Ottawa's LRT Expansion: Challenges and Surprises Along the Tracks of Trillium Line

Ottawa has been actively expanding its LRT system in all three directions: east, west, and south. However, the progress of the east-west ext...

Ottawa has been actively expanding its LRT system in all three directions: east, west, and south. However, the progress of the east-west extensions is dependent on resolving significant reliability issues that have been affecting commuters on the Confederation Line since its opening in 2019. On the other hand, the Trillium Line South extension is making comparatively good progress, although there have already been some delays so it's unclear if it will open in 2023. As part of the annual Doors Open Ottawa event held on June 3, 2023, OC Transpo showcased its latest Swiss-made Stadler Flirt train to the public at Greenboro Station. Obviously, I couldn't miss this opportunity to attend this event and see the new train for the first time. 
The Trillium Line (Line 2), launched on October 15, 2001, served as a pilot project to offer an alternative to Ottawa's Transitway bus rapid transit. 
The single-track line with five stations and a passing loop at Carleton Station was established at a cost of CA$ 21 million, considerably less than the usual expense of new transit lines. It used the existing Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, requiring minimal construction for stations and passing tracks to facilitate two-way train operation.
The Trillium Line pilot attracted some criticism due to its route alignment along existing railway tracks rather than addressing transportation needs in specific city areas, though it proved advantageous for Carleton University students (I know at least a few thankful fellows) by connecting the campus to the active Ottawa Transitway system.
To make the Trillium Line more relevant to the city's needs, it's currently undergoing a 16-km southern expansion, including a 4-km extension to Macdonald–Cartier International Airport and the EY Centre (Line 4), and four brand-new stations: South Keys, Leitrim, Bowesville, and Limebank in Riverside South. 
The Bowesville station is a bit weird as it's literally located in the middle of an open field, far away from any urban or suburban areas. 
The extension will be fully grade-separated and two new stations are being built (Corso Italia and Walkley) along the existing segment of the line. 
The new Walkley Train Yard in Ottawa is a significant addition to the city's transportation infrastructure. 
While the new train has a similar look and feel as the older trains on the Confederation Line, it is quite different. Stadler Flirt trains are a series of multiple-unit trains designed and manufactured by the Swiss company Stadler Rail. "Flirt" stands for "Flinker Leichter Innovativer Regional-Triebzug," which translates to "Fast Light Innovative Regional Train" in English. 
While these trains are well known in Europe for their reliability, comfort, and safety, they are designed for regional and suburban transit services, which kind of puzzled me, because this train is supposed to be used in the city. 
The train operates on diesel power, which caught me off guard, considering that the majority of urban metro systems are powered by electricity. I believe that a diesel train is better suited for providing service to suburban areas, similar to the GO train in Toronto and the West Coast Express Train in Vancouver.
The third "surprise", or rather a disappointment, was the realization that a significant portion of the line isn't equipped with dual tracks. This means that trains travelling in opposite directions will need to coordinate their movement at specific stations or segments of the track. The city estimated that during peak hours, a train will operate every 12(!) minutes. Perhaps this frequency suits present-day ridership, but will this be able to address future needs? 
With the Trillium Line having been closed for expansion over the past three years, Ottawa had a chance to establish a more robust train service. I get the importance of cost considerations, but it's worth noting that subway systems are designed to endure for decades if not centuries, as seen in other cities like New York, London, or Paris.
The stations on the Trillium Line have a straightforward and practical design, using a combination of glass, steel, and concrete for a minimalist look. 
I'm curious if they will also incorporate local artwork, similar to what we see on the Confederation Line.
In 2017, the City of Ottawa organized a contest called "Name the Trains" for children and youth under the age of 16. For the Trillium Line 2, the selected names included Emily Murphy, Dreamcatcher, Nanuq (Polar Bear), Northern Lights, Portage, and Rocket Richard. 
At the time of this writing (mid-September 2023), I saw a train at Limebank Station, so the testing is well underway. However, since the Trillium Line has hit some major delays so far, its opening is expected to be pushed back to at least later 2023. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to hop on a new train! 

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