Tag Archives: Light Rapid Transit

Athens LRT: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Guest Blogger, Kevin Thomason discusses the Athens LRT

This time I would like to profile the Athens, Greece LRT system built for the 2004 Summer Olympics that has been problematic. There are several things that we can learn for our Waterloo Region LRT system from the challenges they have encountered – though there are also a few things that they have done well too.

Starting with the positive –

Grass and Greenspace – About 70% of the Athens LRT system runs on a wonderful grass surface. It creates a beautiful green belt through many parts of this otherwise dry, crowded, ancient stone and concrete city. Despite the dry climate and the intense heat, the grass grows well without much maintenance, and significantly dampens the sounds and vibrations of the LRT trains. Most stations (even those in the middle of narrow streets) have some trees and greenery integrated into them and a few stations are gorgeous with huge flowering shrubs, lush green grass, and significant trees all planted as part of the LRT project.

The Beach – the Athens LRT is unique as it is one of the few LRT’s one can ride from the downtown core and National Parliament right to the beach and seaside. In fact, there are 17 LRT stations right on the beach and waterfront making it quite common on nice days to have some of the passengers in business attire with briefcases and other passengers in bathing suits with beach umbrella’s and water toys. The Athens LRT can get alarmingly crowded on summer evenings when thousands of people are heading home from the beach at sunset. It is a very efficient way to move these large crowds of people (particularly when there is little available parking along the seashore).

However, moving on to some of the negative aspects of the Athens LRT:

Construction – we can learn in Waterloo Region from the construction of their system. I was lucky enough to be in Athens in July 2004, the week that their LRT system opened just hours before the start of the Olympic games. Needless to say that despite using some innovative ideas such as pre-fabricated sections of track to quickly cross highways and minimize construction interruptions, the work on the system was too rushed in the lead-up to the games, too many corners were cut, and the system has been functioning poorly and failing prematurely as a result.

A Very Rough Ride – The Athens LRT is by far the roughest riding LRT system I have ever been on. The eight years since the Olympics has not been kind to Greece nor their LRT infrastructure. This past summer the maximum speed the LRT trains could achieve was less than 60km/hr and any speed over 30km/hr saw the trains lurching, rattling and shaking quite disturbingly. I’m not sure if the problem is in the tracks, the suspension, or the truck carriages of the LRT trains but something is definitely wrong and everyone has to hang on tight as the Greek LRT’s bounce and toss everyone around despite going fairly slowly compared to other LRT systems that are truly rapid. We need to ensure that we have better engineering and a fast, high quality ride.

A Very Noisy Ride – Unlike the extremely silent LRT systems in Strasbourg, Istanbul, Vienna, etc. the Athens LRT is extremely noisy with loud track squeals on bends, lots of thumping and rumbling noise. Thank goodness for the grass track sections where it runs smoother and much quieter than on the very rough and noisy concrete and gravel sections.

Poorly Maintained – It was astounding for a system that is only 8 years old to see how battered, scratched, dented and beat up it has become. There is no way that they are going to get 20 or 30 years out of trains that are already falling apart. It was incredibly sad to see the contrast between the gleaming new system I rode in 2004 and the damaged system it has so quickly become. Twice in July LRT’s I was riding in broke down and the driver had to take panels in various parts of the train apart to reset electronic systems to get us going again.

Lines to Nowhere – While some portions of the Athens LRT system are quite heavily used with good passenger loads, other parts go to distant abandoned Olympic sites that are now empty wastelands of shuttered buildings. Some stations sit empty with no prospect of much ridership to those areas. Thankfully, the Athens LRT uses a stop request system where one has to push a red button that sounds a bell (similar to most Canadian urban buses) to request to stop at the next stop. This works extremely well as if no one requests a stop and there is no one on the LRT platform the LRT will not stop at that station and will continue on passing through empty stations until someone requests a stop.

This can make it quite fast to get through some of these seldom used parts of the Athens LRT network though it must make scheduling the LRT’s a challenge as it would be hard to predict how many times each train is going to stop on any particular route.

I have noticed on the Toronto Metrolinx Bombardier Flexity Freedom 2 mockup they now have (and we should borrow for special events) that it is equipped with stop request buttons so I would presume that if Toronto will be implementing a stop request system that is being considered here in Waterloo for our LRT too. It could be a good feature to not always have to stop at every station if nobody is there, nobody is getting off and nobody is boarding. We want our system to move people as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Pictures of the LRT in Athens, The Good, Bad and Ugly

Pictures and comments by guest blogger, Kevin Thomason.

Athens LRT

An Athens LRT running on a grass section in a residential part of Ath


A typical Athens LRT train and station.

A typical Athens LRT train and station.

Inside Athens LRT

The interior of the Athens LRT. Note the dual video monitors along the roof of the train – great screens of information for next stations, route information, community messages, etc. Please note that most European LRT trains are narrower than ours will be here in North America.


The three lines of the Athens LRT (Blue, Green and Red).

Athens route

The view of an upcoming station area from the front of an LRT. Note the grass on the tracks and the trees on the platform.


A blurry photo from the rough ride but the green swath of the tracks on grass across the city certainly stands out and is far nicer than a sea of concrete would be.


dry grass LRT

Green station area. Grass is dry but the flowers are lovely

LRT station

An LRT station in the suburbs. Note the machines for validating your ticket. In this area the tracks run on a gravel base.

Industrial area

Note the stark difference in landscape between the gravel base here in and industrial part of Athens and the grass sections in the other photos.

Flowers and LRT

In some places there is so much greenery, trees, grass and shrubs they can almost get in the way such as this bougainvillea.


stop button

The red “Stop Request” button that one must push to get the driver to stop the train at the next LRT station.

LRT tickets

A ticketing machine available in several languages.


The information boards at each station that show the station area, the entire network, timetables, announcements, etc.

LRT problems

One can see the scratches, dents, dings and abuse the trains have taken in just a few years. Decals are peeling and the system is in very poor repair.


While scratched up the panels appear to be tough thankfully.

Disrepair LRT

A peeling LRT waiting at the downtown Sygmenta Square.


A final photo of one of the suburban stations with grass, trees, shade and people awaiting the LRT.


Pictures of the LRT in Strasbourg by Guest Blogger Kevin Thomason

Kevin’s observations can be read in the previous blog.

Bicycles are encouraged on the LRT and plentiful bike racks throughout the city
make it extremely easy to get around.


LRT’s, pedestrians, bicycles and cars mingle together in the core quite successfully.  Notice the clearly labelled public washrooms on the left.


The broad mix of transportation choices that have been so integral to Strasbourg’s success are shown here – the two lane paved bike road on the left, the LRTs in the centre, the road on the right and the sidewalk for pedestrians on the far right with lots of greenery between them all.


Some LRT medians are so green and tree-lined it is like creating a park the length of the city!  If they can do this in compact, space-challenged Europe amongst 600 year old buildings surely we can do this in vast, spacious Canada.


Another example in a Western suburb of a road on the left, a paved two lane cycling path, and then the LRT lines running on a natural grass surface.


The dedicated bike lanes and trails are well marked, segregated and signed too –
lit here even at night.


A sleek, modern ground level LRT in the central station in Strasbourg, France


One of the dozens of streets closed to cars and instead enjoyed by pedestrians, bicycles and cafes.  In the foreground this gate/post system still allows delivery and other vehicles in as needed.


An LRT coming into a suburban station.  Note the use of grass right up to the station and the people waiting for the train with bicycles, buggies, etc.


The LRT’s are still busy at night too.  The huge windows and flat floor on these models of LRT trains are wonderful.  Each train can hold up to 300 riders and is far more efficient than buses.


This parking lot has been moved underground and the area turned into a thriving square, plaza and fountain area in the core of the city.


Clear signage makes the system easy for everyone to use.



An electronic payment system makes it convenient and affordable.  A ride anywhere in the city costs about $1.80 Cdn, an all day unlimited pass costs about $5.00 Canadian.

LRT in Strasbourg by Guest Blogger Kevin Thomason

Last Spring, I was lucky to be able to travel to a number of great cities across Asia and Europe with my girlfriend.  In several places we were able take the time to study how these rapidly growing cities are innovatively working to address urban sprawl, environmental issues, global warming, energy challenges and provide the highest quality of life to their citizens. 
One city in particular – Strasbourg, France we travelled to specifically to see how a city in steep decline in the 1970’s has been transformed into one of the most progressive and desirable cities in the world.  Their transformation has taken place by converting more than two dozen streets to pedestrian priority zones – limiting vehicular traffic and prioritizing for pedestrians, bicycles and LRT’s – thus ensuring their city is dominated by people, not cars.  They have built five LRT lines over the past 17 years that cover their core and branch out far into the suburbs (and even countryside in some places), they have built an amazing 500 kilometres of bicycle trails with dedicated lanes and encouraged people to bring their bikes and strollers on the LRT. 
Strasbourg is also working to ensure desirable destinations converting former roadways and parking lots into town squares, wider sidewalks for cafes, encouraging shoppes and tourism.  Even little details such as ensuring citizens could buy high quality little wheeled carts to wheel home groceries easily on low floor transit (also highly handicapped accessible) and ensuring lots of easy to find public washrooms has been integral to their success.
The result has been an incredible transformation from a city in decline, challenged by dramatically increasing crime rates and an exodus of citizens, to a thriving community of 650,000 people (just a bit bigger than Waterloo Region) that is now the location of the EU Parliament, a booming economy, one of the highest qualities of life in the world, and a city that has one of the lowest carbon footprints and rates of energy use despite a winter climate equivalent to that here in Waterloo Region. 
You can see from the photos below the resulting city is fantastic, every LRT is full of riders, their suburbs and most places in the city (even neighbouring Germany) is easily reached in just a few minutes on any LRT and transit route. 
Strasbourg also focused on creating strong railway connections to neighbouring cities and despite being more than 500km and almost the full width of France distant, Paris is only two hours away on their high speed rail line with more than 10 trains each direction daily.  Few people feel the need for an automobile and bike-sharing and car sharing programs are widely available throughout the city.
More than 60% of their LRT lines run on grass and most are lined with trees – creating wide strips of green through the city – replacing vast stretches of concrete and even further reducing the quiet noise and vibrations of the passing LRTs.
It is so important to the future of our community here in Waterloo that Kitchener Council vote  in favour of the investment to improve our local trail networks.  It was wonderful to see the recent City of Waterloo trails endorsement and the ongoing progress of our own LRT system.  One can hope that in the coming years we can be as successful and create as great of a quality of life in our community as Strasbourg.

Knox Presbyterian Church and Democracy: on the Occasion of The One Year Anniversary of the New Church.

Greetings and congratulations from Chair Ken Seiling and Regional Council. Like Peter Braid, I would first like to talk about Caroline and Erb.  Although people, of course, do talk to me about the traffic, this intersection is iconic. There is commerce with Waterloo Square, politics with CIGI, the arts with the Clay and Glass and religion with Knox. We are always hearing about commerce and politics, it is so important to have religion on this corner.

Secondly, on behalf of the Region of Waterloo, I would like to thank Knox for letting us hold our public meetings here. Just last week, I listened to a speaker who was helping us as we move to urbanization, telling us about placemaking and making the Region comfortable for people.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I visited China on a personal visit. It is a great country but with 1.7 billion people, they must build a lot of LRT and subways. We passed by a hoarding and our guide told us that the last subway line was built in one year. One year. It is taking 12 years to put the shovel in the ground for our Light Rail Transit.

I thought it over. China does not have environmental assessments or public meetings. I was very interested in hearing that your church had lots of meetings deciding how and where to build the new church.  Some say the Region’s meetings are endless, some say we don’t have enough. In the end, it is decided and some people don’t get what they want and some do.

That’s democracy.

Which brings me to the famous public meeting in your church, the one where people were looking at the uptown alignment for the LRT.

The members of Knox said, ” We’ve just built this church and the LRT line is going right beside it.”

We said, “The LRT is electric, it’ll be quiet.”

The members said, “Oh, we don’t know.”

Then other people in Waterloo began to agree with you. The alignment should be changed. The Region changed the alignment to go along a preexisting rail line through the parking lot of Waterloo Town Square.

That’s democracy.

Thank you for your devotion to community and democracy. Congratulations on your first year.

My Light Rail Transit Speech and some Nifty LRT Pictures.

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My Speech

Thank you to staff who have worked and are working so hard on this project.

Thank you to everyone who emailed, mailed, met with me, twittered or phoned me.  And  the delegations and the people at the meetings. Well over 600 emails. If I haven’t gotten back to you yet, be assured I will. Regional councillors answer their own email.  I have never had anywhere near the response I have had on this issue.  Most of the people who have contacted me are for LRT.

also went door to door during the past municipal election. I personally visited thousands of doors, as I always do.  There were people against LRT. A lot were against because they needed transit in their area. Which is why I support increased regular transit and would like to see more in the future. I will deal with cost later. There were also people for LRT.

Most people just had a lot of questions which I was pleased to answer. This I believe is what happened at our public meetings. People came with a lot of questions and our staff answered them.

The public have spoken and we’ve listened. However, listening does not necessarily mean doing what people ask. For some here tonight, I have listened but I have said No.

Light Rail Transit runs quietly on electricity. It doesn’t spew smog into our air. I hope in the future we can run the system on renewable energy.

With less staff and more passengers, it is more economical in the long run.

As the Chair of the Grand River Conservation Authority, I have been travelling from Cambridge to Waterloo in the rush hour.  There is more congestion in Cambridge than there is in KW. Could this be because more people ride transit in KW?  I’m glad we’re ramping up transit in Cambridge but we need to start stage 2, LRT to Cambridge as soon as possible.

No one has talked about jobs and the LRT. The province and the federal government have given us a jaw dropping amount of money. Why? To help Waterloo Region through the recession. Jobs have disappeared in our Region and most of them were to do with the car industry, particularly the automobiles that eat gas. We need to reinvent our economy again and LRT helps with this.

LRT is estimated to create up to 23,000 new permanent jobs in the station areas. Everything from flower shops to tech start-ups. This isn’t even including the jobs created building and running the LRT.

During the election, I stated that I wanted Bus Rapid Transit back on the table. I voted for that and it was done.

The public and myself had the chance of another look. Unfortunately, almost everyone has found it wanting. Those against The LRT, such as Taxpayers for sensible transit  are for abrt which is a souped up Ixpress that will still be caught in traffic.  All the problems people think exist for LRT, like its dedicated lane, are also part of BRT. And experience elsewhere shows that BRT quickly creates its own congestion.

My second request during the election was that staff bring a report on keeping the costs down. The other concern at the door. They have put in some cuts. But I am most pleased with Councillor Wideman’s amendment that reduces the tax increase to  .7%.  I said during the election that I did not want property tax to increase on the capital portion left over after the province and feds had put in their money. These reductions do this.

The City of Waterloo will finally get its due. Light Rail Transit benefits Waterloo the most.  It will develop our industrial area on Northfield and our R and T park. Waterloo is up to its borders and must intensify. LRT helps do this. The trains will transport our young professionals and university students. The Ixpress, number 9 and mainline 7 are jammed with passengers.

Uptown will have huge benefits from light rail. I wish I could show some of the pictures I have from downtowns around the world that have light rail. People cycling and walking beside the train. Even a fountain between one of the tracks. I wish you all could have travelled to Edmonton, Calgary and Portland, even  Switzerland years ago, as I have.

 Cars don’t shop, people shop.  I ride the bus (yes I use my car and transit) and many times I have come from the region, gotten off at Waterloo Square and done some shopping then hopped back on the bus and gone home or onto Conestoga Mall. I can even go up to the Market and the Outlet Mall in the same trip. Think of 450 people getting off the bus at Waterloo Square.

Waterloo Park will be fine. I have seen a picture of a train with grass growing through the track. People will be able to easily cross the tracks and our report talks about the sensitivity to the heritage of the park.

When the LRT phase one is finished, my new grandson will be around six years old. We will get on my number 9 bus, then onto the train and get off at Waterloo Park where we will visit the zoo and the Wonder of Winter Lights. Then we will head home the same way. He and his generation are the future.

I support LRT.

We don’t need a referendum on Rapid Transit

There are many reasons why starting a referendum process so close to the final vote on what system we would use for transit is not a good idea.

I am going to speak about the public process for Rapid Transit so far. This process has been going on since 2003 with many, many meetings and a decision in 2009 that generated a lot of public response. There have been two elections (2006 and 2010) of municipal councillors as this process continued. I’m not counting the 2003 election as the process had just begun.

 People have had a say and are continuing to have a say. I have had over 100 emails on this topic since January and that’s not including all the mails I had before that time. I have had the most emails ever on any topic. And these are from separate individuals (I counted each person once). 80 percent at least not the “usual suspects” or advocates for one side or the other. My mail has been running 50/50 pro and con. I send all of the emails to staff to put into the count. I also record pro and con of the telephone calls.  This doesn’t even cover the many, many people whose main topic of conversation with me when I meet them is Rapid Transit. Everyone from the owner of the manicure shop to my book club to dogwalkers to people at various events.

There have also been various groups like the realtors and the tech industry running their own surveys of members. The Record Metroline survey should be very influential as no one can say they are biased because they are the Region. A friend of mine also told me that she answered an Angus Reid poll recently (Not the Region, I asked) I wait for that one.

I also listen to the Jeff Allan show, Rogers 20 talk local, CTV and read The Record and The Chronicle. The Region has a clipping service, so I have also read all the regional articles about Rapid Transit. Not to mention blogs, twitter and Facebook.

Finally there are all the public meetings the Region has held, not to mention the on-line comment form. http://rapidtransit.region.waterloo.on.ca/comment.html

Councillors get numbers and summaries of all.

Here is the list of the public meetings the Region has had with the public.It is in pdf format because there were and are so many. By the way, I have personally attended a number of these meetings, right back to 2006. And not all the meetings are even listed. I attended the Leadership Waterloo cafe recently and that’s not on the official list. Neither are the Probus and Rotary meetings staff presented at, to mention a few.


If you have not managed to phone me, or send an email , you can still do so. My information is at the side of this blog.

The final public meetings are May 31 and June 1st at council chambers. If you can’t make them, the decision day is June 15th in the evening at council chambers.

Here is what I am hearing from many of the public, most of them before this referendum question came up.  “Get ‘er done. We are tired of it. Make a decision.”

I hear you and I am going to.

Really, I do have Opinions!

Well, the election is over, and I am back into obscurity again. The Record articles on city inaugurals and the Rally for Rails quoted Sean and Brenda and several city of Waterloo councillors. At the Regional inaugural, Jeff O interviewed various councillors but not me. (Thanx to the Chronicle for quoting me)

So here is my imaginary interview, so you can know my opinions.

Reporter: You weren’t at the Rally?

Me: That’s right. I was at the Region Volunteer Appreciation.

Reporter: What did you find when you went door to door during the election. I heard you knocked on a lot of doors.

Me: Yes I did knock on a lot of doors.  Some people were very much against the LRT, some people were very much for it. Most people had questions.

Reporter: Will you vote yes or no on LRT?

Me: I am waiting for the staff report. As I said in the election, I want us to look again at BRT and at a reduced cost for LRT capital.  I am still in favour of LRT but because many constituents are concerned about it and there are also many misconceptions, I feel it is only fair to compare the two again.

Obama Replaces Costly Highspeed Rail Plan with Highspeed Buses.


Alert: This is humour. Thanks to ENBDavies who tweeted  this.

Money for Trains Falls Short

First, THANK YOU to the Province and the Federal government for the biggest grants ever given to the Region. 300 million from the province and 265 million from the feds. Unfortunately it leaves us around 225 million short. This could translate into a between 7 and 12 percent rise in property tax in one year. I can’t accept that, it’s too high a rise. The rest of council also feels the same. I also, due to the ghost of the RIM park scandal in Waterloo, cannot accept the Region taking on a high debt load. Right now we are proud of our aaA rating with Moody’s.

It is too short a time to make a decision before the election, so the next council will decide this.

We will look at some options staff will come up with, such as shortening the line or private partnerships. We will also look once again at the bus rapid transit.

I am still in favour of the light rail transit for all the reasons I have given, but the gap in funding is a bridge too far for taxpayers to  cross. So sad.

If you have any ideas on ways to fund the trains, please leave a comment and I will pass it along to staff for their consideration.