché est desservi par des tramways. Des variantes sont possibles par le chemin Eardley ainsi qu’à l’arrière de l’UQ.L’axe Allumettières/Plateau est desservi par un système rapide par bus opéré par autobus articulés ou biarticulés. Une variante desservie par bus est possible via McConnell et Allumettières.

I’m only going to include the slides about the all-tramway scenario.

The tramway depicted by STO is 45 metres long and carries 375 people.

STO_consultation_planche-modes_imp 75
above from Caractéristiques des modes de transport (PDF)

That’s much, much longer than the familiar OC Transpo articulated (bendy) bus which STO shows as the second green bus at 18 metres and a capacity of 90 people (I’m not sure how the half-person depicted works, but anyway you get the idea).

You can see the full map of the proposed routes with alternatives.

from Scénario T1 – Scénario par tramway (PDF). Note that the maps do not show Prince of Wales Bridge crossing the Ottawa River.

UPDATE 2019-06-04: There are now videos available explaining the scenarios

and there is now an FAQ


You can also read the press release (in French only)

and watch the video of the announcement (in French only)

Archive – Information Sessions and Consultations

There will be were information sessions (open house sessions) June 3rd, 4th and 6th, 2019.

Secteur Aylmer
Lundi 3 juin 2019, de 16 h à 20 h
Centre culturel du Vieux-Aylmer situé au 120, rue Principale

District du Plateau
Mardi 4 juin 2019, de 16 h 30 à 20 h 30
Centre communautaire du Plateau situé au 145, rue de l’Atmosphère

Secteur Hull
Jeudi 6 juin 2019, de 16 h à 20 h
Agora de la Maison du citoyen situé au 25, rue Laurier

There will be was an online consultation June 3 to 24, 2019.

Un questionnaire sera disponible en ligne du 3 au 24 juin 2019.

UPDATE 2019-06-04: The online survey is available.  END UPDATE

And there will be was a brainstorming workshop June 17, 2019.

Un atelier ouvert au grand public sera organisé afin d’engager une discussion sur les conditions de succès du système structurant et d’approfondir la réflexion sur les scénarios.

Lundi 17 juin de 18 h à 20 h
Hôtel DoubleTree by Hilton, 1170 chemin d’Aylmer

for more information, see

February 10, 2019  proposed Gatineau west-end rail project