Ottawa’s LRT: Sifting Commercials for Info



The City has decided some time ago not to engage transit users for feedback on the design and use of its new LRT vehicles and stations.   Instead, users are stuck until they can “try out” a PR model of the new trains, or watch PR Videos cheerleading the project.

At Lansdowne Park, a mock-up LRT vehicle reveals numerous shortcomings, from entanglement points, very hard seats, to the lack of footroom at some seats that will make winter riding uncomfortable  and exiting the window seats acrobatic enough to challenge cirque de soleil performers. It’s a shame these details are coming out so late in the game.

Similarly, the City had only a small public / users focus group for the early design of the “wish list” stations, and none at all for the actual RTG-proposed stations. Is the City really so confident that users cannot contribute anything worthwhile to making the stations better value for the dollar?

The City has a promo video for its chosen vehicles. The background scenery is somewhat recognizable (the VIA Train Station, Ottawa U) and offers close-ups of one station: Pimisi.

On the assumption that the station layout information shown in the 26 Feb 2015 video is correct (a big assumption, but we haven’t much info to go by), here are some screen grabs, and some comparisons with similar pic released earlier by the city:

shot 1

This is Pimisi Station, at the middle  (track) level.  The train in the background is going westbound; the track we are looking along is headed east toward the downtown tunnel portal just a few metres east of the station. Booth street is barely visible crossing over at right angles, in the top right corner.

There is a single escalator to this end of the platform, plus stairs. I’m glad to see stairs, it may be the only exercise some people get. Our sedentary society needs more mindless exercise. The escalators might be reversible to operate in the direction of maximum flow, or maybe just “up”.

The escalator area is protected from rain and (some) snow by a dramatic sloping roof and full height glass wall. I do hope we etch the glass with nice patterns before the screwdriver set get at it to tag it with gang initials. The underside of the roof over the platform areas appears to be wood; beyond the platform area, it is metal.

All these elements – cone elevators, wood undersides, metal overhangs … are commonly seen in Ottawa at other buildings, for example the credit union at Bank-Isabella, a school on Bank just south of Sunnyside, Lansdowne Park, the Mackenzie King Bridge, etc. The stations will have a familiar at-home-in-Ottawa feel.

The escalator is in an unheated area, and to be shut down during non-operating night time hours * for maintenance and energy savings. When its -40C overnight, will a wet and gritty mechanism  start up in the morning?

On the south side, there are struts sticking out over the passenger platform from the red line of Station Identification signs. I hope these are for glass roofs so people on the platform will have some rain and snow shelter, as the station roof is very high up and may not extend over the tracks on the south side. To the north, the roof and side walls will protect the westbound platform area.

The track bed on the right  is shown as smooth concrete, not rails – ties – gravel ballast, which should keep it all neater and cleaner. Although in the screen grab, over on the left, on the platform,  the image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaving a bag is an unpleasant “where’s waldo” moment.

Here’s an earlier but similar still shot released by the city:

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Moving a bit further along the platform (see pic below) the maybe-glass-roof-over-the-platform is a bit more visible. The large metal cone in the centre is an elevator going down to the underground passageway that takes users down and out to the aqueduct pathways. From there, people can cross the parallel aqueduct over the historic stone bridges at Booth (sheltered from the rain by the road bridge waaaay up overhead) or at (unsheltered) Broad Street.



The lower level exit is designed to handle surge crowds from events like Canada Day and Bluesfest. As yet, crossing the Broad Bridge won’t get you anywhere, and even if you make your way out to Bluesfest it’s unlikely there will be an entrance there.

There appear to be horizontal louvres on each outside edge of the track right of way, in lieu of chain link fences, to prevent people from stepping off the curb and crossing the tracks, and possibly to serve as windbreaks. I wonder if these will be recycled Ash wood?

Here’s the still shot:

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This screen grab (below) is taken pigeon’s eye view from a point over the aqueduct and a bit west of Booth Street, which is just visible in the top left corner of the pic. The roof starts out as a V at Booth street and flattens as it descends. The chain link fence is not shown extending along the trackside where the decorative slatted fence ends, but will surely be there.



I do hope the runoff from that very large roof will be landing in a water garden and not just being directed into a downpipe into the sewers.

In early design considerations, the architects and planners decided that the south sides of stations should be mostly glazed or open to let in light and warmth; and the north and west sides glazed or solid walls, to block the northwest winds.

While that makes sense as a general rule, at Pimisi all the view is to the north, towards the aqueduct, the pathways, the ceremonial Algonquin welcoming area. Alas, the north wall is still mostly solid, reducing the pleasant views and restricting sightlines that would enhance subjective safety on the paths and underpass approaches.

shot 3

The pic above more clearly shows the lowest level underpass. It goes at least as far as the centre platform; I don’t know if goes all the way under the tracks to the south side of the station. The cone structure to the far left is the elevator pair to the Booth Street level. The video creators kindly pre-graphittied the underpass wall by advertising themselves.

In these two colour stills from the City, the three level design is more apparent: aqueduct and pathway level; track level; Booth Street level. The walking areas shown in these pic are where the transitway is now at LeBreton Station; the new Pimisi Station is actually located a bit further south and higher, more cut into the hill.

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The pic below shows the canal-side pathway with people who walk but no people who cycle. Note that the lower level walkout is actually several feet lower than the current transitway and canal edge, ie it’s in a dip.


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When the camera angle shifts to up above Booth Street (see pic below) , you can see the four lanes of Booth plus a bus-bay and car-drop-off-and-pick-up zone along the edge. It is unclear how much roof  shelter there is for pedestrians on this level. I previously saw plans that showed ordinary bus shelters parked along the eastern road edge, which suggests not much overhang.



Because of the traffic pulling in and out of the laybys, the City has decided the road is too dangerous for people who cycle, as they might get squashed by the busy bus movements, so there are no bike lanes, neither curbside nor floating somewhere out in the middle between traffic lanes. Behind-the-curb cycle tracks were also ruled out by OC Transpo who felt high speed cyclists would bowl over transit users like so many skittles. Instead, cyclists will be directed to walk their bikes on the sidewalks (from Albert to Wellington out by the Museum?) or use alternate routes (not yet provided?).

Nonetheless, the City trumpets the station as friendly for cyclists, as evidenced by four parked bicycles at a world’s worst designed bike rack:

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The video-pic above also shows a centre boulevard. Orginally designed as a skylight to the platforms below, it has been added and subtracted from the plans at each iteration. The whole station is to have a Algonquin culture theme.

Construction is now underway.


You can watch the video from which I took the screen grabs here:   The Pimisi Station shots come right at the end.


* Note that the Confederation Line will close at night. Late night travellers will be on buses on a roughly parallel route. Sort of like the Bus 107, but forever. A single incident on a train at any station (for eg a heart attack, or other series medical issue, or central electronic fault) will bring the entire system to a halt, both directions, within 20 minutes or so. Will we have the buses available?



9 thoughts on “Ottawa’s LRT: Sifting Commercials for Info

  1. Temperature is not a concern. In Edmonton, where it is even colder than Ottawa, they have unheated LRT stations and the technology works for them if a bit uncomfortable obviously.

    Nitpick with temperature: -40C never actually happens. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Ottawa is -36.1C. Even -30C is rare. In most winters, the temperature never hits that point. In fact, even in the bitter cold of this winter and last, it didn’t happen. Last time -30C was recorded in Ottawa was in January 2011. The average winter night is -14C. This may seem surprising to some who think it’s colder, but that’s because weather forecasters usually speak of windchill, which is an arbitrary calculation that has zero effect on mechanical operations… solely on human comfort.

    The line “A single incident on a train at any station (for eg a heart attack, or other series medical issue, or central electronic fault) will bring the entire system to a halt, both directions, within 20 minutes or so.” is not true. If an incident happens at specific station, that station will be closed but the line will operate unaffected and the trains will skip the station by driving right through it. That’s what happens in Toronto when these things hpapen.

    If an incident happens on the line itself, it will lead to partial closures of certain areas. There’s crossovers implemented that allow trains to cross over and switch directions mid-line to allow this.

    1. Scott: if there is an incident on a train (medical, mental, militant) then that train does not move. I gather there are no crossovers (allowing a train to be shifted to the other track) between Tunney’s and Belfast. So stopping one train stops one direction of travel, and within a half hour or so, there will be no more trains to come back in the other direction either, so both directions will grind to a halt, unless we choose to run two or three trains west for while, then once they have finished, run two or three trains east, on the same track. Maybe there are more crossovers? Maybe we do have contingency plans? Maybe our operation of the OTrain is extra-ordinarily once in a million years bad luck? I’d love to know if we can operate the system on one track, and what those operating terms would look like. Just asking.

      1. With crossovers at the right places, it should be possible to operate service under the scenario you mentioned. BUT, the train of course, has to have the good sense to break down, or halt due to an emergency in the right place! Another factor to consider would be whether or not the stations have centre platforms, as they may not give the comfort zone necessary for evacuating a train, undertaking a medical procedure, etc. That being said, I’m sure Uncle Jim only took enough pennies out of the jar to put crossovers in for movements at the ends of the line, and to get to the Yard. Anything else would be an extravagance that we just can’t afford.

  2. As for night service, the city has confirmed that the service hours on the Confederation Line will be:
    -Monday to Thursday: 6AM to 1AM
    -Friday-Saturday: 6AM to 2AM
    -Sunday: 7AM or 8AM (can’t remember) to 11PM

    Friday/Saturday service will likely be timed to have last trains leaving Rideau at about 2:30 or so to capture the bar close rush.

    All renders at this point are conceptual. RTG has probably drawn blueprints for most by now, although they aren’t public as far as I know. You might be able to get blueprints by filing a freedom of information request.

  3. One of the most interesting things I learned is that most of the seats in the mockup are unpadded, while only the two closest to the cab are padded like the real thing, as a cost-cutting measure.

  4. What I wonder is, with all the emphasis on doing things as cheaply as possible, why have escalators at all? We have elevators for people with disabilities (as well as, presumably, people with strollers, the elderly, etc), but why are we spending money just to make it easier for regular Ottawans to be lazy? People should be expected to take the stairs, it’s good for them!

    1. Your point is a reasonable one, but if we are to take into consideration all age groups for example, then I can point out that people who are getting into their senior years can spend years in a “grey” area where disabilities appear and are temporary although long-term. I can easily see where constantly taking an elevator is not necessary for some joint injuries for example, but using stairways constantly is too difficult. It is not a matter of getting enough exercise. Let’s think about other age groups than the most active. Once on flat ground seniors can be very active, but stairs present a problem (maybe long term but temporary but maybe long term). I prefer escalators over elevators at all times for very good practical reasons, and want to keep as active as I am now. Of course I always presumed I would be just great on stairs everyday since I hike, swim, bike, and use stairs intermittently too). Escalators are not where I would like to see cost cuts, if it means pain or great hardship for a growing number of people in the future. Elevators alone used constantly for a large number of people? I must say I hope not. My experience with that concept so far: elevators sometimes are alright but cannot even compare to escalators.

  5. “the image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaving a bag is an unpleasant “where’s waldo” moment.”

    With this one comment my respect for your opinion has flatlined.

  6. “At Lansdowne Park, a mock-up LRT vehicle reveals numerous shortcomings, from entanglement points, very hard seats, to the lack of footroom at some seats that will make winter riding uncomfortable and exiting the window seats acrobatic enough to challenge cirque de soleil performers. It’s a shame these details are coming out so late in the game.”

    Actually, there is ONE padded seat that I can find. It’s at the end near the conductor’s cabin on the left against the wall. Just one padded seat. That’s it.

    The train is a LOT less spacious then I would have imagined for an LRT. Surprisingly tight spaces. :/

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