Ottawa shows it’s ready for rail with Confederation Line opening

Sept. 16, 2019
The new light-rail line signifies a shift in transit strategy for the city with light rail serving as its spine.

Capping decades of planning, construction, frustrating delays and a few controversies, Line 1, the Confederation Line, opened Sept. 14 in Ottawa, Ontario.

“Today marks a long-anticipated, memorable day in our city. Ottawa has officially opened its Light-Rail Transit system. I’m very pleased with the quality & efficiency of the ride on the trains. Confederation Line will make our city more connected than ever before,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson posted in a tweet.

The C$2.13-billion (US$1.6 billion) light-rail project runs along a 12.5-kilometer (7.7-mile) route with 13 stations, including four underground, and connects Tunney’s Pasture Station in the west to Blair Station in the east. The city of Ottawa says the O-Train Confederation Line is a “world-class transit system” with trains arriving every five minutes or less. The line is expected to carry up to 10,700 passengers per hour in each direction during weekday peak periods, which would make it one of the busiest light-rail lines in North America.

Construction on the line began in 2013 by Rideau Transit Group (RTG) partners, which was awarded the contract to design, build and finance the project, and to maintain it for the next 30 years.

“Congratulations and thank you to our employees, our global suppliers and our stakeholders, and thank you to the city of Ottawa for enabling the construction of what will become an iconic transit system,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, president, Infrastructure, SNC-Lavalin. “The Confederation Line construction saw over C$1 billion (US$75 million) awarded to more than 500 local vendors. Our ongoing maintenance contract will continue this local focus while 50 new permanent jobs have been created to maintain the vehicles.”

The company noted in a release the challenges the team experienced leading to lessons that will be applied to future projects, such as a tunnel sequential excavation method (SEM) that was used to create the 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) tunnel and three underground stations to minimize above-ground disruption during construction through the downtown core.

On Friday, Ottawa announced a partnership with TELUS would make Wi-Fi and cellular service available on the line for free

Thales, which supplied its SelTrac™ Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology, to the project, explained the system will provide major energy savings while using telecommunications between train and track equipment for effective traffic management.

The city of Ottawa says the transformation of the transit system to make the light-rail line its spine is the biggest transit service change in the city’s history. To help customers through this period, OC Transpo will continue to operate buses on its current routes for three weeks following the opening of O-Train Line 1, giving everyone time to make the transition and the opportunity to try riding the new train. On October 6, a major bus network service change will be made to align bus routes with O-Train Line 1.

The Stage 2 project, which will see the O-Train network expanded to the east, west and south, is in progress with the city council approving the project in March 2019. At completion, Stage 2 will bring nearly 77 percent of Ottawa’s population within five kilometers (3.1 miles) of light rail. 

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.