The Metro Line is open: Edmonton’s LRT now extends north to NAIT

Today the oft-delayed Metro Line LRT extension from Churchill Station to NAIT opened. The 3.3 km extension adds a second operational line to Edmonton’s LRT Network Plan, and features the first new stations in four years. But today’s launch was very different than the two most previous extension openings, to South Campus in 2009 and Century Park in 2011. Those extensions opened with great fanfare featuring politicians making speeches and shaking hands. The Metro Line opened quietly this morning with no ceremony.

MacEwan LRT Station
Train to NAIT leaves MacEwan Station

The Metro Line features three new stations: MacEwan, Kingsway/Royal Alex, and NAIT. The extension is expected to add 13,200 weekday riders to the system, and ETS says it has “capacity for considerable growth” once the line eventually extends into St. Albert.

The service that launched today isn’t exactly what was planned, of course. The line has been repeatedly delayed, ostensibly due to issues with the signalling system. The Metro Line was planned to open in April 2014, but here we are in September 2015 with what the City is calling a “staged approach” to bringing it into service. Here’s what that means:

  • Metro Line trains will run every 15 minutes between Century Park and NAIT.
  • They will also occasionally run between Health Sciences/Jubilee and NAIT (weekdays after 10pm, Saturdays after 7pm, and all day Sundays).
  • Every third train running between Churchill and Century Park will be a three-car Metro Line train (most of the time).
  • Trains are operating with “line of sight” which restricts the speed of trains between MacEwan and NAIT to 25 km/h, half the planned speed.
  • This means travel time between Churchill Station and NAIT is approximately 14 minutes.

Sharon and I decided to check out the new extension this afternoon, starting our journey from our home station at Bay/Enterprise Square. It’s been chilly and raining all day (and still is as I write this) but that didn’t stop us!

Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station

The Metro Line was designed to operate between NAIT and the existing Health Sciences Station, so both the Metro Line and Capital Line share the stations in between (and actually will share stations all the way to Century Park as part of this interim service). That means you need to pay attention to the destination of the train you’re boarding.

Edmonton LRT
On the train!

Though there are clear announcements, this is going to be an issue for new riders. As our train was leaving Churchill Station, another announcement was made and a couple in front of us realized they had gotten on the wrong line. I expect this’ll happen quite a bit over the next few weeks.

It’s just a few moments after the track returns above ground that you arrive at MacEwan Station. I would not be surprised at all if it is renamed MacEwan/Rogers Place at some point in the future. The new arena is such a major part of the station that it almost seems inappropriate that it’s not reflected in the name!

MacEwan LRT Station
MacEwan LRT Station

This station we had previously explored as it’s just a short walk from home. Thinking about it now, it would have been much faster to walk and catch the train there than waiting for a Metro Line train to take us from Bay/Enterprise Square.

MacEwan LRT Station
Future walkway to Rogers Place (and 104 Street) from MacEwan Station

MacEwan Station is just a short walk across 105 Street to MacEwan University. The landscaping and park around the station is quite attractive, though it can be a little confusing at first where to enter and exit the platform (at least from the west side).

MacEwan LRT Station
MacEwan Station

Upon leaving MacEwan Station you immediately notice the reduced speed of the train. It feels comically slow at times. Still, riding the train to NAIT or Kingsway is certainly convenient, even if it takes a few minutes longer than expected.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station

Aside from being close to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the Kingsway/Royal Alex station is also adjacent to the relatively new bus terminal. If you’re a transit rider, the new station is going to be great. If you’re a driver though, be prepared to wait.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station

The longest wait seemed to be for cars turning east onto 111 Avenue from 106 Street. There wasn’t much traffic today, so the waits probably weren’t too bad, but during rush hour I could see a 10 minute or longer wait being very realistic. The rumor flying around this weekend is that waits will last 16 minutes or more, but the City says this won’t be the case. “To be clear — the City does not expect the Metro Line to cause 16 minute traffic delays at these intersections all the time,” they wrote.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station
Trains pass each other at Kingsway/Royal Alex Station

I really like the design of the station, with its enclosed, heated waiting areas and very attractive wood features. Oddly though, it’s probably faster to walk to Kingsway Mall from NAIT Station than it is from Kingsway/Royal Alex Station. That’s because you have to cross two roads to get to Kingsway Mall, not to mention waiting for trains to go by (which are slower than normal, remember). So this will probably be the station I use least, unless I need to make a bus transfer.

NAIT LRT Station

Once the train very slowly makes its way up 106 Street and across Princess Elizabeth Avenue, you arrive at NAIT Station. This is going to be a big win for students and means that all of our major education institutions are now more or less connected via LRT (with NorQuest getting even better connectivity when the Valley Line LRT opens).

NAIT LRT Station
NAIT Station with Kingsway Mall to the left

As mentioned it’s just a short walk across Princess Elizabeth Avenue to the Sears side of Kingsway Mall. Unfortunately the sidewalk ends almost as soon as you get to the south side of the street, and you’re left dodging vehicles racing in and out of the parkade. That’s one improvement that could definitely be made.

NAIT LRT Station
The current end of the line at NAIT

NAIT Station is currently the end of the line, but if you look northwest you can see what will eventually become Blatchford (which will have its own LRT station).

At NAIT Station
Selfie at NAIT Station!

Even though this “staged approach” is not ideal, it’s very exciting to have the Metro Line open at long last. Our experience today was very positive, but the real test will come Tuesday morning as students are back to school and everyone else is back to work. You can learn more about the Metro Line opening at the Transforming Edmonton blog.

Lincoln Ho of Yegventures rode the very first train this morning – watch his YouTube feed for the video. You can see more photos from our trip today here.

  • aaa

    Nice. Thanks for the info