The O-Train is a light rail transit system in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada operated by OC Transpo. It currently has two lines in operation, the electrically-operated Confederation Line and the diesel-powered Trillium Line with a total of 17 stations.[1]

OwnerCity of Ottawa
LocaleOttawa, Ontario
Transit typeLight rail
Number of lines2
Number of stations17
Began operationOctober 15, 2001 (2001-10-15)
Operator(s)OC Transpo
System length20.5 km (12.7 mi)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge


The system's name was proposed by Acart Communications, an Ottawa advertising agency working for OC Transpo. The name "O-Train" was based on the classic Duke Ellington signature tune "Take the 'A' Train", which refers to the New York City Subway's A train. Because Ottawa is a bilingual city, the name had to work in both English and French. In French, it is pronounced similarly to au train, as in to travel "by train". It survived an internal OC Transpo naming competition and was adopted soon after.

From its inception until 2014, the term "O-Train" initially referred to the north-south diesel line. With the construction of a second line, the east/west Confederation Line, the O-Train branding was extended to both rail transit services and the original service was renamed as the Trillium Line.[2]


Line Stations Length Technology
Confederation Line1312.5 km (7.8 mi)Electric light rail
Trillium Line58 km (5.0 mi)Diesel light rail

The O-Train consists of two grade-separated lines:

The Confederation Line is an electric light rail line running east-west from Blair to Tunney's Pasture connecting to the Ottawa Transitway at each terminus and with the Trillium Line at Bayview. With the exception of three underground downtown stations, the line runs on the surface using former Transitway bus rapid transit infrastructure.[3]

The Trillium Line is a mostly single-tracked, 8 km (5 mi) diesel light rail line running north to south from Bayview to Greenboro connecting to the Ottawa Transitway at each terminus. Currently, trains pass each other via three passing loops, two of which are between stations and the third of which is located at Carleton Station.


Pilot project

The Trillium Line, the original O-Train line, was introduced in 2001 as a pilot project to provide an alternative to the busways on which Ottawa had long depended exclusively for its high-grade transit service (see Ottawa Rapid Transit). The system uses low-floor diesel multiple unit trains. It is legally considered a mainline railway despite its use for local public transport purposes, and is more like an urban railway rather than a metro or tramway. It is often described as ‘light rail’, partly because there were plans to extend it into Ottawa’s downtown as a tramway-like service, and partly because the original Bombardier Talent trains are much smaller and lighter than most mainline trains in North America, and do not meet the Association of American Railroads' standards for crash strength.

Early extension plans

On July 12, 2006, Ottawa City Council voted in favour (by a vote of 14 to 7, with 1 councillor absent) of awarding the North-South expansion to the Siemens/PCL/Dufferin design team. The proposed extension, which was not undertaken, would have replaced the Trillium Line with an electric LRT system running on double track (as opposed to the current single-track diesel system).

According to the plan, the line was to be extended east from its current northern terminus to run through LeBreton Flats and downtown Ottawa as far as the University of Ottawa, and south-west from its Greenboro terminus to the growing Riverside South community and Barrhaven. Much of the route would have run through the undeveloped Riverside South area to allow a large new suburb to be constructed in the area south of the airport. The line would not have connected to the airport. Construction of the extension was scheduled to begin in the autumn of 2006, resulting in the shutdown of operations in May 2007, and been completed in autumn 2009 with operations resuming under the new systems and rolling stock.

The diesel-powered Talents would have been replaced with electric trams more suitable for on-street operation in the downtown area, specifically the Siemens S70 Avanto (due to the ‘design, build, and maintain’ contracting process which has focused upon the bid proposing this vehicle).[4] Other bids had proposed the Bombardier Flexity Swift and a Kinki Sharyo tram.

With the use of electric power, greater frequency, and street-level running in central Ottawa, the expanded system would have borne much more resemblance to the urban tramways usually referred to by the phrase ‘light rail’ than does the pilot project (though the use of the Capital Railway track and additional existing tracks which have been acquired along its route may cause it to remain a mainline railway for legal purposes).

The estimated cost of the North-South expansion would have been just under $780 million (not including the proposed maintenance facility), making the project the largest in the city's history since the Rideau Canal project. The federal and provincial governments had each promised $200 million for the expansion, with the city contributing the remainder of the cost using funds from various sources including the provincial gasoline tax, the city's transit reserve fund, and the Provincial Transportation Infrastructure Grant. 4.5% of the total project cost was expected to come from the property tax base. The city also requested studies on an extension of the railway from the proposed University of Ottawa terminus through to Hurdman Station.

Expansion controversies

The north-south expansion planning process became a source of great controversy. It was a major issue in the 2006 municipal election. The incumbent mayor Bob Chiarelli had long been the main advocate for light rail in Ottawa. Terry Kilrea, who finished second to Chiarelli in the 2003 municipal election and briefly ran for mayor in 2006, believed the plan was vastly too expensive and would also be a safety hazard for Ottawa drivers. He called for the entire light rail project to be scrapped. Mayoral candidate Alex Munter supported light rail, but argued that the plan would do little to meet Ottawa's transit needs and that the true final expense of the project had been kept secret. He wanted to cut the Barrhaven leg, and start work on an East-West line. Larry O'Brien, a businessman who entered the race late, wanted to postpone the project for six months before making a final decision.

Transport 2000 president David Jeanes, a longtime supporter of light rail in Ottawa and a member of the city's transportation advisory committee, stated that he believed that the project was being ‘designed to fail’.[5] City transportation staff, though long in favour of bus rapid transit systems, disagreed with Jeanes's assessment.[6]

Numerous alternatives were proposed, including Alex Munter's plan,[7] the "Practical Plan" by the Friends of the O-Train,[8] and the Ottawa Transit group plan.

Cancellation of expansion

On December 1, 2006, the new council took office. It started to debate on the issue during the week of December 4 with three options including the status quo, the truncation of portions of the current track or the cancellation of the contract. An Ottawa Sun article had reported on December 5 that if the project were cancelled, there could be lawsuits by Siemens against the city totalling as much as $1 billion.[9]

New mayor Larry O'Brien opted to keep the extension to Barrhaven while eliminating the portion that would run from Lebreton Flats to the University of Ottawa. However, Council have also introduced the possibility of building several tunnels in the downtown core in replacement of rail lines on Albert and Slater. Total costs for the tunnels would have been, according to city staff, about $500 million.[10] Council voted by a margin of 12-11 in favour of continuing the project, but without the downtown section. An environmental assessment will be conducted on the possibility of building a tunnel through downtown. Another attempt made by Councillor Gord Hunter to review the project later failed.[11] At the same time, the Ontario government was also reviewing the project before securing its $200 million funding. However, it was reported that both the federal and provincial funding totalling $400 million was not secured before the contract deadline of December 15. O'Brien withdrew his support, and a new vote was held on December 14. With the presence of Rainer Bloess, who was absent during the previous vote,[12] Council decided to cancel the project by a margin of 13-11 despite the possibility of lawsuits from Siemens, the contract holder. It was reported on February 7, 2006 that the cost of the cancelled project was about $73 million.[13][14][15]

On February 14, 2007, it was reported that Siemens wrote a letter to the city and gave two options. The first proposal was for the city to pay $175 million in compensation to Siemens in order to settle the dispute and cancel the contract. The second proposal was to re-launch the project with an additional price tag of $70 million to the cost of the original project.[16] Councillor Diane Deans had tabled a motion for a debate on February 23, 2007, but it was later cancelled. A poll conducted by the mayor's office showed that a majority of south-end residents disagreed about the cancellation of the project but only a third wanted to revive it.[17] As of 2008, lawsuits against the city of Ottawa over its cancelled light rail system totalled $36.7 million.[18]

East–west line

The city has also committed funds to perform an environmental assessment for an east–west route, running between Kanata and Orleans mainly via an existing railway right-of-way bypassing downtown. Planners initially explored the possibility of using the system’s three Talents for an east–west pilot project after they were to be replaced by electric trams on the north–south line. Due to the cancellation of the north–south electrification project, any further plans for the diesel-powered trains on that route are uncertain. It was once thought Transport Canada might not approve their use on the existing tracks for an east–west system, since they would have to be shared with other mainline trains. The city opted to do the westward expansion in stages, beginning with the east–west LRT Confederation Line.

Other possibilities

Long-term plans had included lines on Carling Avenue from the existing Carling station westward to Bayshore and Bells Corners, and from the Rideau Centre south-east to the area of Innes Road and Blair Road via Rideau Street, Montreal Road, and Blair Road. The city has conducted a $4 million environmental assessment study for these two corridors. There were also possibilities of a rail link to Hurdman Station.

Service to Gatineau would also be possible to serve commuters, as there is a railway bridge over the Ottawa River nearby, but the government of Gatineau was until 2016 opposed to extending the Trillium Line into its territory; Ottawa's city staff have taken steps to isolate the north-south line from the bridge,[19] so it would need to be re-built north of Bayview station. A line running into Gatineau is not included in the plans for expansion up to 2021, but the city is keeping this option open through its track acquisitions. In June 2018, the city of Gatineau released a preliminary plan to build an LRT that would use the Prince of Wales and Alexandra bridges to provide connections to Ottawa's LRT system. The city expects a final design in 2020.[20]

Mayor's Committee on Transportation

In January 2007, Mayor Larry O'Brien formed a special committee to review the city's transportation needs and provide a report to city council by the beginning of June 2007. On June 1, this report[21] was presented to the Mayor, and was subsequently released to the media and the public on June 6. This report was criticized by some for planning service to Smiths Falls and Arnprior while neglecting to plan service to Rockland and Embrun, which were, at the time, rapidly growing communities east of Ottawa.

The committee, headed by former Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister David Collenette, recommended that Ottawa's needs would be best served by light rail through the future. This plan called for expansion of the system using rail rights-of-way and stations (Via Rail, CP Rail, and Ottawa Central Railway), constructing new stations and a tunnel through the downtown core, going through the former Union Station (now the Government of Canada Conference Centre). The plan called for using bi-mode diesel-electric trains or multiple units, allowing rapid expansion on current track powered by diesel engines, while switching to electric power through the tunnel downtown to remove the concerns about underground exhaust. Through the next thirty years, the plan called for expansion of up to six lines, including links to surrounding municipalities, the city of Gatineau, and MacDonald-Cartier International Airport, with the lines gradually being electrified and expanded as required.

Only the initial portion of the project was budgeted, and using only rough numbers, but the committee feels that this can be completed for between $600 million to $900 million, including the downtown tunnel portion, within the following 5–10 years.

New transit plan

On November 28, 2007, city council announced the expansion of rail service to Riverside South, as well as a downtown tunnel, with an environmental assessment study to determine whether it should be used by bus or rail service. Options were also open for additional extensions to Cumberland South to the east and south of Lincoln Fields Station at the Queensway via the transitway.[22]

On March 3, 2008, the city of Ottawa revealed four different options for its transit expansion plan, and presented at Open House consultation meetings during the same week. All plans included the construction of a downtown tunnel or subway to accommodate transit service and possible addition of businesses underground, as well as the expansion of rapid transit to the suburbs. One of the plans included light rail from Baseline Station to Blair Station and an expansion to the Ottawa Airport. All plans would have a completion date of about 2031, and costs were estimated at least $3 billion in total including $1 billion for the downtown tunnel.[23]

The majority of the public supported a downtown tunnel and the fourth transit option during public consultations meetings in Centretown, Barrhaven, Kanata and Orleans during the month. There were some suggesting that the light-rail service be extended to the suburbs rather than ending at the proposed stations. Concerns were particularly voiced by south-end residents where the initial rail plan was to be built.[24] On April 16, 2008, the Transit Committee tabled a document which recommended the fourth option.[25]

The plan passed city council by a vote of 19–4, and included motions for possible rail extensions to the suburbs depending on population density and available funding.[26] However, Kitchissippi Ward councillor Christine Leadman expressed concerns of the environment integrity impacts of light-rail along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway which is situated on NCC land. At least three councillors, including Leadman, Capital Ward councillor Clive Doucet, and Kanata North Ward councillor Marianne Wilkinson, expressed preferences for light-rail service along Carling Avenue instead of the Parkway, although rail would run through many traffic lights and stops. The NCC also suggested that the city consider options other than the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.[27] Three Ottawa Centre candidates for the 2008 federal election – incumbent New Democratic Party MP Paul Dewar, Liberal candidate Penny Collenette, and Conservative candidate Brian McGarry – also expressed opposition to building a light-rail line along the Parkway.[28]

Another potential route identified between Lincoln Fields and the Transitway near Westboro was a small strip of land located on the southern side of Richmond Road near the location of the defunct Byron Avenue streetcar line although costs would be much higher than the Parkway route.[29][30]

In early September 2008, city staff suggested that the first phase of the transit plan to be built would be similar to Option 3 with rail service from Riverside South to Blair Station via a downtown tunnel, the construction of a by-pass transit corridor via the General Hospital and a streetcar circuit along Carling Avenue, although Alex Cullen mentioned that Council already rejected the option of streetcars running on that road.[31]

Confederation Line

On December 19, 2012 City Council unanimously approved the construction of the Confederation Line, to run east-west from Blair to Tunney's Pasture.[3] The line runs on an existing Transitway infrastructure, with the exception of the 3-stop downtown tunnel. It began service in September 2019.

Stage 2

Stage 2 LRT is the ongoing project to add 44 kilometres of light rail and 24 new stations in addition to stage 1 of the Confederation Line that was opened in September 2019. Initially approved in 2013, it will bring 77% of Ottawa residents within five kilometres of rail. The expansion will start construction in Q2 2019, and finish by 2025 (South in 2022, East in 2024, West in 2025).[32][33]

Stage 2 will extend the Confederation Line eastwards by four stations from Blair station to Trim road and westwards from Tunney's Pasture by ten stations, with the line splitting at Lincoln Fields Station to have a western end at a new station by Moodie Drive, and a southern end at Baseline Station.[34]

The Trillium Line will be extended southwards by four stations to South Keys, Leitrim and Riverside South.[35] The extension will use the route of a proposed north–south LRT line that the city council cancelled in November 2006.[36][34] Also, two new stations would be added along the existing portion of the Trillium Line (Walkley and Gladstone).[35]

On June 16, 2017, the federal government announced funding for the second stage of Ottawa's LRT plan, including O-Train extensions to Trim Road and a spur towards the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. It was also announced that the city would be purchasing 80m Stadler FLIRT trains on the Trillium Line to use alongside the existing rolling stock of the Trillium line, doubling capacity and meeting higher environmental norms.[37][38]

On July 5, 2017, the City of Ottawa announced it would be looking into bringing light-rail service to Riverside South as a part of the second stage of their LRT plan.[39] On March 6, 2019, the Ottawa City Council voted 19–3 to approve the C$4.66 billion contracts to begin construction of the Stage 2 plan. The southern extension of the Trilium Line was awarded to TransitNext (solely operated by SNC-Lavalin), while the East and West extension of the Confederation Line was awarded to East West Connectors, a partnership between Vinci SA and Kiewit Corporation.[40] Financial close was reached on March 29, 2019 with TransitNext, while it was reached a month later with East West Connectors.[41]

Expansion plans

Stage 3

Ottawa's city council has approved studies into extending the Confederation Line west into Kanata and south into Barrhaven as part of the Stage 3 LRT project.[42] Stage 3 LRT may also include an extension of the Trillium Line into Gatineau via the Prince of Wales Bridge.

Carling LRT

As part of the city's 2013 Transportation Master Plan, an at-grade LRT line along Carling Avenue between Lincoln Fields station and Carling station was proposed in the city's network concept plan.[43] Carling had originally been considered for the alignment of the city's western LRT extension, but was deemed too expensive and infeasible. The city instead decided on using the current alignment along the river for the western extension which will be built in Stage 2.[44] Due to the financial constraints put on the city by the first, second, and proposed third stages of LRT, no progress has been made on further developing a plan to run LRT on Carling with the city instead opting for an interim solution consisting of dedicated bus lanes between Bronson Avenue and Lincoln Fields.[45] These lanes have yet to be implemented.

2014 sinkhole

On February 21, 2014, an 8 m wide and 12 m deep sinkhole at the LRT tunnelling site led to road collapse at Waller Street, just south of Laurier Avenue. No one was injured, and the cause of the sinkhole was unknown, but the CBC reported that the deputy city manager, Nancy Schepers, said that "Monitoring equipment has confirmed that the impact is localized, and the geotechnical team has not identified any safety concerns at this point."[46]

The sinkhole interrupted electricity, water, sanitary and storm services to nearby business and traffic lights. Traffic and buses were rerouted and work on the LRT was halted.

The sinkhole opened directly above the LRT tunnel excavation site.

See also


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  4. "Report Apr 07 EN". City of Ottawa. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  5. "Ottawa Light Rail Project Issues". Transport 2000. 2006-03-01.
  6. "Transportation Committee Minutes 37". City of Ottawa. 2006-03-01.
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  8. Friends of the O-Train
  9. Puddicombe, Derek (December 5, 2006). "City fears $1B LRT lawsuit". Ottawa Sun.
  10. Zakaluzny, Roman (December 5, 2006). "Council talks LRT one more time". Ottawa Business Journal.
  11. Elayoubi, Nelly (December 6, 2006). "Mayor's vote saves LRT project". Ottawa Sun.
  12. "Absent councillor's vote could have stopped light rail approval". CBC News. 2006-12-08.
  13. Pringle, Josh (February 7, 2007). "Cancelled LRT Price Tag $73 Million". CFRA. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
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  20. "Gatineau reveals $2.1B LRT plan, eyes 2028 launch | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2018-07-14.
  21. Moving Ottawa - En avant Ottawa
  22. Rupert, Jake (November 29, 2007). "Council sets $2-billion transit priorities : Councillors admit finding cash, deciding what to build first 'difficult'". The Ottawa Citizen.
  23. Dare, Patrick (March 4, 2008). "$1B tunnel worth the cost, mayor says". The Ottawa Citizen.
  24. CTV Ottawa (March 7, 2008). "South-enders angered by Ottawa's new transit plan". CTV. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  25. Rupert, Jake (April 16, 2008). "Transit plan : City staff recommends a light-rail spine and downtown subway with bus transitways feeding it". The Ottawa Citizen.
  26. Rupert, Jake (May 28, 2008). "Passed: City council approved a new mass transit system based on electric light rail Wednesday". The Ottawa Citizen.
  27. Adam, Mohammed (September 10, 2008). "NCC wants 'other options' to parkway rail". The Ottawa Citizen.
  28. Doolittle, Nadine (September 15, 2008). "City's voice lost in rail talk". Metro.ca.
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  37. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/feds-confirm-stage-2-money-as-three-teams-fight-for-lrt-construction-contract
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  40. "$4.7B LRT expansion gets green light". CBC. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  42. Bitneff, Beatrice (February 22, 2019). "City of Ottawa taps SNC-Lavalin, international consortium to build LRT extensions; price tag rises by $1.2B". Global News. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
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