Edmonton’s long-delayed Valley Line LRT southeast line is set to open Nov. 4, nearly three years behind schedule, but trains will run half as frequently as promised during peak times at the outset.
The city announced on Tuesday the first trains will depart at 5:15 a.m. that Saturday starting from the Mill Woods stop heading north and from the 102 Street Downtown stop heading southeast. Trains are meant to run every five minutes during peak times but, at least at first, the trains will only run every 10 minutes during the busy morning and evening commutes at the city’s request.
The $1.8-billion, 13-kilometre low-floor train line runs from Mill Woods to Downtown with 11 stops along the way. First slated to open in December 2020, the project has been mired by setbacks — including cracks in two-thirds of the line’s concrete piers last year, and replacing 140 km of faulty copper signal wires — delaying the opening date four times.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told Postmedia Tuesday the new line is significant for Edmontonians. While the city manager is reviewing Edmonton’s use of P3 and “what went wrong in this case,” he said it’s something Edmontonians have invested in and, finally, they can start to use it.
“Even though it’s long-delayed, it’s a significant milestone when it comes to access to a sustainable, reliable mode of transportation from the southeast part of the city connecting to Downtown, and from Downtown connecting to other parts of the city,” he said. “This is absolutely a transformative project that will change the shape of our city, and it will bring thousands of people Downtown onto the street.
“I’m looking forward to getting on it and I’m encouraging Edmontonians to do the same.”
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Coun. Ashley Salvador said this is a “massive moment” for Edmonton and she’s “cautiously optimistic” things will go smoothly. People are excited, and it will especially be welcomed by those who moved to communities specifically to use this train, she said.
“This truly is a transformative project, not only for residents in Ward Métis, but for Edmontonians across the entirety of the city,” she told reporters. “I’ve knocked on doors where people have been waiting for the day that they can commute to Downtown on the train, so this will be transformative for those folks.”
TransEd, a consortium of companies Bechtel, EllisDon, Alstom (formerly Bombardier), and Fengate Capital Management Ltd., built and will operate the line for 30 years as part of a P3 public-private partnership agreement with the City of Edmonton.
The line recently received its certification to operate and the train will run final operational exercises before it opens. Edmontonians can pay with their ARC cards as they would for Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) buses and trains.
Click here for a timeline of the Valley Line LRT
Trains less frequent
Deputy city manager for infrastructure Adam Laughlin told reporters Tuesday this train is a “game-changer” for how people traverse Edmonton and this is a “time for celebration.”
But it won’t run as frequently as promised initially — a deliberate decision by the city, according to Laughlin.
When it opens, the train will run at 10-minute intervals during peak times and gradually move to five-minute intervals during the morning and evening commutes, Laughlin said, as TransEd is required to do. Trains are meant to run every 10 minutes outside peak times and every 15 minutes in the evening.
Laughlin said watching how other cities, like Ottawa, have handled the opening of new urban trains led the city to the decision to start this way. For instance, knowing how long passengers take to board and disembark at the train stations won’t be completely clear until it starts running.
“This is a massive transit system that’s moving into operations, and there will be things to work out. It’s better to ensure you are providing a reliable service which is at a 10-minute frequency than to force a five-minute frequency when the demand isn’t there,” Laughlin said.
“The current demands will adequately be served by running it at a 10-minute frequency.”
The Valley Line southeast precursor bus, Route 73, will continue running until February 2024.
Edmonton expects 30,000 riders per day on the Valley Line and up to 43,000 per day as demand increases and more people shift to taking transit over time.