The Hamilton Light Rail Transit (also known as the “LRT”) is a project that has been in the works since the early 2010s. It was a project brought forth by the city of Hamilton in hopes of enhancing Hamilton’s transit system by adding an electric-powered light rail line travelling through the city’s most populated and widely travelled areas. The plan is to build a track spanning 14 kilometres all the way from Eastgate to McMaster University. As mentioned on the Hamilton website, these stops (and those in-between) have been chosen due to high traffic on the existing transit lines, most notably the B-line express bus, and high demand for a link between Go Bus and HSR routes. Additionally, the city expects to have a major population increase of 780,000 people in the next twenty years, so this rail is a valuable investment for the future of Hamilton’s transit system.
What is the proposed timeline?
Initial public announcements regarding the project came in 2015 when the city declared they were requesting funding from the provincial government to build a rail line. The next few years were spent assembling resources/funds and gathering environmental approval for the construction of the railway. In the original timeline, it was proposed that the earliest stages of construction would start as early as 2019. However, approval has taken longer than anticipated. In September of 2021
“A brief ceremony was held Wednesday morning inside of city hall, where a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was formally signed by city and provincial representatives”(Mann, 2021).
The early constructions of the railway line have begun this year and are expected to be completed within five years.
What are the benefits?
Aside from the new and improved transit system, the project is expected to increase economic growth and create new jobs, as well as provide better infrastructure along the route. Railways, like the LRT, have popped up over North America and have proven to stimulate the economy in several ways: they provide easy access to new and promising neighbourhoods with struggling local economies, and they have been proven to enhance the property values of homes close to and around the lines. Additionally, the construction and operation of this railway will work closely with community agencies such as the Hamilton Community Benefits Network to employ local contractors and suppliers. Lastly, the project plan includes replacing and refurbishing infrastructure like roads, sidewalks, sewage, water mains, and traffic signals.
How will this project affect the environment?
The environmental concerns of building railways are serious in both an ethical and practical sense. According to the “Health, Environmental and Economic Impact Analysis” report by the City of Hamilton, their proposal includes vehicles with no additional emissions to reduce the effects of pollution, as well as an efficient topographic system that will reduce the number of existing transit vehicles who presumably have a higher overall environmental impact (Topalovic, 2012). Essentially, the benefits to the railway seem to vastly outweigh the potential costs and there appears to be a legitimate need for an updated transit system in Hamilton.
How will this project affect McMaster?
In the most obvious way, the Light Rail Transit system will change the transit options available to McMaster students, visitors, and staff alike. While there are many HSR bus routes in existence (e.g., the 51, 5, and 1) that drive straight through the McMaster campus every ten or so minutes, it would be hard to find a single student that believes this is a perfect system. Particularly in the winter, the buses are cramped, steamy and packed to the brim with students attempting to avoid the cold commute to school. Often the buses fill up long before they reach McMaster and thus make the HSR unreliable for many students.
Light Rail transit will enhance transit options for McMaster, with a train every six minutes at peak service hours.
According to the City of Hamilton,
“With higher capacity than other transit systems, LRT will carry passengers in reserved transit lanes separated from regular traffic. Vehicles will be low floor with multiple entrances that are accessible to customers with all levels of mobility.”
With increased capacity, comfort and reliability, there’s an opportunity for McMaster to look at expanding the transit pass, currently available only to undergraduates, to include McMaster staff and faculty. With a goal of reducing the number of people parking their cars at McMaster, and the current strain on existing HSR routes, McMaster’s plan to build a $12 million parking garage on the west side of Cootes Drive can be put aside in favour of sustainable transportation options. Such parking expansions are only temporary fixes to larger issues, as the true crux of the matter lies in the inadequacy of current transit options at McMaster.