March 31, 2023

Sixteen months after the original start date of Kitchener’s light rail transit system, Ion still isn’t running — and won’t be until well into the new year.

What exactly needs to be completed for the LRT to be operational, and when will it begin service?

First, the fleet of LRT vehicles needs to be completed. Currently, Ion has 11 out of the 14 vehicles that were ordered. However, several of these are currently undergoing modifications, with radios, antennas and software being added to enable the trains to control traffic lights along the rail system, a key component for the service to run at a consistent service speed for testing.  After the modifications are complete, each train is required to complete 600 hours of testing before it is ready to begin service.

Of the 14 vehicles that Waterloo Region has ordered, three are still to be completed and delivered from Bombardier, while the remaining 11 are already in the Waterloo Region.  Of the 11 trains currently in Waterloo Region’s possession, four of them are completely service-ready and are being used to test the tracks.  The remaining seven in the region are undergoing modifications to make them service-ready.

“We are no longer able to meet the December 2018 goal we had of starting service,” said Thomas Schmidt, the region’s commissioner of transportation and environment services. “There has been good progress, but unfortunately none of the vehicles are what we would call service-ready.”

With the remaining vehicles still being completed in Kingston, Waterloo Region council did not feel that it could estimate when the LRT would be fully operational. The best they could say was that the new target window for service would be spring 2019.


The Kitchener-Waterloo LRT route, as well as the location of the stops. Image from the Grand River Transit web page.

Another issue plaguing the system is cost overruns, with the overall budget coming in at more than $50 million higher than originally forecast, putting the total spent on the project so far at $868 million. With the uncertainty of the timing of the service launch, more overruns are possible. Half of the $50-million overrun is directly related to the lack of vehicles to test the system.

Tom Galloway, former councillor for the Region of Waterloo, said the region is going to recoup the extras costs from Bombardier.

“We haven’t decided we are going to take legal action. We’ve just decided that we are going to pursue the costs,” he said.

With the LRT service being forecast to become operational less than six months from now, here are some safety tips being offered on the Grand River Transit web page: Obey signage. Several intersections have been modified to accommodate the LRT. Stay off the tracks. Tracks are for trains, never stop or park on them. Most importantly, stay alert. Ion trains run on electricity and may not always be heard above normal street noise.

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