Region of Waterloo's ION light rail opens for service

June 24, 2019
The 19 station route is just shy of 10 miles and serves as the core to the region’s master plan for sustainable mobility.

The Region of Waterloo began service on the ION light-rail network, which runs between Conestoga station in Waterloo and Fairway station in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada with 19 stations along the route.

The vehicles will operate on a dedicated rapid route along tracks isolated from regular traffic, except at intersections and road crossings. 

On hand to open the system on June 21 were Raj Saini, Member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Mike Harris, Member of Provincial Parliament for Kitchener-Conestoga on behalf of the Honourable Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, as well as Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman and members of Regional Council.

“I am thrilled to see the completion of the first stage of the ION rapid transit system infrastructure project that will revolutionize the way residents use public transit in their day-to-day lives,” said Raj Saini, Member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre. “This rapid transit system will build a more sustainable and prosperous future for the residents of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo and provide a clean, modern, efficient, and expandable transit system that will meet the Region’s needs for decades to come.” 

The Region of Waterloo explained that ION will not only provide a frequent and reliable transit, it is also shaping the community by encouraging more residential and commercial development in Waterloo Region’s existing urban areas. More than 50 percent of new development in the region is now happening within the existing urban areas, with C$2.3 billion (US$1.74 billion) invested in new construction along the ION route since 2011. 

ION is being implemented in two stages. Stage 1 includes a light-rail connection from Conestoga station in Waterloo to Fairway station in Kitchener, as well as an ION bus connection from Fairway station to Ainslie Street transit terminal in Cambridge. 

Stage 2 will see ION bus converted to light rail, creating a seamless route across the region’s three urban centers. 

As part of the GrandLinq Consortium, Keolis Grand River – Keolis’ local subsidiary – is responsible for the 16-km (9.94-mile) light-rail line operations for the next 10 years and maintenance for the next 30 years. The contract, which was awarded in May 2014, is under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP). While Keolis has experience operating light-rail systems globally, this is the company's first light-rail operation in North America.

“We are delighted to start operating the light rail for Region of Waterloo,” said Clément Michel, president and CEO of Keolis in North America. “We began testing and commissioning the trams and control center in July 2017. Now, with responsibility for operating and maintaining the ION LRT for Region of Waterloo, we’re looking forward to enhancing quality of life in the region for many years to come. Supporting cities and regions in developing sustainable, accessible and comfortable mobility solutions is in our DNA. We’re proud to accompany Region of Waterloo’s authorities and residents in shaping the region’s public transport with this new network, which is our first light-rail operation in North America.”

Keolis noted that the ION light-rail network the core of the region’s master plan for sustainable mobility to create a single urban area from the three cities and to increase the attractiveness of the Technological Triangle of Canada.

Grand River Transit, the region's existing public transit provider, will be implementing major changes to its bus schedules to integrate the ION LRT network. To celebrate the opening of ION light rail, 11 days of free service is being provided across the Grand River Transit network, from opening day to Canada Day.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction 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.