What to do with unused Talent(s)

Sept 2013

What do we do with the three existing Talent OTrains soon to be surplus?

Work continues round the clock and on holiday weekends to complete the trackwork required to run the six new Alstom OTrain sets starting in the Spring. These new trains replace the 3 Talent OTrains we now have. With the six new trainsets we will have approx. 8 minute service instead of 15.

It is noticeable that there has been no commitment to selling the older Talent trainsets and pocketing the money. Which leads to speculation that we are keeping them. But for what purpose? Maybe the Mayor’s transportation address next Monday will contain more than an unveiling of new twerks tweaks to the Transportation Master Plan.

Recall that the purchase of the original three trains was an experiment, a demonstration project to see if rail transit would work in Ottawa, and to begin developing a local expertise in train infrastructure and operations. Recall that the political father was Mr Charelli, now godfathered in the Provincial Cabinet that faces an election and is eager to be seen solving transportation problems.

Maybe the old trainsets could be used to conduct some new experiments? Such as …

In the South:

The City could remain committed to the existing OTrain line but use the Talents as a shuttle from Greenboro to Leitrim/Riverside south. The south end desperately needs better access, and just maybe our transportation boffins are recognizing that extending transit service might be a cheaper option than expanding roads, esp given opposition (by Councillor Deans) to more traffic thru her ward, and the chastising experience in building new road infrastructure such as the Strandherd-never-to-be-completed bridge.

A shuttle can be launched as an experiment, using existing Talent trains and tracks, without the estimated $78 million expensive upgrading of the trackwork since it would be a distinct “experimental” service. Later, if successful, the track would have to be upgraded, but  an expenditure pushed out to the future is a a dollar saved today. An argument sure to appeal to Mr Watson.

Of course, one could simply extend  every second train out to Leitrum by running five of the six trainsets at a time (keeping one Alstom and the Talents as spares), but this would mean a mixed fleet of (old)Talents and (new)Alstoms, sometimes on upgraded track and in the south on rougher track. This would provide an inconsistent quality of service.

But the main factor against a Leitrim extension is what to do with the users once they reach Bayview Station (discussed more below). That Bayview over-capacity problem could be avoided by running the southward shuttle not to Leitrim but via High Road to the new Casino. The Mayor is not covered in glory with the Casino location issue. A good McGuinty-style expenditure would double down on the bet by enhancing access to the Casino while avoiding Albion Road.

Instead of the Casino, some  might like extending the service south from Greenboro to the Ernst & Young Centre and then to the Airport. That I would find this useful several times a year isn’t likely to sway hizhonor. The Mayor might like the idea of promoting airport development, and he is certainly enamoured of looking like a big city (lots of highrises !) so a city-airport train might be appealing if cheap enough. It would be up and running before Toronto or Montreal, a political bonus.  And it wouldn’t overload Bayview.

Extending the OTrain commuter service south to Leitrim-Riverside South would capture a lot of latent transportation and transit demand. We have a practical Mayor, and is conscious of how many voters would be pleased by southern service, although if popular he runs into the difficulty in handling the hordes at Bayview.

Bayview Station I hear is near capacity now; the  increased OTrain service in 2014 with the new Alstom trainsets at 8 minute frequency will deliver even more people to Bayview Station, which will then be closed for two or more years during the conversion to LRT. It is a significant logistical puzzle how to handle the additional traffic; adding in Leitrim-based commuters would require even more buses and a larger (temporary) transfer facility.

It is due to difficulties in coping with increased demand at Bayview that the City is refusing to build the Gladstone OTrain Station, despite developer interest and offers of money. Nothing much is likely to appear in the Gladstone CDP development area before 2017 anyway (when the east-west LRT opens) but the City is thus far averting its eyes  from Transit Oriented Development in the Gladstone vicinity.

Such a pleasant change from lack-of-demand stymieing transit expansion.

In the North:

Alternatively, instead of a south extension / shuttle, there could be a north shuttle, running from Bayview to Terrasses de la Chaudiere, on a ten minute frequency, using one Talent train. No double tracking required. Alas, this would require assuring a but-they’ll-sue-us skittish city that the Prince of Wales bridge is “guaranteed” safe (I’d expect at least $60 million of repairs could be invented) plus the cooperation of STO which thus far isn’t eager to have trains showing up at the end of its new Rapibus transitway. Politically, this isn’t a shoo-in option.

In the West:

Yet another “experimental” service would be strike out to Kanata, perhaps using the existing east-west tracks. This would buy-off Kanata complaints of paying for but maybe never receiving LRT service. Such a train service could use two Talent trains in service, running something like Kanata  – Northside Road in BC – then via existing overpasses over Greenbank Road and Woodroffe (possibly with transfers to transitway buses below) – Colonnade – Confederation Heights/Heron transitway station (but not, alas, the OTrain Station) – Billings Bridge – maybe even VIA/LRT Station – and a promise to someday to extend it east towards Orleans. Two Talents might be able to offer half hourly service, but three would be better. This runs into problems of passing tracks, track upgrades (but not overpasses, which will be top of Councillors’ minds, for a little while anyway), station costs, etc.

The Kanata option is pretty unlikely, IMO, due to the number of stations required, passing tracks, the need for an additonal trainset, all in an environment of a fiscally cautious Mayor. OC Transpo might not be enthused either, since half hourly service means very long waits if one “just misses” the train, which will reduce reliability and deter customers. Frequency is the most important service factor in mode choice, more important than speed or comfort or direct route.

To the Valley:

Those are the same reasons (primarily lack of frequency) that prevent a longer service to Valley towns like Kemptville-Cornwall or Arnprior to the west. An infrequent  service just creates too much uncertainty for users.

East to Orleans:

There is probably a contending eastern route to Orleans too, but I am unfamiliar with it. This is, after all, focussed on the west side.

The existing OTrain corridor:

Getting back to the existing OTrain corridor, I think it is unlikely the City will run the existing Talents combined with the new Alstoms, on the existing OTrain route, either to improve frequency or capacity. Improving frequency would require more passing track$ — and our mayor is a reluctant convert to rail transit. Doubling up trainsets to increase capacity would require longer station platform$.

Choices, choices …

So, with the proverbial Talents provided, what will our Mayor do — use them or lose them?

Maybe Monday will give us an answer.

Or maybe he’ll punt.


a big chunk of background info comes from discussion amongst Friends of the OTrain, whose work I admire but whose site I consistently fail to understand, join, or subscribe to. But this interpretation is all my fault. It doesn’t (necessarily) reflect the views of that group.






On the other hand what’s $78M compared to the $2B for LRT.  Or to buy an extra dozen buses with drivers to slowly shuttle back and forth the Albion
The tracks are already in a trench at High Road so it would mean continuing the trench along one side of High Road (north side) and under Albion Rd and on to the Casino Station.

Gentlemen, should not an East West O-Train type service (Kanata) or an
extension of the actual O-train to Leitrim be our priority?
Such a project could also be shovel-ready (great contemporary expression) and
be more cost effective if there is no money for WLRT.

18 thoughts on “What to do with unused Talent(s)

  1. Because the existing three Talent and six new Coradia Lint DMU trains are slightly different widths, they cannot (easily) be used in same stations. When they switch over to the new trains they will change the platform extenders to accommodate this width issue and the different door spacings. “Mind the gap”. So if, for example, you ran south, the Talent trains would need a separate platform and riders would need to switch/transfer from one train type to the other at Greenboro. Just as many riders already switch from one bus to another or the O-Train.

    1. The trains should be platform compatible. I believe the width is because the Talents are rounded while the Lints are square – Platform widths should be the same, and they operate mixed in Germany. The platforms were rebuilt this summer with a new edge and the same old extenders, and places to add more extenders for the new trains. Bayview was rebuilt and doesn’t have platform extenders (it never did) and it lines up with the existing Talents, so I don’t imagine they will rebuild it again in time for the Lints to run.

  2. My Idea would be a limited east-west service because the service to Leitrim would be killed because Transport Canada has said on several ocasions that the level crossings at Leitrim and several other roads MUST be eliminated before any certificate for O-Train service south of Greenboro can be granted.

  3. There use to be tracks going from Bells Corners-Carp now they did get torn out and this line was turned into a bike path now if you ask most what they want a bike path or turn it back into a train line most would say they want the tracks back.

    1. You are getting confused with the old CP line from Bells Corners to Carleton Place via Stittsville. the CN line continues on past Bells Corners under the 417 and splits at Kanata going left to Carp and Arnprior ( now owned by the City) and right via former CN mainline to Firtzroy and formerly to Pembroke.
      I would think it depends on who you ask. Since the line has been abandoned by CP for some time now I would think few abutting property owners would want an active rail line inspite of what the majority might want.

  4. I would love to see your North option – the one-train shuttle across Prince of Wales Bridge to Quebec – get top billing here, although it wouldn’t preclude doing the Leitrim shuttle as well. Selling it as a way to de-congest Champlain Bridge and Island Park (at least a bit) would be a vote-getter in my Ward. And it would give hizhonour something – anything – to say at election time on the inter-provincial transportation file.

  5. Agree with Dennis on the North option. Once the Champlain Bridge was rebuilt there was a huge building book in Gatineau and the bridge traffic is as bad as it ever was (I’d add something in here about the former NCC Chairman and his developer connections but I will refrain).

    There still exists a railway right of way from the POW bridge out to Aylmer. My bet is that most of the morning traffic is heading for Tunney’s or other downtown Government locations, so a North option with an Aylmer extension would likely generate a lot of traffic. And really overload Bayview.

  6. I really like the idea of selling the unused trains to STO and operating the next experiment between Aylmer and Bayview. This would provide rapid transit service to that community as well as link the end-of-the-line (Alexandre-Tache) Rapibus station with our O-Train and Confederation Line as a bonus.

    From what I remember from the Interprovincial Transit Strategy, the STO volume projections didn’t warrant rail over the bridge, but add the latent demand ridership from Aylmer and there you have it!

    If it was an ‘experimental’ line, there would be no commitment to keep it if it didn’t work as expected.

    Incredible idea!! Readers with good connections should mention this to the decision-makers!

  7. Actually, the railroad to Aylmer has been torn up since 1991. I’d like to see them used in Barrhaven and Kanata as regional rail (S-Bahn style).

  8. Great post! If we’re talking experimental here, than I say “across the river we go!”. However, I have NO idea what bureaucratic hurdles would have to be cleared. Shoot, even the route it took in Gatineau would be secondary (in my mind) to developing a model for how to do inter-city transit. Talk about overloading Bayview though….

    On that note, I really don’t quite understand the rational for not putting in a Gladstone station — is it all the passengers getting on at Gladstone to go one stop to Bayview that would overwhelm the station? Or all the people walking through a barren wasteland to get on at Bayview to go 800m to Gladstone? Rhetorical questions, all.

  9. I agree with extending the line across the river to Gatineau or running the service between Kanata and the Via Rail station. However there is more politics involved crossing the river to Gatineau so that will probably take for ever to be resolved making Kanata a more practical alternative. The right of way already exists, the track is there and the track is for all intensive purposes totally grade separated. it can provide connections at Woodroffe, at Confederation ( walk required ) , Billings Bridge and the Via Station ( Tremblay ). The route does not suffer from having an expressway or a river on one side of it limiting the access to passengers. A dedicated track may have to be built from Federal ( at Prince of Wales ) to the train station depending upon Transport Canada’s regulations concerning sharing the track with Via. There is probably insufficient freight traffic on the portion from Federal to Kanata to prevent regulatory approvals.

  10. I like the north and south extensions, but that Ottawa Citizen article from August suggests that adding more passengers to the o-train would make it too popular and unable to handle the demand. (Article is “Just build it already: O-Train expansion slowed by LRT construction”) What are your thoughts on that?

    It seems like almost a good thing: hooray, transit is in demand!

    1. When I have been down at Bayview I have not seen large crowds getting off the O Train to get on buses travelling along the transitway. I think many people are trying to make Bayview into Younge and Bloor when in fact our population and ridership is no where near Toronto’s. I think once the LRT is finished we will truly see how many or few people are actually transferring to the LRT at Bayview.

      1. Yeah, o-train ridership definitely swings toward Carleton students during key times. On the bright side, folks heading to work can avoid it by taking an earlier or later train, but on the downside, it makes traveling for a few key moments really frustrating. I wonder how many of the hordes of people Eric mentioned are Carleton students that live within walking distance of Bayview. I know plenty bus from Kanata and Nepean and take the o-train. Unfortunately, since OC Transpo ditched the direct Algonquin to Carleton route and merged it with the 111, getting from Carleton and Algonquin is now faster via the o-train and the 95/96 versus the dedicated bus route… it would probably be in OC Transpo’s best interest to re-instate the old route because it’s causing more people to take the o-train.

  11. Last week I went to Carleton U at evening rush hour; I was stunned by the HORDES of people getting off the OTrain at Bayview. I couldn’t believe they stuffed that many people into a three car train ! The trip from Bayview to Carleton was plesantly full with some standees and still a few single seats available. If you double the passengers on the OTrain, there has to be lots more bus capacity on Albert to transfer to, once the transitway closes. That is the “too many people” issue constraining expansion.

    1. Yes, on certain trips (notably the 8:15 weekday departures) the train runs over capacity. I have been left behind at Greenboro on those trips due to the hordes trying to make 8:35 classes at Carleton. OCTranspo has staff on the platforms daily at Carleton around 4PM due to crowding. And a Talent BR643 is rated at over 280 passengers!

  12. Last week I cycled the Aylmer bike path out past the marina, and the empty rail bed is still there, mostly running alongside the path, and for a short bit the path actually moves onto it. Given the amount of traffic along Aylmer Road, and the fact that they just had to build a divided highway a few years ago, shows that the area continues to grow and that a commuter light rail from Aylmer to downtown Hull and into Ottawa could be viable. They may feel awfully silly years from now if that rail bed gets sold off. (Much like we should for getting rid of our downtown train station.)

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