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.