Region of Kitchener Waterloo’s Rapid Transit Service Moving More Than People

By Anna Guy

The Region of Waterloo ON, has recognized the need to strategically tackle an expanding urban core and population growth. According to the Province’s Growth Plan, the Waterloo Region’s population will reach 742,000 by 2031, making it one of the fastest growing regions in Ontario, and making a public transportation system an integral part to the community and intensive urban infrastructure renewal.

The $868-million light rail train (LRT) system–known as ION—was a significant milestone for the regional growth strategy, said Brendon Simon, Senior Project Manager for Light Rail Transit at Region of Waterloo. “The vehicles symbolize the considerable progress being made to bring this new service to residents in Waterloo Region.”
June 21, 2019, marked the official opening of the new ION LRT system in Waterloo Region, which connects passengers from Fairway station in Kitchener to Conestiga station in Waterloo, with a total of 19 stations along the route.

The Region of Waterloo offered free rides across the entire GRT network within the first 11 days of the launch, which amounted in nearly 300, 000 passengers boarding the new ION system. The ceremony also highlighted the ION bus connection from Fairway to the Ainslie terminal in Cambridge as the first step to implement light rail in Cambridge.

The 100 per cent low floor LRV fleet is the first of its kind in North America. Stage 2 ION will see ION bus converted to light rail, creating a seamless light rail route that stretches from Cambridge to Waterloo. The vehicle includes doors on both sides, 56 fixed seats and can hold more than 200 people.

“The overwhelming response of the launch was incredible,” says Simon. Simon himself illustrates the vast knowledge pool the projects draws on thanks to the talent pool in the area; Simon himself initially started on the project while an Engineering student at the University of Waterloo.

“The objective of the LRT was to increase transit ridership throughout the region especially in our core areas,” says Simon. “Ultimately, we looked at rapid transit as a key driver to increase urban development and intensification.”

LRT has these main advantages: more energy efficient, can move more passengers at a lower cost per rider, Waterloo Region is part of a Canadian-wide interest in LRT, with major municipalities such as Vancouver, Toronto, also making significant investments in LRT.

The modernity of the LRT was really put on display during excavation on King Street in Waterloo that unearthed a historic corduroy road paved with logs and sand used by Mennonite settlers, that archaeologist suggest could have been from the earliest historic development of the region. If ever there was an illustration of how far transport has evolved, this is it.

In the early months since ION has launched there have been well over two million boardings and a 33 per cent increase in boardings. ION will no doubt push the Waterloo Region ahead even more. Since it’s approval in 2011, $3.2 billion worth of permits have been issued, mostly residential and by the ION stops stations.

“One of the key initiatives for the Province of Ontario is to encourage in our urban cores,” says Simon, “and we’re now seeing about 55 per cent percent of development taking place in our cores, so we are succeeding on that front as well. It is an exciting time for the Waterloo Region, and transportation in Canada.”