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2003 Transportation

City of Ottawa, Ontario

The O-Train: Light Rail Pilot Project

Population: 774,072

The O-Train is the City of Ottawa's first experience with light rail transit. The O-Train travels an eight-kilometre length of existing CP Rail freight line, passing five stations (two of which provide access to the city's bus system), two bridges, and using a 600-metre tunnel beneath Dow's Lake. The line serves one of the city's two universities, a major employment centre, and a shopping mall. The city initiated the projectto assess the feasibility of using an existing freight rail corridor for rapid transit and to analyze the potential of a larger-scale light rail network. The O-Train has improved access to the other parts of the city's transit network and daily ridership has reached 6,300 passengers, removing approximately 2,200 car trips each day. Future expansion plans for the O-Train have been proposed as a high priority.


By 2021, the City of Ottawa's population is projected to increase by 50 per cent, from 800,000 to 1.2 million people. Its new official plan, adopted in May 2003, targets a 30 per cent transit modal share, compared to the current 17 per cent, aone of its objectives.

Ottawa 20/20 is the city's long-term growth management strategy. It incorporates individual sustainable development plans that cover environment and transportation, heritage, arts, economics, and human services. The city also participin FCM's Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) initiative. Prior to amalgamation with 11 other municipal governments and the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton (RMOC) in January 2001, the former City of Ottawa was the first municipal government in Canada to complete all five PCP milestones. Since amalgamation, the new city has incorporated much of the milestone work into its environment plan.


  • 6,300 passengers ride the O-Train each day, with about two-thirds of these trips to and from Carleton University. Surveys show that, if the O-Train did not exist, about 1,500 of these passengers would have used other modes of transportation or not made the trip at all.
  • Fuel consumption is 40 per cent less than the average bus fuel consuption per passenger space.
  • Approximately 2,200 unnecessary cars have been removed from the city's downtown core.
  • The O-Train has been in operation 99 per cent of the time, compared to 70 per cent with bus service. The O-Train is wheelchair accessible and an elevator was installed at one station to meet the needs of passengers with physical disabilities. Annual revenue is approximately $1 million with a revenue/ cost ration of 24.5 per cent, which compares favoourably to the city's initial objective of a 27 to 32 per cent revenue/cost ratio.

Lessons Learned

  • Political leadership and direction were essential. The project began with direction from the former regional council and its success has reinforced city council's decision to proceed with a more comprehensive rapid transit expansion plan. The plan will identify potential transit corridors and vehicle technology options (including brail options) and will develop an integrated rapid transit network.
  • Public input and support were critical. The city and OC Transpo kept a running dialogue with community and advocacy groups, schools, and the general public.
  • Personal contact with key government agencies and the railway industry proved beneficial. "At first, we got the typical bureaucratic answers, but once we met with them face-to-face and walked the track, there was much moco-operation," said Mr. Diamond.
  • The Bombardier trains were a good choice for the pilot project, but they were designed for long distance commuter service. As the city proceeds with its rapid transit expansion plan, other vehicles and propulsiosystems will be considered. "If we used the DMU trains in the downtown core, we would need to build platfofor passengers to get in," Mr. Diamond explained. "The newer trains we are looking at can be mixed with traffic, are low-floor, and are much lighter."

Partners and Collaboration


  • City of Ottawa Infrastructure Services


  • Transport Canada
  • Human Resources Development Canada
  • Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway
  • Canadian National (CN) Railway
  • VIA Rail
  • Carliton University
  • Public Works and Government Services Canada
  • National Capital Commission
  • Ottawa Police Services
  • Women's Initiative for a Safe Environment
  • Transport 2000
  • Various other citizens and advocacy groups and community associations
Page Updated: 21/12/2015