Extending the OTrain Trillium Line South to Airport / Riverside South

The City has been planning for quite some time to extend the existing OTrain Trillium Line further south, from Greenboro to Leitrim or Bowes Road. They will be holding public meetings on all the changes required and plans, on Jan 13 at Durrell Rec Centre, and Jan 15th, 6-8pm, at St Anthony Hall.

I encourage anyone with an interest to go and support the extended service. And press for its early start.

Currently, the red trainsets run every 15 minutes. There are two trains in operation at any one time on the single-track line, passing each other in the middle of their run at Carleton U. To operate over an extended track length and at a greater frequency of 7.5 -8 minutes, two new passing sidings are required and six trainsets.

We actually have the six brand-new trainsets, now stored out in the Walkley area for more than a year. They haven’t seen revenue service yet as the signalling project is now a year late, with no firm start date in sight. Watson was lucky not to have been quizzed at the last election on yet more late infrastructure projects (the train expansion is a year late, the clocks are ticking on the trains’ guarantee period, the Hickory bridge is a year late … can anything else go wrong? Well yes, how much are those delays costing?).

Trillium service currently runs from Bayview to Greenboro. An additional station is planned for Gladstone in 2023. I suspect the prospects of that station actually being built in that time period are closely related to the viability of the adjacent condo market, since development fees are to pay for the station. No development … no station?

Stations are also planned for South Keys, Leitrum, and Bowesville. Each of the two furthest stations don’t service walk-in neighbourhoods but are park-and-ride terminals with about 3500 parking spots.

Because the main line will continue to be single track for the foreseeable future, the system is highly vulnerable to breakdowns. Both trains have to be perfectly positioned today for either to run; in the future, all four+  trainsets will have to be running perfectly for any one to move.

There isn’t enough demand in the Riverside South community for 8 minute train frequency. Patronage drops off drastically at South Keys. So beyond South Keys expect 15 minute frequency at the off-peak; maybe 8 minutes at peak periods. This is the same model as OC Transpo uses for buses whereby fewer buses on route 95 or 97 go beyond the main stations.

To the Airport, or beyond

One possible use for every second trainset that doesn’t go all the way to Bowesville, is to repurpose it to the airport instead. While there are a series of potential routes to the airport, I like the one that sweeps across the north side of the EY Centre’s north-side hall expansion (with a new connection to local buses), runs along the north edge of the NRC wind tunnels, and sweeps in to service the main passenger terminal via an elevated structure at the top level of the parking garage directly above the car rental bureaux.

Users would exit the train at the top enclosed level of the garage building (converted, of course, into tempered indoor space) and then descend to take the garage bridge directly into the terminal. Very convenient.

Delightfully, people at the airport would be unable to miss seeing the trains, reminding them that there is a transit alternative to taking a car.

southern legs of route


It is a difficult balancing act to decide whether airport users get the direct trains from the airport to Bayview, or if they use a shuttle train to South Keyes and transfer. People with luggage won’t want to transfer, and Bayview isn’t (yet) downtown so there might be two transfers, which is one too many….  The residents of Riverside South will also prefer direct service and to not transfer at South Keys.

Fortunately, the peak service hours to the airport and to Riverside South are different, so sometimes trains could run with a transfer to the airport, and other times directly to the airport. In either scenario, there would be 15 minute frequency of trains to the airport.

There are many more potential passengers to Riverside than to the airport (about 10:1) so a mechanism to pay for the airport link is required. One suggestion is to charge people boarding the trains at the airport an “improvement fee” surcharge on their PrestoPass swipe. In Vancouver, I gather this is a $7 surcharge (leaving the airport only; going to is regular price).

I am most curious to know if people driving to the airport, or being dropped off, or using taxis, pay for their roads. Maybe in the general airport improvement fee? In which case, I hope train users will then be excused from that fee. Hmm.

At the open house, the city will be revealing options for how to relocate, improve, or build stations and platform layouts at Gladstone, Confederation, Walkley, South Keys, Leitrum, and Bowesville. Remember that this is a planning study, not a ready-to-build construction plan.

No Fancy Stations

Thus far there is no indication that Trillium line users will enjoy the nice station designs, enclosed platforms, and soaring rooflines planned for all the Confederation Line stations. Instead, the forecast is for more bus-shelter-like stations.

I think if we are going to encourage transit and transit-oriented-development, to meet the modal split and intensification goals of the official plan, the city will have to invest in station designs similar to the Confederation Line for the Trillium Line. Better to do it now.

To Gatineau and beyond !

There is a rule of thumb in the convention trade that favours cities with a direct airport-downtown links. No transfers. The Trillium airport link won’t achieve that as it misses the downtown, requiring a transfer at Bayview. But the route would be viable for locals and workers accessing the airport.

The Airport link is at least a decade — probably two — out into the future. By that time, we may also see a northern extension of the Trillium Line over the Prince of Wales bridge from Bayview Station to Gatineau, and possibly along the Rapibus corridor to the Gatineau casino and convention centre. In that case, Gatineau will reap what Ottawa sows, being the no-transfer destination with a casino to boot.


14 thoughts on “Extending the OTrain Trillium Line South to Airport / Riverside South

  1. A much better option would be, instead of an airport spur, to have the Trillium line go straight through the airport, under the runway, to the intersection of Leitrim and Bowesville. Tunneling under the runway may be pricey, but it has been done in places like Calgary and Paris. It would also be cheaper in the long run, and allow people to take transit between the Airport and the South. They should at least have evaluated this option.

    1. i think that making the spur part of something longer makes some sense. On the PAC I suggested it run up to the terminal bldg at right angles, then continue under the runway and over a transit only bridge to the rcmp hq and its 6000 car parking lot and the industrial area on the west side of the river, and maybe onwards to fallowfield. However, the consultants and airport authority where straight out all negative on any such idea, saying that no airport in the world has a tunnel under a runway .,.. and those i knew of such as the transit bridge OVER the planes at Phoenix (i posted a pic of that from my airplane a few years ago, use the search button to find it) were under taxiways not runways and someone could blow it up etc etc etc. Anyhow, i fight enough battles against overwhealming odds and stupid proposals i am not going to persue this far shot i have little stake in …

      1. Martin is right though: there are definitely tunnels – wide road tunnels at that – under the runways of Paris and Calgary airports. There’s also one under Amsterdam’s Schipol airport.

        The City actually holds the upper hand here because if the Airport Authority ever wants to extend the main runway it will have to pay to tunnel or divert the existing railway around the extension at its own expense (ever wonder why CPR kept the line to Leitrim instead of just cutting it off at the NRC facility? well now you do) so why the City doesn’t want to consider a long term single-line solution (i.e. to Riverside South via the Airport) is puzzling. It’s because the Airport Authority wanted to avoid having to do this for the line to Riverside South that it suddenly warmed up on an LRT connection to the airport while simultaneously pouring cold water on the line to Riverside South.

  2. And… there’s the line out to Kanata (I think it is/was called Beachburg Subdivision). With all the talk of light rail etc. I’m a little surprised of no talk of the (almost) direct rail link between our airport and our high-tech centre.

    1. we are still way too auto oriented to be thinking about future rail links and corridors, no one at the city wants to talk about them … we are still married to ring roads and ‘parkways’. Yeah, we should be reserving all those corridors, and directing highest density growth zones to them for future transit oriented nodes once the low rise sprawly stuff is built over the next 20 years … but we dont think that way. The only spot that gets the future consideration treatment is reserving space for a transit station is the crossing of somerset and trillium line, and that is done without open reference to a somerset line (recall, the confed line may be at capacity as early as 2031 and the next most probable corridor is under somerset …

  3. I agree that the optimal solution is to go under the airport and have the airport simply a stop on the main line. However, and I say this as a rail infrastructure enthusiast, I don’t think YOW will EVER draw the traffic to justify that kind of expenditure.

    Maybe I am less transfer averse than most, but I think a non-OCTranspo rail tram from the terminal to the nearest OTrain (Trillium? The one line that may go into Quebec we’re going to name after something specifically Ontarian?) station. Mostly decouple the airport shuttle frequency question from the rapid transit frequency question.

    When I travel, I don’t care about transfers if the trains come frequently. And, transferring between metro lines (i.e. a handful of well defined colored lines on a map with well defined frequencies), is different from transferring between buses (i.e. a table of numbers of varying frequencies). Perhaps a direct connection to “downtown” from the airport would be preferable, but people need to look at what kind of airport YOW is (i.e. tiny) before they make that a deal-breaker.

    But, I’m not going to climb ramparts to fight anyone on this. I WILL say that if you’re going to charge people $7 for it, then you better discontinue the 97 to the airport if you want people to ride it.

    1. The airport is busy as it is now with that said many say the train going to Pearson is a waste of money.

  4. I am certainly most interested in the rail link over the Ottawa river, as you brought up at the end of the article. It is a shame it’s taking so long to use that Prince of Wales (PoW) rail bridge.

    I am from Aylmer and I know it’s only a matter of time before the population between the lower Aylmer road (Lucerne boulevard) and the Upper Aylmer road explodes with condos/highrises between the Champlain bridge and the Rivermead golf course.This is right across the street from where the former CPR rail bed sits that saw trains crossing the PoW rail bridge until the early 1990s.

    I would very much like to see rail service return to Aylmer but I do understand that the first steps are to get it to the Casino where the money is. Then rail service can be re-instated to come west to Aylmer again. The planning for this westward movement of trains on the Quebec side must be planned now. I would like to see the STO expand to have rail planning office and not just continue with bus technology.

    Thank you.

    Pat Brennan
    Aylmer Trains

  5. “I think if we are going to encourage transit and transit-oriented-development, to meet the modal split and intensification goals of the official plan, the city will have to invest in station designs similar to the Confederation Line for the Trillium Line. Better to do it now.”

    You know what encourages people to use transit?

    The presence of transit.

    We are sinking way too much money into soaring cathedrals that will capture summer-time heat, and not enough in to railbed. Give me practical, functional stations, and more rail-kilometres, over vanity architecture, any day.

  6. After attending the meeting on Tuesday and talking to the planners my opinion for an O-Train extension to the airport has not changed. Keep in mind, I love the O-train and think its a great idea and has believe it has been the most positive addition to the city in the last 14 years, not just for transit. The airport extension has two very big issues that will stop it from happening anytime soon.

    1. The phase 2 Rapid Transit budget does not include any funding for an airport extension. Translation, they want the Airport Authority to at the least partly, pay for the extension.

    2. Even the planners on the project agree, there is just not enough transit passengers right now to even entertain the possibility in the next 10 years. Let alone justify the cost of the extension, even if you have add a station at the EY Centre. Currently the total transit passengers on all routes to the airport property (airport workers and passengers) is less than 700 trips per 24 hour regular business day. That’s total both directions in and out and not just the airport Transitway route but the other routes that enter the airport property as well.

  7. Haveacow

    You can’t just look at short term you have to look long term and as I said before many said the new Pearson train was not needed but they moved forward but back to Ottawa you have to look at long term that 700 trips now what if that’s 1400 or higher then what.

  8. Jayme,

    I have very little time so I will be brief.

    1. The Macdonald-Cartier Airport will need at the minimum 3500-4000 passengers a day to be worth this expensive line. Actually 4-5000 would be better in my professional opinion. (I am a planner I do this for a living).

    2. The cost of construction for this roughly 3 km. line is around $80-$100 Million. The last km of the right of way will be above grade on a concrete viaduct, gradually going uphill until it gets to the station located 3 stories in the air between the airport passenger terminal and the parking garage. These costs do not include track and possible station upgrades to existing facilities because we have not determined what type of rail service we will use. The different possibilities all require different upgrades for existing track and station platforms. Possible configurations include:
    a) A separate shuttle service between South Keys Station and the Air Port Terminal and normal through running between Bayview and Bowesville..
    b) A true branch service where every second train goes to the airport and the next heads to Bowesville.
    c) A separate shuttle service going to Bowesville from South Keys, with normal through running from Bayview to the Airport Terminal.
    d) A combination of all 3 at different times of the day.

    The O-Train was relatively cheap because the rail right of way already existed ($32 Million + $8 Million for insurance in 2001 dollars).The fact that the right of way already existed meant you could skip certain steps in the planning process which meant implementation was also relatively quick. Any new rail right of way to the Airport will have to be built from scratch meaning its much more expensive and will take longer to implement even with the new transit supportive planning process. Transport Canada has to give approval on any new transit line. I can tell you it was quite a long dance so to speak, to get them to approve the O-Train originally. Transport Canada does not like it when Trains and Planes mix together in close proximity, expect many very expensive changes and design upgrades from them. They will add many millions of dollars in extra costs to this project, count on it!

    3. The Pearson Airport currently gets, according to Transport Canada, 36,000,000 passengers a year. With current growth rates they are expected to grow to around 45,000,000 passengers a year by 2025. They currently handle between 250,000-300,000 passengers on a normal business day. More on busy days. The Pearson Airport is served not only by the TTC, but by GO Transit, Mississauga Transit, (Mi Way), Brampton Transit (ZUUM) and recently York Region Transit (VIVA Express). Pearson currently attracts 7500 passengers a day, every day just with transit buses alone. The TTC’s “The Airport Rocket” Express Bus attracts 4500 passengers a day, by itself. This does not count other local coach bus services or the many free special hotel shuttle buses. If you really need to get there fast there is the new elite helicopter service from several downtown locations.

    4. This year, the Union Station to Pearson Airport Express Train or the UP Express starts operating. To make this work, $400 Million had to spent on new DMU’s (Diesel Multiple Unit) rail vehicles from Japan and the Rail right of way itself. The new right of way into Pearson connects its new airport passenger railway station to a very high above grade and twisting double track line to the existing Georgetown Rail Corridor. The Georgetown Rail Corridor connects directly to Toronto’s Terminal Railway and Union Station (a facility that is used by 250,000 transit passengers a day). The airport DMU’s have modular propulsion systems and can be easily changed to EMU’s (Electrical Multiple Units) when needed.

    5. Union Station itself is undergoing a massive upgrade and historical restoration of its railway passenger service areas including the two waiting rooms, the main one and the smaller ancillary one (with its beautiful stain glassed roof, covered over during WW2). Also being upgraded and restored is the train shed and train shed roof as well as the subway platforms. A new mall is being added below Union Station as well as improved underground commercial connections are also being added. With 19000 new condo dwellers in the area, it turns out they need malls and grocery stores too, not just high cost stores and restaurants serving business men/women in office towers and tourists during the day.

    6. The Georgetown Rail Corridor itself just finished a 8 year $2.5 Billion upgrade and expansion. This 20 km, 4 track rail corridor, had 1 new track added, with the ability to add 2 more for future use for a total of 7. Twenty existing bridges upgraded and expanded, 5 new bridges added as well as 2 new tunnels. This work eliminated 4 level railway crossings as well as several major and minor road crossings. The corridor is used daily by CN and CP freight trains, many VIA Rail trains, as of June 2015, a UP Express train every 15 minutes in both directions all day and 3 existing GO Train lines all of which, will soon have their schedules upgraded significantly. There is also 1 new GO line (The Bolton Line) planned to begin service on this corridor by 2018. The upgrades also added room for electric trains, their overhead catenary, contact wires and the electrical transformers.

    7. Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier Airport currently gets 4,600,000 passengers a year according to Transport Canada about, 1/9 that of Pearson. Current passenger counts of 28,000-36,000 passengers every business day are the norm here in Ottawa. As mentioned before, the total transit passengers (in and out) to the airport property not just the passenger terminal is around 700 a day.

    8. Even if the Trillium Line extension to the airport is built the service does not go directly downtown, passengers have to transfer at Bayview to the Confederation Line. This will affect the utility of the line. Travelers will most likely, as was pointed out earlier, not flock to the line in great numbers because of the transfer however, locals and those travelers familiar with the transit system most likely will.

    Jayme, Pearson Airport has the transit and business passenger market necessary to support a rail line, our airport does not, not yet anyway! We are 15-20 years away from that in my opinion. We have no funding even planned for this extension and it will take a good deal of time to build up the passenger market here. Its just too easy right now to drive or take a bus to our airport. We thankfully, have none of the severe traffic congestion that Toronto does on a daily basis.

  9. Hope city planners (and their consultants) and politicians also read this blog and some of the very excellent posts in reply to ideas raised by Eric. This site is rich in ideas that need to be investigated and acted upon. These include preserving existing rail corridors for future transit, and rehabbing and using the PoW Bridge.

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