Ottawa LRT design issues

There were 8.4 million New Yorkers and at one point, I thought there were 8.4 million traffic engineers because everyone had really strong opinions. – Janette Sadik-Khan

The east-west double-tracked Ottawa LRT (Confederation Line, Line 1) is well designed.  It has complete grade separation, which means it never intersects with car traffic.  It is electrically-powered.  It uses modern Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC), enabling trains to be safely run with low “headways” (trains arrive closely together in time), even though the trains are switching tracks at the end of the line (e.g. the east-bound train arriving at Blair turns into a west-bound train, heading back west for a while on the same track it arrived on).

CBTC means that trains are substantially automated.  The CBTC system keeps track of all of the train locations.  To some extent once you decide on the train spacing, it is CBTC that decides how fast trains go, which rail segments trains are on, and what the settings of the track switches are.

The rail operators are basically in an oversight mode, monitoring things and dealing with exceptions.

I am not an expert in train systems, but what follows is my analysis as someone who has done a lot of computer network system troubleshooting.

Cascade Failure

In the design of complex systems, you want to avoid a cascade failure.  That is, the failure of a single component should not cause the failure of most or all of the entire system.  In the context of a rail system:

failure of a single train should not have a significant impact on the rest of the rail system.

Unfortunately in this area of design, Ottawa’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) currently fails.  The fundamental issue is not the doors, the issue is

when a train is in door failure mode, it cannot move under control of the CBTC system.

That means a train in door failure mode has to be excluded from CBTC.  But since CBTC controls all the movement of all the trains, in order to safely exclude a train from control you have to remove an entire track from control, and manually drive the train back, slowly, to a safe location or maintenance location.

But you’ve then converted your dual-track system into a single-track system, with trains going both ways on a single track.  As you can imagine, that’s a situation where you have to be incredibly careful, and clearly you can only use the track in one direction at a time.  So that’s why you go from 5-minutes-or-less trains to 15-minutes-or-more, because there is very complex and careful management needed behind the scenes to safely use the single track.

In short, removing a train from CBTC is a serious failure of the system, that causes dramatically reduced system capacity and dramatically longer spacing between trains.  It should have been the case that RTG and OC Transpo and city staff and whomever is involved in making these decisions did a risk matrix, and the risk assessment should have identified situations in which a train would have to be excluded from CBTC control and tried to minimize them.

In this specific example, as long as you can manage the safety issues of a train that has a door failure, you should continue to run that train under CBTC.  And there could be lots of human ways to manage the safety issues, including staff in the train and staff on the platform, as well as station announcements.

UPDATE: Ken Woods saysCBTC no longer needs to be cut out when bypassing doors.”  So this should fix the major cascade issue that leads to big train delays.

Also, for those of you who want to know more about solutions than design problems, I have highlighted OC Transpo’s Plans at the end of this post.  END UPDATE

The Whole Story

Now that we know the end of the story, we need to go back to the beginning.  Every component of the LRT is a design decision.  (In fact, the decision to have light rail rather than heavy rail is a decision in and of itself.)  While the design that won’t let a train travel under CBTC control is a single decision with huge consequences, the design that led to the door issues is a much longer story.

UPDATE 2019-10-16: This blog post is specifically about how door failures were happening, and how door failures could lead to a system failure.  The trains are complex machines running complex software; there are many other ways they can fail that I don’t address below.  END UPDATE

>> Low-floor vs. High-floor

There are basically two kinds of modern train design: low-floor and high-floor.  The difference is basically whether the wheels (the bogies, in train terminology) are within the floor space (low floor) or below the floor space (high floor).  Most metro systems (e.g. New York) have high floor, and you also see this in VIA Rail trains, which is why you have to go up a set of steps from ground level to get into a VIA train.

High-floor means either you need steps to get onto the train (which is no good for modern accessibility) or you need high platforms, with the rails fairly deeply below the platform level (e.g. as you see in New York).  High-floor also means that the space inside the train car is completely unobstructed, it’s just an empty box you can arrange as you want.

Modern trams are designed to work at street level, because in many cases they’re running on regular streets mixed with car traffic.  Since you can’t reasonably design either deep trenches into the street or periodically raise the sidewalk up dramatically for tram stops, modern trams are low-floor.

Since Ottawa has a totally grade separated system with dedicated stations, we could have chosen high-floor, but we didn’t.

Ottawa uses a low-floor tram design, the Citadis Spirit.

That means the wheels reach up into the interior of the train cars, which is why you get those characteristic humps inside the trains, usually with seating on them.  It also means you get a narrow corridor between the humps (which is the spacing between the wheels on either side of the train).

>> Seating

There are basically two kinds of seating design for transit: front and rear-facing seats, like you see on a bus, and side seating (perimeter seating), like you see on a metro system (e.g., again, New York).  You would generally choose side seating for a high-capacity system, which means most people are standing, and front and rear-facing for a more comfortable but lower capacity system.

A critical difference is that you can clear side-seating cars quickly, because most people are standing anyway.  If it’s high-floor side-seating it is even better, because the space itself is completely unobstructed so people can move freely.

I’m not going to link to this article in DailyHive, because it has autoplay video – TransLink considering side seating for new order of 203 SkyTrain cars – but I will quote from it

perimeter seating generally provides more overall carrying capacity within each car with its allowance for greater standing room. This layout also creates more vertical and overhead handrails for standing passengers to hold on to.

With wider corridors between the seats, such a sideways seating layout could make the trains more efficient for quick ingress and egress through the car doors.

Kyoto subway 1117 priority seat area 01
Priority seat area on Kyoto Subway 1117

Ottawa’s trams have a fairly conventional front and rear-facing seat arrangement, which in combination with low-floor means that there are some pinch points within the train.  In the worst case to get off at a station you might have to stand up, walk through a narrow corridor between seats, and then make your way through the people standing next to the doors.

There are lots of human-factor considerations about which kinds of seating people prefer.  See e.g. Chicago magazine – subway seating options.

>> The Overhead Bar

In general you want people equally distributed along the interior of your train car.  But Ottawa’s cars have very high grab bars with no straps hanging down, which means lots of people can’t reach the bars to hold on.  If you’re standing, you really want to have the comfort of a handhold.  Because of this, people are clustering near areas where lower handholds are available.

>> I’ve Got a Door in my Pocket

There are two kinds of door design.  In a metro system (e.g. yes, New York again) you have pocket doors, where the doors slide into the side of the car.  In Ottawa’s trams, the doors instead open out and over, physically moving outside and to the side of the doorway.

I’m no door expert, but doors that run back and forth on a track, doors that are mostly inside the side of the train seem like they would have fewer failure modes than doors that have to go through a complex range of motion to close, and sit fully exposed to manipulation on the outside edges of the doorway.

Be mindful that doors of either design fail on transit systems all the time; it’s the most common failure.  See e.g.

Train Design Summary

So basically the train things under design control are:

  • high-floor vs. low-floor, which determines how much usable space you have inside the train car, and some of the ease of movement within the car
  • front-facing seating vs. side-seating, which determines how much open space you have for standing passengers vs. seated space, and decides to some extent how easy it is to move within the train car
  • grab bar and straphanger design, which will determine where people are comfortable standing
  • door design, which to some extent determines what kind of failure modes your doors may have

>> Dwell Time

The amount of time a train spends at a station is called dwell time.  To minimize the amount of time it takes get from one end of the entire rail line to the other, you need to minimize the amount of time each train spends at a station.  This includes minimizing the amount of time doors are open.  Ottawa’s LRT doors are on automated timings, I believe of less than two minutes per station.

>> The Bus Legacy

The bus is very different from the train.  The bus is an entirely human-driven system.  Everything is under human control.  The driver can decide when to stop, where to stop, when to open and re-open the doors, everything.

The bus is also super-jolty.  In particular if the brakes are jammed on at a stop or due to cars or other roadway dangers, or due to acceleration when departing a stop.

The bus is unpredictable due to cars, so it may arrive at a time different from the planned schedule.

The bus in many cases is infrequent, sometimes running only every half-hour.

These characteristics make for certain very understandable human behaviours on the bus.

First, people will often try to sit down as quickly as possible, in order to avoid being standing when the bus jolts into motion.  Also people will try to stand up as late as possible, in order to avoid being standing when the bus jolts to a halt.  And in general people would rather sit than stand, due to the aforementioned jolting plus added bumpiness of the ride in general.

This means people are quite often late to exit the bus, and just push the bars to hold or reopen the doors, or shout at the bus driver (“back door!”) to get the doors open if they’re outside the automatic door cycle.

So: slow to exit the bus.

The unpredictability of the bus means that when people do see a bus, they will run to grab it, often requiring the driver to stop and reopen the doors.

So: in a rush to get on the bus.

The flow of passengers on and off the bus is managed by a combination of bus driver oversight and passenger control, including people stepping off and back onto the bus if it is super crowded, with the passengers inside holding the door.

These behaviours don’t translate at all well to the train, which is nothing like the bus.  The train is smooth, and the doors are entirely on automatic timing, and (outside of major system failure) there is another train coming soon.

>> Platform Human Factors

On a platform, you want people to spread out so that they are using all the doors equally.  But it’s just human nature that people tend to stop as soon as they reach the bottom of the stairs.  It will take some time for people to switch from the bus mindset of basically standing near a single location to automatically moving down the platform.

>> Rush Hour

The Commute as we call it, Rush Hour, is an entirely separate design issue about which I will probably do a separate blog post.  But since we can’t redesign the entire city, and change school and employer expectations and employee behaviour, we’re stuck with this super-peak of demand called Rush Hour.

So you have to design your system for Rush Hour.

Normally what would happen is your system is adapted as Rush Hour grows.  Your system changes as demand changes.  If you do have to switch to a new system once demand reaches a certain level, you switch early, let’s say at 75% to 80% of capacity.

The huge design issue in Ottawa was that we waited until our system was basically at 100% capacity before switching to a new design, before switching from Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to LRT.  (I will set the unfortunate politics of Canadian transit that caused this late shift aside.)

That means we went from a 100% capacity Rush Hour BRT system to an LRT system that would have very heavy peak demand.

Very heavy demand is a transit planner’s dream in some sense.

Unfortunately it would be very hard to simulate this level of real-world demand.  You’d have to have literally thousands of volunteers.

Another option would be to gradually ramp up demand, and adjust step by step.  But with a complex bus system this would have been tricky and confusing, with buses removed gradually over time.

Presumably transit planners thought that by instead running the entire bus system in parallel for three weeks, they were doing the best they could at gradual demand increase, assuming people would slowly transition from bus to train during those weeks, so that by the end they would be running at full train demand.

What seems to have happened though is a step change in demand when the buses were discontinued.

And Now The Deluge

That step change in demand seems to have triggered a cascade failure, which goes something like this:

1. Buses are now dropping off all of their passengers at Blair and Tunney’s, creating peak demand that needs to be quickly cleared.  So there are two big boarding demand sources.

2. People are mostly going to work or to school, which means heavy demand to get off the train at uOttawa and Parliament Stations.

3. With the extra number of people added by the end of the parallel bus service, the design of the trains means that people are not getting to the doors in time.  This is a combination of design factors:

a. low-floor design means there are some narrow corridors in the train cars
b. front and rear-facing seating means there are lots of people seated
c. having lots of seating means people have to navigate their way past the seats
d. high grab bars means that standing passengers cluster in certain areas of the car where they can reach a handhold

Plus which let’s keep in mind that humans don’t like “crush load“.  People will stand together, but they’re not necessarily going to pack themselves together to fill the maximum capacity of the train.

4. The automated door timing that is part of short dwell times at stations means people are not able to get out at their station before the doors close.

For a passenger, not getting off at your station is basically a serious transit failure when you’re on a train.  If you need to get off at uOttawa and you can’t get off, you’re stuck either trying to train back or walk back, when you may have timed things to get to class or an exam.  Train transit systems must be designed so people can get off at their stop.

When people can’t get off at their stop they will understandably panic and try to get the doors open.

5. The automated door timing that is part of short dwell times at stations means people may not be able to get on at their station before the doors close.

This is not a failure in a train transit system with frequent trains.  You wait for the next train.  But keep in mind this is not at all how the bus worked.  So people understandably are trying to rush onto the train, and they are trying to get the doors open to do so.

6. Getting off and on magnified

The next thing that will happen is if people have learned they may not get off and on the train as designed, they will change behaviours in ways that magnify the problem.

People worried about getting off will stand near the doors even if it isn’t their stop, which means they will slow people who need to get off the train.

People worried about getting on will stand near the doors and rush the doors, which means they will slow people who need to get off the train.

So as soon as people lose confidence in the train it gets even worse.

7. Apparently the doors can error out in two ways.  If the door tries to close three times and it can’t, it will error out, which the train operator can reset.  But if the door is physically out of alignment, this is basically an unfixable error until it is realigned.

This is where the real problem comes.  Failed doors are to be expected in transit systems.  But the train control (CBTC) system we have (Thales SelTrac™) in combination with the train we have (Alstom Citatis Spirit) has this decision in its risk matrix: a train with failed doors is not allowed to move under automated train control.

My thanks to Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) for explaining the train control issue on Twitter.

This was the eye-opening tweet for me:

He goes on to provide additional detail:

CBTC also enforces train suitability, meaning the CBTC system will not allow a train to move with a safety issue like an open door.  So, bypassing that safeguard requires us to bypass CBTC, making the train itself invisible to the other trains being controlled by CBTC.
— Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) October 9, 2019

Once bypassed, we have to move that invisible train back to the depot, and prevent other trains from getting too close. A bypassed train can only move at 25kph, and for obvious reasons cannot stop at stations.
— Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) October 9, 2019

I blinked too. The train will not authorize traction with an open door and an active VOBC. No idea if this is an Alstom or Thales thing, but the door loop override kills movement until the train is cut out.
— Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) October 9, 2019

(VOBC means Vehicle On-Board Computer.)

And this CBTC interaction with the trains is where everything falls apart.

Because the train can’t move under automated control, the entire less-than-5-minutes train system running on dual tracks gets replaced with a single track under automated control and a manual track where the train slowly chugs back to be repaired.

This means trains now arrive at something like 15 minute or longer intervals.

But Rush Hour peak demand means hundreds of people arriving continuously by bus at Blair and Tunney’s, which means they have to be cleared out on packed trains every 5 minutes or less, or the stations become dangerously crowded.

Which is what happened.

We should just be grateful that people managed this massive overcrowding.

UPDATE: Ken Woods saysCBTC no longer needs to be cut out when bypassing doors.”  So this should fix the major cascade issue that leads to big train delays.  END UPDATE

Immediate Fixes

>> Dwell Time

Probably the easiest fix is to change the dwell times for the trains, particularly at busy stations.  This means just change the door times so they are open longer.  This will mean longer end-to-end train rides for everyone, but should greatly reduce the door issues.

>> Boarding Decals

We could also put down boarding decals.  People in Ottawa love following signs.  But this means the doors have to always be at the same position, regardless of train direction or train configuration, and I’m not sure this is the case (you’d have to check with OC Transpo).

TTC platform decals
Decals from TTC expanding boarding decals test to southbound St George platform

>> Straphangers

Install straps so that people can stand safely anywhere in the train.

>> Buses

If we are still having capacity issues, OC Transpo needs to add buses back into the system.  Yes, I know this is a terrible option.  It seems like there are some peak demand points, so these could be e.g. express buses that go only Blair to uOttawa or only Tunney’s to Parliament.

Medium-Term Fixes

>> Change Automated Control Scenarios

The most important fix of all is to examine train failure modes, and re-evaluate when a train should be excluded from automated (CBTC) control.  The goal should be to find mitigations so that exclusion from automated control is minimized.

As long as it is safe to do so, it is way way better to run an empty train with a door fault under automated control, than to shut down an entire track and massively increase the time between trains.

UPDATE: Ken Woods saysCBTC no longer needs to be cut out when bypassing doors.”  So this should fix the major cascade issue that leads to big train delays.  END UPDATE

>> Min Headway

If we can get headways (spacing between trains) even lower, say 3 minutes or less, it will ease platform demand.  But I understand there are risks with pushing the system to tight spacing, and so this is something to set as a goal for the medium term.

However, headway is more complicated than it might initially seem, as the rail operators have to switch from one end of the train to the other at the end stations.

On a 4 minute headway, the train pulls in and leaves again within 240 seconds if it is precisely on time. It takes the operator 120 seconds to change ends. – Ken Woods

Long-Term Fixes

For Stage 2, Ottawa should look at side seating for the trains.

But this is a design decision with consequences too: it means long standing commutes for people coming from the most distant stations, and it means some people having to stand on totally uncrowded trains outside of Rush Hour.

Please feel free to correct me if anything above is wrong.

Context

The thing is, this really is mainly a combination of factors that cascade at Rush Hour.  The system is very pleasant and reliable outside of peak demand.  In a way there are two different systems, which makes for a challenging design problem.  If you’ve only been on the train during peak demand hours, you should try it out during the weekend or in the middle of the day; it’s quite a different experience.

OC Transpo’s Plans

The good news is OC Transpo knows what they are doing, so they are already putting in place some of the key elements above, including:

  • A plan to install strap hangers in trains;
  • Adjusting dwell times (the amount of time a door is kept open) at stations aligning the timing to passenger volume and train frequency times;
  • Installing markings on platforms guiding customers on where to wait, so as to not block customers who are stepping off trains. [So I guess train doors are at consistent locations after all.]

Thanks to Councillor Glen Gower for sharing this information in his blog (found via Twitter).

UPDATE 2019-10-16: OC Transpo has posted two letters explaining the situation and giving planned actions, one on October 8, 2019 and one on October 10, 2019.  The October 10 letter is the one extracted above.  As a reminder, this is fairly specific to door faults causing system problems; there are lots of other kinds of problems the trains can have that require them to go back to the maintenance depot.  END UPDATE

UPDATE 2019-10-18: OC Transpo has released a web page called The O-Line with details about train and related transit issues and planned solutions.

SIDEBAR: Train terminology

In The O-Line they talk about the Train Control Management System (TCMS) – which is what was referred to above as the Vehicle On-Board Computer (VOBC).  This is the computer on an individual train.  Like all computers it can have errors and need to be reset.  The computers on the individual trains are in turn controlled by the system-wide control system, the Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC).  END SIDEBAR

The O-Line covers some key topics including O-Train doors, improvements to stations, improvements to bus operations, and Winter Operations.

END UPDATE

I have to agree with this Canadian Press article: Despite Ottawa’s LRT woes, experts say don’t judge right away.

Ottawa LRT Stage 1 Line 1 in Emojis

Ottawa Line 1 🚈

Tunney’s Pasture 🚉 ↔️ 🚌 West
🛤️

Bayview 🚉 ↔️ Line 2 🚆 South
🛤️

Pimisi 🚉 ↔️ OC Transpo 🚌 Gatineau
🛤️

Lyon 🚉🚇 ↔️ STO 🚌 Gatineau
🛤️

Parliament 🚉🚇
🛤️

Rideau 🚉🚇
🛤️

uOttawa 🚉
🛤️

Lees 🚉
🛤️

Hurdman 🚉 ↔️ 🚌 South
🛤️

Tremblay 🚉 ↔️ VIA Rail 🚆
🛤️

St-Laurent 🚉
🛤️

Cyrville 🚉
🛤️

Blair 🚉 ↔️ 🚌 East

Alternative with washrooms, retail, and bus stop signs

Ottawa Line 1 🚈

Tunney’s Pasture 🚉🚻🛍️ ↔️ 🚏 🚌 West
🛤️

Bayview 🚉🚻 ↔️ Line 2 🚆 South
🛤️

Pimisi 🚉 ↔️ OC Transpo 🚏 🚌 Gatineau
🛤️

Lyon 🚉🚇 ↔️ STO 🚏 🚌 Gatineau
🛤️

Parliament 🚉🚇
🛤️

Rideau 🚉🚇🛍️
🛤️

uOttawa 🚉
🛤️

Lees 🚉
🛤️

Hurdman 🚉🚻🛍️ ↔️ 🚏 🚌 South
🛤️

Tremblay 🚉 ↔️ VIA Rail 🚆
🛤️

St-Laurent 🚉
🛤️

Cyrville 🚉
🛤️

Blair 🚉🚻🛍️ ↔️ 🚏 🚌 East

Thanks to Doug van den Ham for the idea about adding washrooms.

Emojis Used

I didn’t use the Tram emoji because trams travel in the roadway and typically have stops beside the sidewalk; trams are not the same as (heavy) railways or light rail. For some more info see previous blog posting iOS Travel emoji – railway vs tram.

UPDATE 2019-09-26: The in-station retail has been announced as Happy Goat Coffee, which leads to the inevitable alternative visual

Ottawa Line 1 🚈

Tunney’s Pasture 🚉🚻🐐 ↔️ 🚏 🚌 West
🛤️

Bayview 🚉🚻 ↔️ Line 2 🚆 South
🛤️

Pimisi 🚉 ↔️ OC Transpo 🚏 🚌 Gatineau
🛤️

Lyon 🚉🚇 ↔️ STO 🚏 🚌 Gatineau
🛤️

Parliament 🚉🚇
🛤️

Rideau 🚉🚇🐐
🛤️

uOttawa 🚉
🛤️

Lees 🚉
🛤️

Hurdman 🚉🚻🐐 ↔️ 🚏 🚌 South
🛤️

Tremblay 🚉 ↔️ VIA Rail 🚆
🛤️

St-Laurent 🚉
🛤️

Cyrville 🚉
🛤️

Blair 🚉🚻🐐 ↔️ 🚏 🚌 East

END UPDATE

See Also

November 13, 2018 Ottawa LRT Stage 1 maps.

Ottawa LRT Stage 1 rollout with multi-step transit network changes

RTG is was supposed to achieve Revenue Service Availability (RSA) on August 16, 2019.  This is the handover to the city, not the launch.

The launch will be about a month after RSA, sometime in mid-September.

UPDATE 2019-08-23: The LRT was handed over to the city on August 23, 2019.  The launch date for LRT service to the public will be September 14, 2019 (at 2pm).  END UPDATE

But there are multiple steps before we get to a full new network of Stage 1 LRT plus OC Transpo buses plus STO buses plus reconstructed roadways.

1. Ottawa LRT Stage 1 LRT Launch

The LRT will launch mid-September, but the current bus system will remain in place for three weeks.  So it will be a mix of rail and parallel bus service.

OttLRT Line 1 Stage 1 Line_map1
from the OC Transpo Ready4Rail – Where will it go page.

The north-south Trillium Line 2 from Bayview Station will continue unchanged, but only until Q2 2020 (see below).

2. OC Transpo Bus Routes Optimised for LRT

Three weeks after LRT Stage 1 launch, specifically on October 6, 2019, the parallel bus service is discontinued, and Ottawa switches to a new bus network optimised for the LRT.  This will mean the end of the Transitway (9x and 8x) buses on Albert and Slater; no more Transitway buses through downtown.

OC Transpo Rapid 2018_Network_R 200
Map from OC Transpo New service types page.

Rapid buses (in blue above) will connect to the rail network at Tunney’s Pasture Station (westbound), Greenboro Station (southbound), Hurdman Station (southwest bound), and Blair Station (eastbound).

Bus Network Service Change - continued - Confederation-Line-Update-July-10-FEDCO-meeting-FINAL-E_20190710-145150_1

UPDATE 2019-08-23: The easiest way to figure out route changes will be to use the new trip planner, but if you want to know about a particular bus, you can start at the Ready for Rail – My Route page.  END UPDATE

For more on Stage 1 LRT see Ottawa LRT Stage 1 maps.

3. STO Bus Routes Optimised for LRT

At some point (sometime in 2020) after the OC Transpo switch to new bus routes, STO will also change its routes.  Which will bring buses back to Albert and Slater, as STO takes to these streets to run service through downtown to Mackenzie King Station.

STO Ottawa 2020

For more on STO bus changes see STO bus changes after Ottawa LRT Stage 1.

Street Redesigns – Rideau Street and William Street

At some point, currently scheduled for September 2019 but presumably dependent on LRT launch, Rideau Street and William Street will be redesigned, with one goal being higher pedestrian capacity.

Street Redesigns – Albert Street and Slater Street

At some point, currently scheduled for Summer 2020, Albert and Slater will be redesigned with space for cycling (see proposed designs in the public information sessions).  But note that Albert and Slater will not be bus-free; most notably there will be STO buses as indicated above.

Trillium Line 2 South – Stage 2 – Temporary Shutdown With Replacement by Bus Service

The Trillium Line (the north-south line) is scheduled to be shut down from Q2 2020 to 2022, while new stations and track are added for Stage 2.  During shutdown a replacement bus service will run.

Full Service of New Stage 1 Transit Network and Redesigned Streets

Once all these steps are complete, presumably sometime in 2021, the downtown transit network and downtown streets will basically have their transformation complete.

LRT Stage 2

The next step will be LRT Stage 2, with new and updated segments scheduled for 2022 (Trillium Line 2 south), 2024 (Confederation Line 1 east) and 2025 (Confederation Line 1 west).

For more information, see Ottawa LRT Stage 2 maps.

City of Ottawa’s transit budget planning projects one hundred percent funding from higher levels of government

The Executive Summary of City of Ottawa ACS2018-CSD-FIN-0003 Long Range Financial Plan Transit Update (PDF) contains an interesting change.

The key changes made to the revenue projections from the 2017 model are as follows:

  • Transit Taxes – increase in the assessment growth factor from 1.3% to 1.5%, to reflect recent trends, and increasing the transit tax to 3% from 2.5% to align the increase to the same rate as operating costs and capital costs.
  • Transit Fares – increase of 2.5% aligned with the increase in operating costs, consistent with the CUTA definition. Fare revenue projections were also decreased to reflect recent trends and the decrease in the average fare.
  • Grants from Senior Levels of Government – the revenue from senior levels of government is projected at two-thirds funding for future [Bus Rapid Transit]. For future [Light Rail Transit] this assumption was changed from two-thirds funding to 100 per cent funding.

The city is now assuming that Stage 3 LRT will be 100% funded by the provincial and federal governments.  (Stage 2 LRT will use the current 2/3 funding model.)

UPDATE: This is even clearer in slide 104 of the Stage 2 Light Rail Transit Project: Technical Briefing – February 22, 2019 (PDF) – section on changes since the 2017 Long Range Financial Plan (LRFP): “Assume 100% senior level government funding for Stage 3”

Stage 2 LRT presentation slide 104 Updates to the 2017 LRFP
above from slide 104 of Stage 2 Light Rail Transit Project: Technical Briefing – February 22, 2019 (PDF). Highlighting of line in blue mine.

END UPDATE

The previous 1/3 federal, 1/3 provincial, 1/3 municipal funding model was manifestly unfair considering that municipalities collect 8 cents out of every tax dollar.  But it seems a bit unrealistic to me to expect provincial and federal governments to suddenly fund all of rail transit, particularly if those governments are right-leaning.

UPDATE 2018-02-27: Jonathan Willing has summarized the city’s approach in the Ottawa CitizenCity of Ottawa leaving it entirely up to other governments to fund future LRT projects.  END UPDATE

DISCLAIMER: I am definitely not an expert in the long term financial plan or in Canadian transit funding.

City of Ottawa updating Road Safety Action Plan

The City of Ottawa has a Safer Roads Ottawa program including a Road Safety Action Plan (2012-Beyond).

What the web page says is the right things

The City’s Safety Improvement Program (SIP) touches on all three Es of road safety: education, enforcement and engineering, with primary focus on engineering. The program selects locations to study, carries out in-depth studies of collision patterns and recommends countermeasures. Typically, the program studies locations with higher-than-average traffic collision rates.

There is however a big difference between saying the right things and actually budgeting and carrying through.

If you look at the Road Safety Action Plan e.g. Emphasis Area – Vulnerable Road Users, Focus: Pedestrians, pp. 7-10, what you see is

  • Awareness Campaign
  • Media Event
  • Education
  • Education
  • Safety Program
  • etc.

That doesn’t look to me like primary focus on engineering.

The city is updating the Road Safety Action Plan, there is an online survey running until Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 11:00 pm.

The survey is in my opinion super confusing.  You’re supposed to select road safety priorities, but it mixes causes of road safety problems with vulnerable users, e.g. Aggressive Driving is listed along with Pedestrians.

If I rate Aggressive Driving 5 – Highest priority and I rate Pedestrians 5 – Highest Priority, does that mean Pedestrians pose as great a road safety risk as Aggressive Driving?  By giving that priority am I saying Pedestrians cause road safety issues?

There is space for comments.

You might just want to email them at rsap-pasr@ottawa.ca though if you want to be able to be completely clear about what you mean.

There is a general frustration I have with these kinds of consultations which is that we already have best practices.  How many times do we have to provide the same input: follow international best practices, redesign the roads, slow the cars, increase the budget.

I feel a bit like the Vision Zero Canada response to Hamilton’s proposed road safety action plan:

“If you’re going to spend money to try to save lives, spend it on actual concrete changes that we already know are effective”

There are already the right words in the 2013 Transportation Master Plan, there are for that matter already the right words on the Safer Roads Ottawa web page itself: primary focus on engineering (i.e. redesign the roads).

The UK government did a public consultation (call for evidence) on cycling and walking safety in the context of road safety just last year.  There’s a 48-page summary of responses (PDF) with some key references (note that UK “junction” is the same as Canada “intersection”):

  • British Cycling – Turning the Corner – “A simple amendment to the Highway Code and regulations to give priority [at intersections] to people walking, cycling or driving straight ahead could reduce motor traffic queue lengths by 43%”
  1. Establish consistent design standards to ensure cycle and pedestrian-friendliness is designed-in from the outset into all highway and traffic schemes, new developments and planned highway maintenance work.
  2. Make 20mph [30km/h] the default speed limit for most streets in built-up areas, with 30mph [approx. 50km/h] (or higher) limits being the exception that requires signing, not the other way round.
  3. Rebalance overall transport spending, making a far greater proportion available for cycling, walking and safer streets, including local road and path maintenance.
  • an alliance of the UK’s leading walking and cycling organisations – Moving the nation (PDF)

moving_the_nation_manifesto - make it happen - crop

You can read more about the UK consultation and results:

There’s no shortage of information from other sources, including e.g. The Conversation – Why US cities are becoming more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians

Even today, motorists in many cities are able to turn onto streets at intersections where pedestrians are also crossing. Most pedestrians and bicyclists are killed or injured while they are obeying the law.

And you don’t have to speculate about Vision Zero, there’s a whole Vision Zero Academy from Trafikverket, the Swedish Transport Administration.

Anyway, I encourage you to respond to the consultation by the March 19, 2019 deadline.

Ottawa – Gatineau interprovincial rail

There used to be three interprovincial rail links.

Ottawa streetcar Line H went across the Chaudière Bridge to Eddy Park.

Hull Electric Railway streetcars went across the Alexandra Bridge to Ottawa Union Station.

CN Rail CP Rail crossed at Alexandra Bridge & Prince of Wales Bridge.

UPDATE 2018-02-14: The Internet tells me that both Alexandra and Prince of Wales were CP Rail bridges.  END UPDATE

Ottawa Electric Railway – Line H

Line H (Hull – St. Patrick) crossed the Chaudière Bridge to Eddy Park (the solid red line on the map below).

[Greber Plan Plate 14 Distribution of Street Cars 1948]
from Greber Plan Plate 14 Distribution of Street Cars and Buses 1948

Hull Electric Railway

Three rail lines crossed the Alexandra Bridge.  The outer two tracks were for the Hull Electric Railway streetcars (one line for each direction).  The centre track was for heavy rail, I believe CN rail.  The Internet tells me the heavy rail was CP Rail.

[Past Ottawa Alexandra Bridge approach circa 1915]
from Past Ottawa – Alexandra Bridge – Streetcars, Rails & Locks circa 1915 (image from Library & Archives Canada)

[Past Ottawa Alexandra Bridge from the Nepean Point Footbridge 1938]
from Past Ottawa – Alexandra Bridge from the Nepean Point Footbridge 1938 (image from Library & Archives Canada)

[Greber Plan - Approaches of Interprovincial Bridge, Ottawa Side]
from Greber Plan – Approaches of Interprovincial Bridge, Ottawa Side (circa 1948?)

You can sort-of see the rail lines heading up to the Alexandra Bridge (diagonally to the upper left) in this 1928 aerial image below from GeoOttawa, on which just for illustration purposes I have overlaid Confederation Line 1 underground rail and Rideau Station in yellow and red.

GeoOttawa Alexandra Bridge rail lines 1928 and Confederation Line 1

I was unable to find a map for the historical Gatineau streetcar (Hull Electric Railway) but there are photos available.

[Hull Electric Railway cars inbound and outbound near Alexandra Bridge]

Above is Hull Electric Railway (HER) car No. 50 in a clear view of HER cars both inbound and outbound on the tracks to and from Alexandra Bridge, from TrainWeb Hull Electric Company.

[Hull Electric Railway car inbound to Ottawa]

Above is a view looking south of a Hull Electric Railway car inbound to Ottawa, image CSTM/MAT04642 from Canada Science & Technology Museum Picturing the Past – A Train Journey through the Ottawa Valley Using the Mattingly Image Collection.

The above postcard with colour applied almost certainly originating from this image below posted on Lost Ottawa February 19, 2013.

Lost Ottawa Hull Electric Railway 20130219

The Hull Electric Railway closed in 1947. The terminal was underneath Confederation Square, across from Ottawa Union Station.

Interprovincial heavy rail

Heavy rail crossed the Alexandra Bridge to Gatineau on the centre track, and returned to Ottawa over the Prince of Wales Bridge.

There were numerous stations on both sides of the river.

Below is an image of heavy rail crossing the Alexandra Bridge, from Urbsite – Those Museum Trees, The Digester Tower, and a Smokestack.

[heavy rail crossing the Alexandra Bridge] Image captioned “The Pontiac and Pacific Junction Railway Alexandra Bridge is the national capital region’s mightiest engineering landmark.”

Even after the Hull Electric Railway lines were removed in 1947, the heavy rail continued until 1966 when Ottawa Union Station was closed.  You can see just the central rail tracks remaining in this cover image from Canadian Rail (Number 179, July-August 1966 Ottawa Union Station Closes).

Canadian Rail - Number 179 - July August 1966 cover
Photograph by Jim Sandilands.

The Greber Plan Plate 12 Réseau Ferroviaire Existant Ottawa – Hull and Environs 1948 below gives a view of industrial Ottawa, with a mix of passenger and freight rail lines criss-crossing the capital region.

Greber Plan plate 12 Réseau Ferroviaire Existant Ottawa - Hull and Environs 1948

You can see the loop of a train going Ottawa – Alexandra Bridge – Hull – Prince of Wales Bridge – Bayview Station in the video A train ride from Union Station Ottawa to Bayview via Hull 1966.  You can also see some photos of the various stations in Canada Science & Technology Museum Picturing the Past – A Train Journey through the Ottawa Valley Using the Mattingly Image Collection.

If you want to understand what the planners of 1949 thought about the trains, see this great video: A Capital Plan.  “Today, into the very heart of the city, come the trains to the Union Station, but with them comes smoke and grime and noise.”

Ottawa Union Station - A Capital Plan - 1949 (see above image in more detail on Flickr)

They succeeded in eliminating most of the train lines, and wrapped the region with highways (often running on former rail rights-of-way).  They imagined these highways as “capital arrivals, scenic entries and parkways”.  (They are in practice commuter highways.)

Capital Arrivals
Above was from draft Plan for Canada’s Capital 2017-2067 (PDF), page 103 “Capital Arrivals, Scenic Entries and Parkways” which in usual NCC fashion has disappeared from the web.

NCC Interprovincial Transit Strategy 2013

Since everything that goes around comes around, having eliminated all of the interprovincial rail, the NCC circa 2009-2013 tried to conjure up some ideas about bringing it back, as a light rail loop.

In usual NCC fashion, almost all of the documentation has vanished from the web, including the website

www interprovincial-transit-strategy ca

and the archive website

archives ncc-ccn ca/planning/transportation-strategies/interprovincial-transit-strategy

In fact the only thing remaining on the web is the summary hosted by Quebec’s STO – Connecting Communities: An Interprovincial Transit Strategy (PDF).

Some other sites have preserved the report: Action Sandy Hill has the full report in a Google Doc, and City Centre Coalition has all of the annexes/detailed reports as Google Docs.

I saved the presentation deck, and here is the key slide with their imaginary LRT loop.

NCC Interprovincial Transit - Infrastructure

There was no money and no plan so the whole thing is moot.

It would be great if OC Transpo and STO would at least integrate at the level of payment, but right now all you can do with your OC Transpo Presto card is take STO if you have an OC Transpo transfer or monthly pass.

Ottawa LRT Stage 3 and Gatineau West-End Rail

The only thing likely to happen in terms of interprovincial rail is a resurrection of the Prince of Wales rail link, since all of the infrastructure is still there.  This might happen in Ottawa LRT Stage 3 (which has a reasonable chance of being funded) or, rather less likely and also somehow including an Alexandra rail crossing, in the proposed but not funded Gatineau West-End Rail.

Ottawa LRT Stage 3 maps

As the Stage 3 plan is neither complete nor funded, there isn’t a lot of definitive detail.

In Stage 3 Ottawa may extend commuter rail west to Kanata and south to Barrhaven, both from the west side of Line 1 (the red line, also called the Confederation Line).

It may also extend rail to Quebec over the existing but currently unused Prince of Wales Bridge, although there is also a Gatineau proposal to create a west-end rail system in Quebec that would run across the Prince of Wales Bridge that is proposed to run across the Portage Bridge.

UPDATE 2019-07-12: Here is a high-resolution Stage 3 map

Stage 3 purple from Light-Rail-Transit-Project_Tech-Briefing_20190222_EN
from slide 109 of the Stage 2 Light Rail Transit Project: Technical Briefing – February 22, 2019 (PDF) – Stage 3 extensions to Kanata and Barrhaven in purple

Based on Stage 2 completing in 2025, we would expect Stage 3 to be completed in the 2030-2031 timeframe, assuming they can secure Stage 3 funding.

See below for details of
Kanata
and
Barrhaven
Stage 3 extensions.

Note that the extension across the Prince of Wales Bridge may be complicated by STO’s proposed rail plan that would run instead on the Portage Bridge.

END UPDATE

To some extent you can get a sense of the earlier Stage 3 vision from the transportation network in the 2013 Transportation Master Plan. (The Transportation Master Plan normally would have been updated in 2018, but the city wants to complete Stage 1 of the rail system first.)

This map was a vision for the future (roughly 2028-2031 timeframe). The actual network will depend on many different factors including funding and route optimisation. Red is rail (Light Rail Transit), blue is bus (Bus Rapid Transit).

TMP - Rapid Transit and Transit Priority Network - Ultimate Network - tmp_en

Above from [2013] Transportation Master Plan, page 123 in the full PDF document or separate map download Map 3 Rapid Transit and Transit Priority Network – Ultimate Network (PDF).

Stage 3 is still at least 5 years (2023) from being finalised and started, since Stage 2 has to complete first. Completion of Stage 3 would be something like 2028 at the earliest. (See updates below.)

UPDATE 2018-02-15: I would characterize the surface rail (tram) line running along Carling depicted in the map above as highly speculative. If implemented as a tram, sharing the roadway with cars, it would have the same reliability problems other North American streetcars have. (This type of tram with shared road space is common outside North America, and works well there due to a variety of factors including different road designs and slower vehicle speeds.) END UPDATE

UPDATE 2018-02-23: There has been a detailed announcement about Stage 2, including a new prospective map for Stage 3 and a new timeline.

Mayor Jim Watson tweeted

We are setting the stage for future expansion of 12km to Kanata-Stittsville [from Moodie Station] and Barrhaven. Additionally, the Baseline Station is protected for a future 10km extension to Barrhaven, and Bayview Station is protected for a 1.5km interprovincial rail link to Gatineau [over the Prince of Wales Bridge].

[Bracketed comments] and strikeout mine.

He tweeted a map with Stage 3 rail extensions in blue, but this is usually used for Bus Rapid Transit, so I have changed the extension colour to purple. The map is low-resolution to start with, but I increased the size a bit anyway. UPDATE 2018-02-24: The map is from slide 109 of the Stage 2 Light Rail Transit Project: Technical Briefing – February 22, 2019 (PDF) END 2018-02-24 UPDATE

[a low-resolution map was here, see top of post for high-resolution version]

Stage 3 is now at least six years (2025) away from being finalised and started, based on the new timeline for Stage 2. This would mean completion of Stage 3 in the 2030-2031 timeframe.

END 2018-02-23 UPDATE

Kanata (Line 1 West)

Ottawa’s east-west commuter rail Confederation Line (Line 1) is completely grade-separated, which means that it never intersects with car traffic. This is absolutely the correct design for a high-reliability commuter rail network. When extending the network into car-designed Kanata, however, it has the unusual result of a recommendation that part of the line be elevated. Any time you put rail under the ground or elevated above ground level it’s more expensive, but I guess there are a lot of highways for the Kanata extension to cross.

The website is ottawa.ca/kanataLRT

See below for the Kanata map.

Documents are available from the May 9, 2018 City Council:

There are also draft documents from August 2018 available from the kanataLRT webpage itself, but rather unusually they’re in DropBox, so caveat downloader:

UPDATE 2018-11-25: The final Environmental Project Report (EPR) is available, dated November 21, 2018 and is also stored in Dropbox:

END UPDATE

Kanata LRT Stage 3 Map

In the map below, the proposed corridor and station locations are shown, with elevated portions of the line in green, at-grade in blue, and underground in yellow.

Kanata Fig 8-1 LRT Alignment and Station Locations

Map from section 8-3, page 168 of the August 2018 Report Draft from DropBox.

Stations heading west and then south:

  • Moodie Station (planned for Stage 2)
  • March Station
  • Kanata Town Centre Station
  • Terry Fox Station
  • Didsbury Station
  • Campeau Station (line turns south after this station)
  • Palladium [stadium] Station
  • Maple Grove Station
  • Hazeldean Station

A clearer map, but without indication of the sections above and below ground
kanata_lrt_map_en
from Kanata Light Rail Transit Planning and Environmental Assessment Study – Notice of Completion of Transit Project Assessment Process

In the map above “LMSF” means Light Maintenance and Storage Facility.

The older diagram below from the earlier May 2018 report to City Council – Corridor Options (PDF) also shows the stations.

Kanata LRT Fig 4 Preferred Corridor

Barrhaven (Line 1 South)

Barrhaven is new addition to the LRT evaluations, although a rail line to Barrhaven was always envisioned as part of the Ultimate Network. The line would connect south from west Line 1 Stage 2 Baseline Station.

The website is ottawa.ca/barrhavenLRT

UPDATE 2019-10-14: There will be an open house on October 30, 2019 at 6pm at the Nepean Sportsplex – Barrhaven Light Rail Transit (Baseline Station to Barrhaven Town Centre) and Rail Grade-Separations Planning and Environmental Assessment Study.  END UPDATE

There is a document from Transportation Committee on October 3, 2018 (also see meeting Agenda):

Barrhaven LRT Stage 3 Maps

Barrhaven LRT Stage 3 map

Above from page 5 of the Statement of Work document. Note that this is a study corridor, it’s not a proposed or final alignment.

Newer map highlighting study area:
barrhaven_lrt_keymap_en
Above from https://ottawa.ca/barrhavenLRT

In the above map BRT (the blue line) means Bus Rapid Transit.

There was to have been an open house in June 2019 on Barrhaven Light Rail Transit (Baseline Station to Barrhaven Town Centre) and Rail Grade-Separations Planning and Environmental Assessment Study as part of the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP). The open house has been postponed.

Prince of Wales Bridge

You can see in the maps at the top of this blog post that there is a plan for OC Transpo’s commuter rail service to cross the Prince of Wales Bridge, but I don’t know any details. I don’t even know whether they would use Line 1 or just extend Line 2 northwards. I’m happy to add details if they are provided.

Addendum

These are very early days, so rely on the City of Ottawa for official word on the specific rail lines and stations for Stage 3 LRT.