Watson lets Prince of Wales slip his tongue

I surprised and pleased to hear Hizzoner Jim Watson actually mention the Prince of Wales railway bridge on Thursday. And in the same breath, to mention rail transit on it.

Of course, you and I and everyone else knows it is the elephant in transit and city planning that up to now was verbotten. Mayor Watson seems to have thought that being mayor of Ottawa meant he was responsible for transit only in Ontario, only within Ottawa’s capacious confines. “I am the Mayor of Ottawa.”

This despite the hundreds of OC Transpo buses that cross the provincial boundary daily. And he has no problem providing lovely facilities for motorists from Pointe Gatineau heading for jobs in Ottawa via King Edward and other busy routes. Or for Ottawans headed north to Quebec. But rail transit didn’t seem to be able to pass his tongue. Did I mention we [Ottawans] own the bridge, the rail line on it, and the Federal rights to run trains on it?

Now, at last, the Liberals must be ruling in heaven too because the words have passed his lips.

Amazing what a logjam the Senators mega project seems to have unleashed.

end of the line

may 20, 2013 361

[putting up the fence, or taking it down?]

In the illustration below, the universe is focussed on Bayview Station in the centre, with LeBreton Flats up to the right, and the Prince of Wales bridge running over the river straight up at the top. The solid blue line represents the current OTrain Trillium Line coming into the picture from Somerset at the bottom right. The dashed blue line shows where it will be when the Confederation Line opens in 2018. The current Trillium platforms on the east side (right side) of the solid blue line will move to the west side (left side) of the dashed blue line. The future platform of 2018 is shown with a crude black rectangle. I am not a cartographer.

snip of geo ottawa double platofrms

There is a slightly beat up track coming in from the Prince of Wales bridge at the top of the picture. It could, at modest expense, be positioned to come in beside the new blue track location at Bayview Station. Passengers to and from Gatineau could board from a new platform built right between the red and the blue lines. While I suspect most users would be transferring to or from the Confederation Line upstairs on the second level of the Station, those connecting to the Trillium line could simply walk across the centre platform to get into a waiting OTrain.


snip of geo ottawa double platofrms

I gather from those who know, that a single train could run from Bayview to Terrasses de la Chaudiere and back, in 10 minutes. Thus, no need for the expensive and slow signalling systems we are having so much fun with on the Trillium Line. There would only be one train running, so no passing track either. The 10 minute frequency  coincides nicely with the 10-12 minute unschedulable frequency we current enjoy on the Trillium Line.

Wouldn’t trains be expensive to buy?

We already have THREE spare Talent trainsets parked out near Johnston Road, two of which could be rolling with just a few days notice. The third one apparently requires a repair. I don’t think any of them need any interior refurbishment for a pilot project like this. And instead of rusting away unused, these trainsets could be earning about a million dollars a year in fares. And replacing up to 300 bus trips per weekday on the Chaudiere and other bridges. And if a single trainset proves to not have enough capacity for all those commuters (and recall the Trillium Line continually surprises us with its increasing popularity year after year for going on two decades …) then simply hook two trains together, run them with one driver, and make the platforms a bit longer.

There hasn’t been such a nice constellation of benefits so cheaply attainable for years!

2 trainsets

So why run a separate train from Bayview to Terraces? Why not extend the existing OTrain Trillium Line over to Gatineau?

There are a whole bunch of reasons, and the biggest ones are money and time.

  • To extend the service to Gatineau might require additional trainsets since city staff feel the 3 older Talent trains are not compatible with the 6 newer trainsets. By keeping the two types of trains on separate tracks, there is no mixing when in service (although presumably the Prince of Wales trains would retire at night to the same Walkley Yards as their cousins)
  • a separate mini line from Bayview to Terrasses would not require any expansion of the complex signalling system, since there wouldn’t be any other traffic on the line
  • it might be easier to set up a coordinated approach and funding with the NCC and City of Gatineau with just a separate interprovincial short line. Yes, Ottawa has a federal license to operate into Quebec, but there are sensitivities at the political and labour union level
  • a direct connection from Ottawa Airport to the Casino de Gatineau (should the line be extended that far) would see the instant installation of additional hotels there and a giant sucking sound of Ottawa’s convention traffic going to Gatineau, but necessitating a transfer at Bayview equalizes the opportunity since a transfer would be required for each province. Stopping the trains at Terrasses avoids the whole casino-hotel-airport connection flapdoodle.
  • the city won’t do anything without extensive expensive consultants racking up billable hours, so a separate short line offers opportunities for cost sharing with other parties

All aboard !


(picture by Andrew King at Ottawa Rewind)



14 thoughts on “Watson lets Prince of Wales slip his tongue

  1. YES YES YES! I too was surprised by Mayor Jim’s sudden willingness to address the elephant. (Convo here: https://twitter.com/DenVan/status/726033005832224768) But it really must be addressed. Now. Particularly since the train bridge is featured on the front of every brochure the Melnyk team has put out recently.

    I’m agnostic as to whether the river crossing is an extension of the current line, or a separate “shuttle” as you suggest. Hell, I’d take an hourly Buster Keaton handcar service over the current level of neglect.

    But maybe in an ideal universe, the shuttle approach *could* allow the NCC to play a more active role without being seen to favour the Ottawa transit system. As the designated Capital bridge-building entity, they *should* be funding bridge upgrades, AND as park-keepers adding extra value features (for example that cantilevered bike / ped bridge, or a mid-River viewing platform at Lemieux Island to let tourists enjoy the most magnificent views in Ottawa for example), AND as honest brokers smoothing over inter-provincial / municipal impediments and applying all the carrots and sticks in their power (including expropriation threats and their long-held right to run a train system themselves) to connect these dots more quickly.

  2. I took a trip across the bridge about 9-10 years ago know in a hy-rail truck with some railway track crew and a few railway preservationists friends of mine. The round trip from Bayview Station actually only takes 6-8 minutes and that was at a very modest speed. So yes a shuttle, heck, even a slightly longer run to the Tache-UQO or Montcalm Rapibus stations is easily doable for a single vehicle for a 10 or 15 minute operating schedule, depending where you stop. Its amazing what happens and how fast it can actually happen when a private development project unfreezes the lips and opinions of politicians.

  3. You have raised an old issue with a refreshingly new creative approach. It simply is too good to be left on the shelf. You have solved the issue of a longer Trillium line and the signaling boondoggle, the use of the existing bridge and possibly the replanning of some of the STO and OCTranspo busses. Transfers across a platform or in a new modern transfer facility at Bayview to trains and busses would easily be adopted by users. This would even enhance the concept of an airport link. We have to stop thinking small and think regionally. With the NCC somewhat more lively under their new Federal supervisor, anything is possible. I wonder why we collectively have not come up with this clever solution sooner. Yes, Yes, lets install a “demonstration line” as we did almost 15 years ago with the original O-train. We could even give it its own route name if this will bring on more support (the “Gatineau Line”?). Now it will be a scope change for the RTG group’s Bayview Station design, and that may be used as a barrier; lets hope not. We should send your entire piece (edited) to the mayors of both cities, and the president of the NCC.

    1. Ben – feel free to forward the link to Hizzoner, or Yasir, or the NCC, all and sundry, good ideas are hard to keep down and soon everyone will be claiming credit.

  4. Maybe we should just rename Bayview as Central Station. With the planned density at the nearby Lebreton lands and across Albert it will effectively be an extension of downtown. And if it is the junction between three lines then it is the logical centre of the system.

    And new users who don’t like the idea of transfers may find it much more palatable when told to go to Central Station and transfer to another line.

    1. Peter – the adjacent roadway is the somewhat inaptly named City Centre Drive, so maybe the station name could be city centre… and we could resurrect the old neon red letter sign recently disgarded from the site … and then the anywhere-but-on-the-Flats library lobby might be disuaded … I say this tongue in cheek, as bayview is not the city centre but is a west side centre.

  5. It’s interested to see that the lower level of the Bayview station is being flipped. When was the platform and track moved to the west? Why? What route will people from the future LeBreton development and arena take to the Trillium Line? Will any future roadways/pathways/staircases/etc. preclude the O-Train track, or a second one as you suggested, from extending north of the station?

    Still too many unanswered questions.

    1. Richard – the city shoved the trillium platform west when they designed the station to have only one entrance, on the west side, with none on the east at all, apparently deciding no one lived east of the tracks. Since then, under pressure, they put an eastern entrance in and made the trillium entrance the only western entrance, ergo the current path arrangement is the permanent one. The layout does not preclude a track going north or coming from the north and ending there, or a bus way coming across the POW bridge.

  6. Went over that bridge 30-odd years ago (and through the Dows Lake tunnel) on a steam train trip from Alta Vista to Wakefield. Been seriously pi55ed off the last 20 years at least that it’s been set out to pasture, so to speak, instead of moving civilized servants back and forth. Talk about serious brain-rot!

    Interesting that Melnyk’s vision is “preferred”. Might this see the resurrection of his previously-denied casino bid, which would forestall your Airport/Gatineau Casino scenario? Jim-boy didn’t like it a few years back, but maybe he’s been softened up now?

    Seems to me there’s been a lot more silence than straight talk around the whole Lebreton scheme. Scheme being one of my favourite verbed nouns.

    Ah jeez! “Cynicism strikes deep, into your heart it will creep” to paraphrase Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield.

  7. Everybody take a breath, the shuttle idea across Prince Of Wales Railway Bridge, has been around almost as long as the O-Train (Trillium Line) itself. Eric, didn’t invent it! What Eric has done is shown that because of the Lebreton development project and due to a little luck and good timing, we collectively have 2-3 perfectly serviceable Bombardier BR643 Talent DMU’s sitting unused “in the shed” that could now be used for another purpose, such as, running a rail shuttle service across the bridge. What Eric should also be honored for is the light he has thrown on the issue about why the city and its politicians have collectively done nothing for years, regarding this railway bridge and a possible inter-provincial rail service. In fact, he has shown just how uninterested our city politicians have been in being the lead on this issue for 15 years (O-Train service started in October 2001). It’s also very true that this has been one of the issues at City Hall that, can get you kicked out of City Hall, if you make too much noise and ask too many questions about it. As I and a few other rail supporters were once threatened with! Until very recently, no one at City Hall and I mean no one, wanted to talk about it!

    Oh yes, a bit of trivia regarding the bridge that I learned about recently. The Prince of Wales Railway Bridge was the first bridge of any kind in Canada that, used concrete in its footings and structure!

  8. Given that the railway bridge hasn’t been used in decades (apparently), what is its structural integrity? Can it handle regular, continuous use? Would we apply today”s stringent engineering standards to the underlyong old concrete strucure and would it pass? Knowing that city planners tend to demand over-designed (and horrendessly expensive as a result) bridges and pedestrian overpasses, would this become another exapmple of the city taking a simple idea and tunring it into a massive and long drawn out development process?

    1. Peter, all good points. The city will require extensive expensive engineering studies, that is simply their way. IF it is an idea they are unenthused about, then the result will discover it is horrendously expensive. If the mayor and council like it, expect something more reasonable. I gather CN or CP did a study some time ago when examining commuter rail for Ottawa, and estimated it needed four million dollars worth of additional cribbing or ice breaking prows on each upstream pier side. Other than that, regular maintenance. It was, after all , designed to carry the biggest heaviest locomotives and trains in Canada. On the other hand, the city looked at it about five years ago and I think their estimate was $60 million, including repainting, safety railings, replacing bolts, and believe it not, replacing all the stone piers that held heavy trains for half a century, with new concrete piers, since they could “certify” the strength of new concrete but could not read the strength of the stone piers from a table in a book. I point out that the Alexandra bridge is another rail bridge we still use, albeit for cars. I’m in favour of converting that one back to street surface streetcars too.

  9. I’d love to see this as you’ve described Eric. For me go 4.5 km from Carling Otrain station to Terrasses De la Chaudiere (TDC) it takes half an hour, longer if I can’t hook up to the 105 at Bayview. But, I don’t think it would be that easy to have the Gatineau end of the Short line at the TDC. The existing rail line is a good 800M from the TDC, It would take a lot of money and arm twisting to re-route it through that parkland along the North Bank of the River.

  10. While I think pulling the Talent train sets out of storage and putting them to work on a project like this has merit, I would offer the two following observations:

    1) Having a transfer at Bayview would be a disincentive for riders coming from the south end. This could be exacerbated by the proposal to have a shuttle from Riverside South to Greenboro, which could force some riders to transfer twice on the same line. That being said,the Greenboro shuttle proposal would also use the Talents, so this could be a one or the other, but not both scenario.

    I’m not sure that having a single track to TDLC would really require much in the way of signalling, so I would think that this could be done simply, a least from that perspective. Who knows, with all the dwell time built in at Bayview Station now, it might be beneficial to just keep the trains moving!

    2) The infrastructure costs would be higher than most people think, though. The POW Bridge isn’t falling apart, but as I recall from a person with working knowledge of some of these issues, I believe it would require crossing at about 10 mph. Great speeds for your residential street, not so much for a rapid transit line.

    Also, judging by the ties that I saw crews pulling by the Bayview bypass yesterday, assume that pretty much all the track-related infrastructure needs to be rebuilt. Remember how the O-Train used to feel 15 years ago? Add another 15 years of freezing, thawing and general lack of maintenance to that.

    Don’t forget that there’s a need for some station on the Gatineau side. I think the old E.B. Eddy building would be great as a station, but needs a lot of work. Nevermind that there may still be some activity in the yards that the line passes through.

    Not to say none of this can’t be dealt with. It may very well be that this would still be a very affordable interprovincial rapid transit line, but it’s not exactly a fire up the trains and start the service tomorrow option, either.

    Myself, I’d rather see the NCC build streetcar loop over the Alexandria and Chaudière bridges, however. It would be more expensive, but way more urban, and could connect a lot more places.

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