Edmonton Transit System's LRT History

For the Edmonton Transit System, the words "Light Rail Transit" and "Subway System" were just a dream in 1951.  At this time, the city of Edmonton had a population of 159,631 and was growing steadily in the decades to come.  As with other cities, a decision to abandoned the street car era and follow the "Rails to Rubber" fad came to Edmonton.  They had abandoned their street car system in favor of motorbuses and "trackless trolleys" that were more flexible to operate and maintain.  However, even rail was still a valuable resource to the transportation industry and could still make a comeback to Edmonton.

With the low price of gasoline and the price comparison between running a private automobile versus taking public transportation, most people decided to take their own car to wherever they needed to go to instead of taking the bus.  Because of this, city officials looked at ways to get the citizens of Edmonton out of their cars and onto public transportation.  Some of the solutions that had been suggested included expanding the bus network to get a better coverage of the city, express bus service to compete with the speed and service of running a private car, or look for ways to reintroduce rail transportation to the city.  Unfortunately no matter which way they took this approach, it would end up costing the city more than they budgeted for.

During 1962, the city of Edmonton contracted out the Canadian Bechtel Limited to look at ways to aid the public to use the transportation system that the city had to offer.  Rapid Transit was one of the solutions that the report they prepared came to the table and look for routes to link the downtown business district to the communities where ridership was expected to generate revenue.  Some routes included serving north to Northgate, into the west to serve Jasper Place and West Edmonton (Including the West Edmonton Mall that was built in the 1980's), into the southwest towards Southgate and surrounding areas, southeast towards the Bonnie Doon area, northeast towards the Belvedere and Clareview areas, and even northwest towards the town of St Albert.  All of these alignments were to be researched which would be the best possible way to start off with and then expand in the future.

Throughout the years of planning, studies, and research that was to come, environmental impact was the main concern of the solution.  The city of Edmonton wanted a solution that would be cost effective, attract riders, yet have the least environmental impact.  Eventually after transportation and transit officials visited Europe to find such a solution, it was decided to invest in Light Rail Transit.  Light Rail Transit was very appealing to the passengers as it would bring them to their destinations faster than their cars and was an attractive way to travel.  By 1973, planning was already underway to begin construction of the soon to be LRT line.  By August 1973, city officials was presented with a report entitled the Report of the Transportation Planning Branch, which suggested that city officials approach the provincial and federal governments for funding for LRT.

Of course, while the planning and funding was taking place, city officials came up with a routing for the LRT line that would make the least impact environmentally to the city of Edmonton.  A line was chosen that would make use of existing Edmonton Transit System facilities that weren't being used adequately, serving residents that would expect to use the system the most, and make use of existing resources that would serve to the major attractions in the area.  The LRT line starts in downtown Edmonton at about 101 Street and Jasper Avenue, heads northeast towards 102 Avenue and 99 Street where it turns to head between the Canadian National Rail lines northeast towards 129th Avenue and approximately 60th Street in the Belvedere area, serving the residents of adjoining neighborhoods, bringing them to the Northland Coliseum (now renamed to the Skyreach Centre), the Commonwealth Stadium, and entering the downtown business district, with the potential to continue to serve towards other parts of the city, such as towards the University of Alberta, Southgate, West Edmonton, and more.

As for finding a suitable LRV, Edmonton Transit officials would research around the world to find a suitable LRV car to do the job.  There was only one company in Canada at the time that would be able to construct LRV car, which was Urban Transit Development Corporation.  In the 1980's, UTDC produced ALRV cars for Vancouver to operate starting around the time Expo '86 was to start, along with having some Subway cars in operation in the Greater Toronto Area.  In the United States, Light Rail Transit was being developed down there too.  San Francisco and Boston were having LRV cars being built by Boeing, which manufacturers Airplanes.  These LRV's built by Boeing were very impressive to Edmonton Transit officials, they declined to make a deal to purchase these cars due to the steep duties on them.

Even though finding a suitable LRV car was a challenge, Edmonton Transit looked at Europe where in places like Frankfurt Germany, there was LRV cars produced by Siemens/DuWag of the U2 Model.  The U2 model of car had been in service since 1968 in Frankfurt and could easily be adapted to the North American operation.  Officials involved with the LRT line were impressed by these LRV's and were able to provide the best possible cost with the proven track record to go along with it.  The car bodies were brought over by ship to the ports in Vancouver, BC, then brought out by rail to Edmonton for assembly.  The first unit arrived at 7:10 PM on April 11, 1977 at the CP Rail Strathcona yards where Edmonton Transit's unofficial Transit Historian got to see it arrive.  It was delivered plain white with the number 600 on the bumper above the coupler and an ETS logo that was partially removed.

To help keep costs down on the duty of importing the LRV cars, Canadian content was incorporated to these cars.  Approximately 25 to 35% of what was in these cars was Canadian content.  The cars were delivered as shells so that the interiors, trucks (Bogies), and the articulation joint could be assembled in Canada.  Assembly of Edmonton Transit's U2 cars was completed at the Cromdale Shops, beginning with the first cars being unloaded the week of April 18th, 1977.  The first order, numbers 1001 to 1014, was just enough to operate the system when the original line went from Belvedere to Central Stations.  As the trains were being delivered, they were being assembled, tested, and ready to put online as the line was under construction.  The second order of cars that arrived was an order for 3 cars (1015 to 1017) were combined with Calgary Transit's first order that came in at a negotiated price of $954,000 per car.  A third order for cars 1018 to 1037 were ordered for delivery by 1983, was sought to be enough to keep the LRT system going if the extension across the North Saskatchewan river to the University and almost down towards Southgate Mall.  These cars from the third order were delivered to Calgary Transit's Anderson Shops and assembled there due to space constraints at the Cromdale shops and with the DL MacDonald shops not ready for operation yet.

The Siemens/DuWag U2 LRV cars are powered by a 600 Volt DC traction motor, with two motors on each car, one at each end.  Each of the motors have a rating of 150 kilowatts at 1200 RPM with the power consumption of 3.7 kilowatts per vehicle kilometer of operation.  Each of the cars has its own pantograph that collects the 600 Volts of electricity from the overhead lines and can operate on a auxiliary power supply of 24 Volts on a limited basis.  Power substations are located in even intervals along the line and has an approximate coverage of the system that if one substation went down, that the substation before and after could theoretically have enough power to cover the system.  Throughout the system, the overhead lines are mounted so it forms a zig-zag to reduce the wear on the carbon inserts that absorb the power.  In the winter time, the first trains out in the morning can create a light show from the pantographs clearing the ice from the overhead lines.  It can almost give the illusion that the train is starting a fire.  The overhead lines throughout the system is strung above the tracks approximately 5.7 meters, with the lines a bit lower in the tunnels and in the stations.  A unique concept of the Edmonton Transit system is the fact that the LRT system crosses over trolley bus overhead wires at 95 Street, however the two lines don't touch at all.  The LRT line is lower than the trolley wires by a small distance and the two are able to cross without interference.  For more about this trolley bus/:LRT crossing, please see the Belvedere to Central Station history page that is soon to come to Barp.ca!

Each of the LRV cars has an overall length of 24.4 meters and can be 73.2 meters long in a 3-car consist.  The cars are 2.65 meters wide.  While there is seating for 64 passengers, there is room for 97 standees based upon 0.25 square meters per passenger, making a total desirable capacity of 161 passengers with a maximum of 256 passengers on a crush load per each car, with a maximum of 768 passengers in a crush load on a 3-car consist.  There is 4 passenger doors on each side that are double folding and are about 1.3 meters wide by 1.9 meters tall per door.  Edmonton's U2 cars were ordered with the wheelchair accessibility option when delivered, which included the seatbelts on the back of two of the seats, one on either side of the car at the middle set of doors of the "B" end of the car, along with the curved stanchion at those two doors.  Edmonton Transit later retrofitted ramps on these cars later in operation in the same sets of doors.

With each of the cars weighing 32.6 tonnes at a dead weight, they can accept a maximum payload of 17.7 tonnes per vehicle.  The cars have a Megi rubber chevron, double coil spring suspension on each truck.  The cars have three types of brakes on the train which include dynamic, disc, and magnetic track brakes, along with the auxiliary and emergency brake system.  Each of the cars are reversible and can be operated in either direction.  Edmonton Transit uses ARA-A 100 rails on most of the lines.  Over most of the LRT line, the tracks are laid in traditional railroad fashion where the tracks are laid on wooden railroad ties attached with standard railway spikes.  Throughout the tunnels, the tracks are laid on concrete plinths attached with a vossich railway clip.  Churchill and Central Stations have the tracks laid in a similar fashion as on the main line where they are on wooden railway ties with crushed rock ballast, however, there is a rubber noise and vibration mat laid under the tracks.  The actual noise level created by the LRT system is about 72 DBA at 25 m.

Please also take the time to check out the individual sections for the LRT system in Edmonton from the index page for this section.  We plan on adding more information & photos of the system as time permits.

Return to the ETS LRT index page