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Common Questions

A little girl holds a model ION LRT vehicle.

Rapid Transit in Waterloo Region


What are the benefits of rapid transit in Waterloo Region?


Rapid transit will move people, limit urban sprawl, protect farmland and shape our community.  Over the next 20 years, the Province of Ontario expects 200,000 new residents to move to our community. Rapid transit will help manage this growth and safeguard our countryside by preventing urban sprawl and promoting intensification in existing urban areas. This will help protect the region's precious agricultural lands, natural beauty, heritage and cultural characteristics that make this community unique.


ION will move people

  • ION will offer residents a new transportation choice: light rail transit (LRT) in two stages
  • Along with Grand River Transit (GRT), ION will create an efficient, integrated, easy-to-use public transit system for all residents in Waterloo Region
  • Current ridership demands ION: transit ridership has more than doubled since GRT was created in 2000. Annual ridership is now at 22 million rides per year, and continues to grow
  • Without ION, the Region would need to build 500 new land kilometres of roads over the next 20 years to accommodate expected growth. These new roads – the equivalent of 25 Hespeler Roads – would cost approximately $1.4 billion and would need to be built through existing neighbourhoods


ION will limit urban sprawl and protect farmland

  • Some of the best farmland in Ontario lies just outside our urban areas. ION safeguards the region’s agricultural lands and preserves the community’s natural beauty by intensifying development in urban areas and limiting urban sprawl
  • Most of the region’s water supply comes from the ground just outside the western edges of Kitchener and Waterloo. By limiting sprawl, ION will help protect the region’s groundwater sources
  • ION maintains the unique rural/urban lifestyle we enjoy in Waterloo Region
  • ION protects the countryside, thereby helping to support local food production


ION will shape the community

  • ION is inspiring new residential and business investments. Construction can already be seen along the ION corridor, with new projects continuously being added
  • ION is encouraging better use of land and efficient use of existing services and infrastructure


Why does Waterloo Region need rapid transit?


The Region of Waterloo continues to grow. With a current population of 550,000, we are the fourth largest community in Ontario and the tenth largest in Canada.


Over the next 20 years, growth will continue as we expect 200,000 new residents to move to our community. In fact, the Province has increased its population projection for Waterloo Region, from 729,000 to 742,000 by 2031 (Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe).


These projections are on track as nearly 10,000 new residents move to the region each year.

Where will these 200,000 people live and how will they travel in and around our community?

Our traditional pattern of suburban sprawl and single-occupancy car travel is not sustainable as we prepare to add the equivalent of another Kitchener to the region. Waterloo Region recognizes the need to look at new and improved ways to prepare for the future of our community.


The Region, together with the Province – through its Places to Grow legislation – is encouraging development and growth within existing urban areas. By focusing development and investment in the core, Waterloo Region can build up, instead of out: limiting urban sprawl and protecting the environment.


Moving people more efficiently in and around our community, limiting urban sprawl and saving our farmland through the protection and preservation of the environment are three of the fundamental goals of ION.


ION will help local businesses attract new talent to the region, assist with job creation and stimulate new business growth. It will also help traffic congestion and reduce the need for costly road improvements in some areas.


Is this the right time to build ION?


Yes. Implementing rapid transit now will help us address the transportation and land use demands that will result as our economy grows and our population increases from more than 550,000 today to 742,000 by 2031.


Why can't more roads solve the congestion problem?


Building new or bigger roads won't ease traffic congestion - it just attracts more cars. Road expansion is not a realistic or affordable option to manage future growth. We need to make forward-thinking and creative land use and transportation policies to promote public transit and reurbanization in the central transit corridor. As traffic congestion increases, rapid transit on dedicated lanes will provide more reliable travel times.


Why can't we just keep using iXpress?


iXpress works well now, but is already experiencing traffic delays from road congestion. As ridership continues to grow, the capacity of iXpress will not be enough to meet travel demand. LRT provides a better quality of service (more convenient and comfortable) and will attract more riders than iXpress alone.


Will ION create jobs in Waterloo Region?


Yes, ION will shape the community by creating demand for lands near ION stops, increasing land values and generating new jobs. Up to 16,900 new jobs are expected to be generated in the vicinity of ION stops.


ION costs


What is the total cost of ION?


There are two components to the overall cost of ION: capital costs, and operations and maintenance costs.


Capital costs are $818 million. These costs are funded entirely by three levels of government: the Government of Ontario ($300 million), the Government of Canada ($265 million) and the Region of Waterloo ($253 million).


GrandLinq is the consortium responsible for designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining ION. GrandLinq’s total capital cost is $593 million, including net HST. This includes $532 million funded from the LRT project budget of $818 million and $61 million from intersecting Public Infrastructure Works projects.


The intersecting projects are being completed as part of delivering ION, but are being funded from sources other than ION. These projects were planned and budgeted for and would have been implemented regardless of ION.


Some of these projects include:

  • King Street and Northfield Drive rehabilitation and reconstruction;
  • Underpass on King Street and the railway crossing near Victoria;
  • Rehabilitation and reconstruction of King Street (Victoria Street to Union Street).


GrandLinq’s annual operations and maintenance cost for 30 years includes:

  • Operations ($4 million, plus HST and inflation);
  • Maintenance ($4.5 million, plus HST and inflation);
  • Lifecycle (average $8.7 million, plus HST and inflation);
  • Financing ($11 million, plus HST);
  • Insurance ($1.7 million, plus applicable taxes).


How are we funding the building and operation of ION?


The capital costs of $818 – the costs dedicated to building ION – are funded entirely by three levels of government: the Government of Ontario ($300 million), the Government of Canada ($265 million) and the Region of Waterloo ($253 million).


Operations and maintenance, financing, lifecycle and Region costs (electricity, project office, etc.) will be funded by transit fare revenue and the 1.2 per cent tax increase (2012-18) approved by Council in 2011.


This increase is reduced by other property tax reductions, resulting in an annual net property tax increase for ION of 0.7 per cent. For the average household, this is the equivalent of approximately $11 per year.


How do the costs of ION compare with other Regional services?


Grand River Transit (GRT) annual operating costs are $105 million and the Region’s 10-year Capital Roads Program is $860 million.


ION Construction


Is ION construction underway?


Yes, construction for ION is well underway. Construction for both ION BRT and ION LRT began in the summer of 2014. Building ION in Waterloo Region is an enormous undertaking. To limit the impacts of construction on any one area to a shorter period of time, construction is being completed in stages. To find out the latest information on ION construction, see our dedicated construction website


How can I find out more about construction?


The Region has a website dedicated to ION construction. It provides the most up-to-date information for residents and businesses on all aspects of construction, such as detours, overall progress as well as the opportunity to sign-up for regular construction updates. For more see


If you have any specific questions or need immediate assistance, phone 1-844-625-1010.


How will construction impact me?


Building ION to support planned growth and to offer another transit choice in Waterloo Region is an enormous undertaking. The Region recognizes this and, together with GrandLinq, we are making every effort to ensure community impacts are kept to a minimum.


Construction of Stage 1 ION will continue in select areas across Kitchener and Waterloo until the new service is up and running in 2018. Access to all businesses and residences will be maintained at all times throughout construction.


The most up-to-date construction information is available at – our website dedicated to ION construction. You can also sign-up for regular updates.



If you have a construction-related question that requires an immediate answer, please phone 1-844-625-1010.




Who is GrandLinq?


In March 2014, GrandLinq was awarded the contract to design, build, finance, operate and maintain ION LRT in Waterloo Region. GrandLinq is a partnership of Plenary Group, Meridiam Infrastructure, Aecon, Kiewit and Keolis.

The design and construction of ION is being carried out by GrandLinq Contractors, a joint venture of Aecon and Kiewit under a subcontract with GrandLinq.


To find out more, please visit


How were the proposals evaluated?


Numerous Region staff and consultants, including Infrastructure Ontario, Deloitte, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Norton Rose carefully evaluated each of the three short-listed proposals based on their financial and technical specifications.


Infrastructure Ontario and the Fairness Monitor (P1 Consulting) worked closely with the Region to oversee the process, ensuring each proposal was evaluated in a transparent, fair and consistent manner.

The team with the highest overall score was selected and has been recommended to Council as the preferred team.


What are the main highlights of the GrandLinq proposal?


Some of the main highlights of the GrandLinq proposal include:

  • The capital cost of the proposal is consistent with the capital cost estimate, and can be accommodated within the ION project capital budget of $818 million.
  • Projected operating, maintenance, lifecycle and financing costs can all be accommodated within the Region's approved funding strategy.
  • Based on the GrandLinq proposal, the rapid transit project remains on-time, on budget and the costs remain affordable based on the Region's approved funding strategy.


What is the Project Agreement?


The Project Agreement is an important document. It outlines the Region’s expectations for ION Stage 1 LRT as well as the responsibilities and obligations of both the Region and the preferred team.


What is the Region responsible for in the Project Agreement?


The Region will:

  • Own the ION LRT system, including all infrastructure and vehicles.
  • Set fares and the frequency of the service.
  • Be responsible for customer service and system-wide integration.
  • Collect all fare revenue.
  • Monitor the performance of GrandLinq to ensure all service requirements are being met.


What is GrandLinq responsible for in the Project Agreement?


GrandLinq will:

  • Take ION Stage 1 LRT to final design
  • Build ION Stage 1 LRT
  • Operate and maintain the ION LRT service between Kitchener and Waterloo, consistent with the Region’s performance requirements.




What is a P3?


P3 stands for public private partnership. The partnership is based on a negotiated contract between a public organization and a private company. They work together to complete projects. The intent of a P3 is to build on the strengths of each partner (public and private sector). Each project is different, therefore public and private sector roles adjust to provide the best outcome.


What is a 'procurement and delivery' option?


Procurement is a process used to buy a product or service. Delivery is how that product or service is built and/or provided. Together, a 'procurement and delivery' option is one way that a product or service can be completed. There can be many different options for purchasing and providing a product or service. A 'procurement and delivery' option can include private sector involvement in any combination of designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining of a project.


What is DBFOM and why is DBFOM the Region's preliminary preferred 'procurement and delivery' option?


DBFOM is a P3 approach that is a partnership between the public and private sector.


DBFOM means:

  • Design = the private company would complete detailed design drawings and plans of the route.
  • Build = the private company would build the rapid transit system.
  • Finance = the private company would have to obtain financing to pay its employees and other costs in advance of the Region's instalment payments. The Region would withhold part of the construction payment to the private company and pay it in instalments when the contract requirements are met by the private company over the term of the project.
  • Operate = the private company would manage the day-to-day operations of the light rail transit (LRT) system.
  • Maintain = the private company would look after the repairs and upkeep of the LRT system, including tracks and vehicles.


DBFOM provides the following benefits:

  • Cost: LRT design and construction can proceed at the same time, with significant time savings, better coordination and more efficient construction. The private company would have to deal with competitive pressure and answer to their lenders, so they would be inclined to provide a better value and a lower total project cost ensuring that the project is on time and on budget.
  • Experience and qualifications: The private sector has more experience and qualifications than the Region with designing and constructing an LRT system. They also have more experience with operating and maintaining an LRT system at start-up, and with providing trained and certified staff to operate the light rail vehicles.
  • Incentives: With DBFOM, payments and penalties based on performance would provide incentive for the private sector to complete the project on time and on budget. The payments and penalties would also apply to performance standards for operating and maintaining a high-quality LRT system over the long term. If the private sector does not perform to the standards set in the contract, it does not get paid.
  • Risks: With DBFOM, the Region limits its risk by placing responsibility on the private sector. The Region monitors the service and holds back payments if the private sector does not meet the contract performance standards.
  • DBFOM would provide better accountability where performance may be related to either maintenance or operation because the same company is responsible for both. DBFOM would also transfer lifecycle risks such as major vehicle and track maintenance to the private sector. The Region would be responsible for those risks that it is best able to manage, such as fare setting and ridership risk.


With DBFOM, who gets the money from the fares?


The Region of Waterloo will receive the fare revenue, which will offset the cost of the Region's transit system.


With DBFOM, what happens after thirty years?


After thirty years or the length of the project term, the contract with GrandLinq would end. The Region of Waterloo could assume operations and maintenance, or extend the agreement with GrandLinq, or find a new private company to operate and maintain the LRT system.


With DBFOM, who would drive the trains and buses?


GrandLinq will supply the operators to drive the LRT trains, keeping to the Region's service schedule. Grand River Transit operators would drive the buses. More bus drivers will be needed because of the Region's approved plan to expand the transit network.


Has the Region contracted out operations and maintenance to the private sector before?


The Region has successfully contracted out operations and maintenance of garbage and recycling collection, recycling sorting, and wastewater treatment plants. The Region retains ownership of facilities, sets user rates, and is responsible for customer service and addressing customer issues.


The ION service


Where will the route go?


ION Stage 1 includes a 19-kilometre LRT route from the Conestoga Mall transit terminal in Waterloo to the Fairview Park Mall transit terminal in Kitchener, with stops at 16 destinations including the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier, UpTown Waterloo, Grand River Hospital, King/Victoria transit hub and Downtown Kitchener.


Stage 1 also features a 17-kilometre route of BRT from the Ainslie Street transit terminal in

Cambridge to the Fairview Park Mall transit terminal in Kitchener.


To view route maps see this link:


What is the projected ridership for rapid transit? How was the ridership determined?


Daily passenger boardings on opening day are expected to be around 27,000. This is expected to increase to about 56,000 by the year 2031. Ridership forecasts were developed by the consultant teams of TSi and Halcrow Consulting using a ridership forecasting model as part of the Environmental Assessment. The model was peer reviewed by Dr. Eric Miller of the University of Toronto and Dr. Jeff Casello of the University of Waterloo and was deemed to be a sound forecasting tool. Details of the modelling process can be found in the Rapid Transit Environmental Assessment Phase 2 Summary Report.


How much will it cost to ride ION? How do I pay?


Transit fares for ION will be consistent across the entire system regardless of transit mode (i.e. ION LRT or BRT, GRT, iXpress, etc.). A joint fare system between services ensures residents will easily transfer between services at no additional cost.


ION LRT will operate on a proof of payment system. Passengers will be required to show bylaw officers (when asked) proof of their payment to travel on ION.


Passengers can purchase tickets from ticket vending machines at ION stops.


How often will I be able to catch ION?


Exact schedules will be established before ION service begins, but generally speaking ION LRT trains will run every eight minutes during rush hours and every 10 to 15 minutes during the rest of the day.

Service for adapted bus rapid transit (BRT) will operate at a frequency of every 10 minutes during morning and afternoon peak periods. Both LRT and BRT will come every 15 minutes outside of peak periods.


What will happen to the iXpress service after ION service begins?


The new rapid transit system will essentially replace the current iXpress route, however new express service like iXpress will be introduced on other routes.


Will riders outside of rapid transit station areas have good transit service?


The future of the Waterloo Region transit system is one that integrates GRT with LRT, GO Transit and VIA Rail. The aim is to establish a cohesive inter-city network of public transit, linking people with local businesses, sites and services. Shown here are stages of LRT, the expansion of GRT routes, the Region of Waterloo Transit Hub and connections with GO Transit. As our region grows and develops, so too will our transit needs.


What will rapid transit travel times be?


Approximately 39 minutes from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Park Mall for light rail transit and approximately 33 minutes from Fairview Park mall to Ainslie Street terminal with adapted bus rapid transit.


ION in Waterloo Region


What will happen to the businesses along the LRT route?


ION will bring more people to the central transit corridor. Businesses will benefit from expanded amenities and increased visibility due to rapid transit. It will enable employees to access job opportunities and provide access by employers to an expanded workforce.


Will ION affect emergency services?


The rapid transit team has worked with and will continue to work with emergency services staff to ensure that access to all properties remains available.


What will happen to the street events like Oktoberfest and Buskers once ION is built?


They will still happen! Regional staff will work with organizing committees to accommodate parades along the LRT route.

During events, LRT service can short-turn to leave the parade area clear, but still provide LRT service to the crowds of people coming to the parade.


How will traffic operate around the ION line?


Left-turns and U-turns will be provided at specific signalized intersections. In the downtowns where there is a curbside rapid transit lane, traffic will be able to cross the LRT to get in and out of driveways.


Are pedestrians going to be able to cross the street with ION?


Pedestrians should use the same rules as always when crossing a street.


Will ION be able to operate in winter conditions?


During snow and freezing rain events, we will keep the trains running throughout, including overnight, helping to keep the snow off the tracks. With special equipment on the pantographs, we will keep the overhead wires clear. Heating equipment is installed on track switches to ensure these remain clear of ice and snow. We will also be using standard snow removal equipment, where, required along the alignment.


What happens if a light rail vehicle breaks down?


Disabled trains will be removed from the main track to side tracks with minimal disruption to the service.


What happens if the power goes off?


A back-up power system will be in place for short-term power disruptions. For more widespread power disruptions, buses will be provided to ensure ION passengers reach their desired destination.


How fast will ION vehicles travel?


LRT vehicles will travel at a speed appropriate to the environment in which they are traveling. For example, LRT vehicles will travel at a slower speed (as slow as 20-25 km/h) in areas with a lot of pedestrian activity, such as downtown areas. LRT vehicles operating within rail corridors, away from other traffic and pedestrians will travel at higher speeds.


How will the overhead wires required for ION affect the streetscape?


Modern electrical wires used to power new LRT systems fit well into the streetscape and are quite unobtrusive.



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