After years of ignoring the O-Train (as Chiarelli’s baby it was “thrown out” with the Mayor who drew the bath water); it is finally back on Council’s agenda.
Council is looking at some significant service improvements: 8 minute frequency (starting in 2014) rather than 15-minute headway now. This comes with a significant cost: buying six new train sets and selling off the existing Talent train sets in 2014 that would be nearly half-way through their lifespan.
The City can make a business case for doing the upgrade, based on several factors: the current O-train is at- or over-capacity and apparently cannot be made to run faster; they cannot buy more of the talent trains, as they are older equipment, no longer made, and unlikely to come on the used-train market. Our old trains, though, are in high demand.
Starting in 2014, conversion of the transitway to LRT will be underway, disrupting bus service. The O-train corridor is finally being recognized as an alternative to the SE Transitway (that runs south from Hurdman). Indeed, not only is it an attractive alternative, it is faster and cheaper to operate! Just compare the SE transitway route on the map below to the downtown compared to the O-Train.
Separate from the proposal to speed up service is another study to examine extending the O-Train service further south to Leitrum. This would require more train sets. If the City is not careful, they might end up with the North-South LRT plan Chiarelli originally favoured, but with diesel service instead of electrified.
The map below illustrates where the more frequent service would require new passing tracks (in addition to keeping the one at Carleton U).
The location of the new passing zones bothers me. The current one at Carleton is OK. It has a slightly longer dwell time for southbound trains built into it so that the opposite northbound train can enter the passing track. This is barely noticeable to users, because it simply appears we are at the station, and there are buildings and people and activity to look at.
But for the new passing zones, neither is at a station. Indeed, the near-Gladstone one is in the rock cut with all the exciting scenery currently enjoyed at the Carling Station. So the train will pull to a halt between stations, and wait for about a minute while the other train pulls into its track, then the service will resume. This delay for each passing partly accounts for the one minute longer trip time. But since the new trains accelerate and travel faster, the dead time in the passing zone will probably be about a minute for each passing track.
I think this is a bad deal for passengers. It is hardly encouraging for users to sit for two one-minute intervals going nowhere (I am assuming the wait at Carleton continues to be acceptable). It is reminiscent of the old 77 bus route that used to trundle through Carleton for seven minutes before coming out at exactly the same point it went into Campus. Boring, frustrating … these are not characteristics we want for our train service.
The most obvious improvement is to install at station at Gladstone — the Little Italy Station — and co-locate the passing track there. The wait time is then put to good use, for passengers can use the station, and the wait is somewhat disguised for the through-traffic. The proposed station may not be the perfect mid-point (judging from the map), but I would be interested in finding out if it could be squeezed in operationally.
The City proposes starting the new train service in 2014, just after they finish rebuilding the bridge over the Rideau River at Carleton University. To rebuild the bridge, they propose a 16 week “interruption” of service. That’s four months! I truly suspect that they could speed up that ‘downtime’ if they applied more people to the construction site. If MTO can replace a six-lane Queensway bridge overnight then the rail bridge shouldn’t be an entire construction season.
I do wonder about the wisdom of selling off the Talent train sets. With signs of some fresh thinking at OC Transpo, maybe we could find another use for them. Like an east-west service across the south side of the City, or even a GO-Train type of service to the new suburbs of Kemptville or Arnprior. Remember all the predictions that the current O-Train was from no-where to no-where, and wouldn’t be used, or would be of use only to students (as if they don’t count as humans using transit). Go ahead City, experiment a little. Try something new.
For keeners, here is the City’s report:
A note on the U-Pass: the U-pass is being credited for some of the upswing in transit usage in Ottawa, both bus and O-Train. Then more spending on upgrading the transitways and O-train is based on the increased use generated by the U-pass users. Next, continuing the U-pass program will be justified because the transit service is being upgraded to acomodate it. To critics, this is a vicious circle. For smart growth advocates, it is an example of a virtuous circle.